In addition to clipping out any hint of the Twin Towers in shots of the New York City skyline, “Spider-Man” also let New Yorkers play a more prominent role in the movie’s climax. When Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is forced to choose between saving his love interest Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) or a cable car full of children, he is spared from having to solve the impossible trolley problem by a bunch of angry New Yorkers on a bridge. Upon seeing The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) in the midst of his reign of terror, the New Yorkers take the situation into their own hands, throwing stuff at him and disrupting his scheme. “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” one of them yells, and it’s probably one of the most quoted lines of the whole movie.
It was a cathartic moment at the time, giving New Yorkers a chance to collectively beat up a terrorist villain who’s been tormenting the whole city. It also served as a nice counter-argument to The Green Goblin’s philosophy throughout the movie; this is a guy who tells Spider-Man that the two of them are better than everyone else. “Those teeming masses exist for the sole purpose of lifting the few exceptional people onto their shoulders,” he says earlier in the film, and yet it’s those supposedly insignificant people that end up being Goblin’s undoing. Is the scene as a whole pretty cheesy? Sure, but it’s a nice example of the movie throwing grieving New Yorkers a bone while also adding more weight to a major theme.