Wow what a week, my favorite super hero of all time is turning the big five-o this week, and to celebrate we are taking an exhaustive look back at all things Spider-Man! We’ve already gushed over the odd and bizarre team-ups he has had over the years, and now we will take a look at his big screen performance, brought to life by Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, as we review, Spider-Man. Raimi, who was a decent but not noteworthy director at the time(note fanboys, I realize he did The Evil Dead films, and I love them, but come on they were box office disasters) some how landed the reins to one of the biggest and highest budgeted films for the year, and easily, his career. The studio really trusted his vision and it paid off big time. With the supporting cast rounded out by J.K. Simmons, James Franco, Kirstin Dunst and the brilliant Willem Dafoe, we are in for one heck of a ride!
The movie starts with a narration from our hero Peter Parker(Maguire), who is just a run of the mill nerd, no one likes him, not even the bus driver. They are on a field trip to a genetics research department where, for some reason, scientists felt spiders were not scary enough and have created a “super spider”. Of course you know where this is going, as Peter ogles over Mary Jane Watson(Dunst) he fails to realize that a sneaky evil spider has landed on him and well, spiders are horrid. Elsewhere CEO of OSCORP, Norman Osborn(Dafoe), is showing off his latest gadgets, a flying glider and enhanced suit, and a performance enhancement serum. Of course the general on hand is not impressed, as the formula has its side effects, including insanity! When threatened with losing his government funding, Osborn does the only rational thing, he submits himself for human trial and well, the results are a success, except the minor part about him becoming a super powered lunatic.
At home Peter wakes up after a night of insane dreams and notices huge improvements, such as his eye sight has corrected himself, and he’s gotten all muscly. His aunt May and uncle Ben wish him a good day, they are loving old couple. We see MJ leaving her house as well and well her home life is less than desired. At Osborn’s residence, his son Harry(Franco), Peter’s best friend, finds his dad passed out, with no memory of what happened. A worker from OSCORP informs him that Dr. Stomm has been murdered. At school, Peter is learning that the spider bite has given him more than just strength, he has enhanced reflexes, and webbing! A trick he uses to embarass the resident bully, Flash Thompson. Flash is less than thrilled and picks a fight but Peter is more than a match for him. MJ is horrified while Harry cheers him on. Upset with himself at his actions, Peter takes off and learns that he can climb walls. Not very good at web swinging yet though, but he’ll get there. He spends the afternoon playing around and realizes he broke a promise to his uncle. He over hears MJ arguing with her dad and we see a different side of MJ. The two make a really good connection, until Flash shows up with his fancy car. Then it clicks in Peter, first you get the cash, then you get the car, then you get the women!
He stumbles upon a brilliant idea, be a masked wrestler. Ok, maybe not the best idea. After a few costume designs he is ready to go. At the fight the announcer(the great Bruce Campbell) gives Peter what will become the name he will be burdened with for the rest of his life, Spider-Man. He faces off against an animal of a man, Bonesaw McGraw(the late great Macho Man Randy Savage). After a hilarious two minutes of wrestling Peter becomes victorious. The promoter isn’t thrilled, and only pays him about 3% of what he owed him. So you can see why Peter didn’t flinch when the guy got robbed. That will learn him, right Pete? Well Parker learns the valuable lesson, as his uncle was waiting for him, but the robber got to him first. It ended badly for uncle Ben, and now Peter understands the meaning of , with great power comes great responsibility.
With revenge in his heart Peter hunts down the gunman but gets no satisfaction with the end result. Now conflicted and not sure what to do with life after graduation, he decides to use his new found power to help those in trouble, and becomes Spider-Man. Of course the editor in chief at the Daily Bugle is not impressed and blasts him all over the paper. J. Jonah Jameson(Simmons) is a fast talking, cigar chomping loud mouth and he lays into Spidey every chance he gets. More importantly, a new villain is terrorizing the city, the Green Goblin. The Goblin, a disguised Osborn, has murdered several people of Quest Aerospace. Peter meets MJ, who is now a failed actress and works as a waitress. He learns that she is dating Harry, and well, it doesn’t quite sit well with him. Even with all his power he is still a bumbling nerd. He lives with Harry, and Harry is a bit jealous of the attention that Peter gets from his father. If only Harry new about the attention Spider-Man gets.
At a board meeting, Osborn is rejoicing about the state of OSCORP, profits are up, prices are down, and the company is being sold. What? That’s right, his board has sold him out to Quest, and the downfall of Norman starts. At the PC named Unity Fair, while everyone is enjoying the soulful sound of Macy Gray, Pete spots MJ but more importantly, a crazy man on a flying machine. The Green Goblin strikes and strikes hard. Terrorizing the citizens and ending the board members lives. Spider-Man is quick to the scene and the two have their first battle, short but powerful. Spidey saves MJ from certain doom and takes off. Harry is jealous of Spider-Man, as he has won the affection of MJ.
The Goblin attacks Jameson, trying to find out the photographer of Spider-Man, and despite his hatred for Spidey, he doesn’t spill the beans. Luckily for him, Spider-Man shows up but the Goblin was counting on it and ambushes him. The Goblin makes him an offer, join him and take over the city, or oppose him and cause the death of countless innocents. It weighs heavy on Peter. Peter meets MJ at her restaurant and the two talk for a bit but part ways. MJ walks down a dark and dangerous alleyway. Of course she gets mugged in that alleyway but Spider-Man is right there. He saves her again and gets the hero’s reward, a kiss. A kiss that shakes the world. That kiss was more than enough to help him decide what will become a bitter feud with the Green Goblin.
A fire breaks out and Spider-Man rushes in to save to save the day. He manages to rescue a baby but as he tries to save the last person he falls for another trap. The Goblin is a sneaky one, and the two have a brief but kick ass fight in the raging inferno. It also happens to be Thanksgiving at Peter and Harry’s and everyone is waiting for Peter, even Harry’s father; Norman Osborn. A flying glider is apparently a lot faster than web swinging. As Pete arrives Aunt May notices that Peter is bleeding, so does Norman. The exact same wound that was inflicted on Spider-Man. He rushes out but not before insulting MJ. The Goblin then strikes up a brilliant plan, attack Parker where it hurts the most, his heart.
Aunt May suffers a terrible attack at the hands of the Goblin, but she survives.Peter and MJ rush to the hospital, and share a tender moment together. You can see the romance building, and so can Harry. He runs home to his dad like a spoiled kid, and tells him what happened. This lands all the cards into Norman’s deck and now he goes for the kill. Taking a hostage and threatening Spider-Man for the last time, the two have a monumental fight in the Brooklyn bridge. Will Peter save MJ in time? And can he stop the evil Green Goblin?
First I want to just say, the special effects and CGI are amazing. For being done in 2002, this film is nearly flawless. True some spots you can clearly tell it’s CG but man, it looks great. This movie really focuses on Peter Parker, which is both good and bad. Maguire is the perfect Parker, he is feeble and meek, shy and nerdy, and full of self-doubt. He longs to impress Mary Jane or heck for that matter, any woman who will notice. You feel his pain and his need to be accepted. The problem is he doesn’t connect with the Spider-Man persona at all. In the comics, the two are almost night and day, Peter being the introvert who shies away from life, and Spider-Man being the guy who will jump in your face and insult you, while swinging you around. Every tick, nuance and trait of Spidey is nearly left out, instead we get a nerdy kid in the Spider-Man outfit, unsure of what to do. But you know what, it works, for now. Raimi does such a brilliant job telling his story, you can overlook the flaws and minor mistakes.
Kirstin Dunst is beautiful and makes a compelling Mary Jane, but not the definitive, and certainly not the bombshell she is from the comics. She probably would have worked better if they had made her Gwen Stacy. But she serves her purpose and they deliver a heck of a romance tale. Raimi, who has never been known for his romantic sensibility, really delivered some tender and sincere emotion in this film. The whole Parker clan really, Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Peter and MJ, you really feel their connection and emotions. He even tackles the father-son relationship well with Norman and Harry Osborn, and Franco gives a decent performance, probably his best one out of the series. The scene stealer of the movie though is easily Willem Dafoe. He eats up the scenes as Norman Osborn and the villainous Green Goblin. Near perfect casting here, as Dafoe embodies everything about Norman perfectly. He is wily and his laugh is great. The only problem is his performance was hindered by the uninspired and clunky Goblin costume, a rejected Power Rangers suit that distracts you from an otherwise brilliant performance. I’ve seen the test footage of the original design and I personally think it would have worked out a lot better.
The iconic images that this film kept in were amazing, from Spider-Man wrestling Bonesaw McGraw to the death of the Goblin, these moments jumped off the screen, even the kiss seen round the world, where Spidey hangs up side down and woes the lovely MJ. The fights between Goblin and Spidey are impressive, with some hard hits, massive explosions, and a touch of comedy here and there. The supporting cast does a great job as well, especially J.K. Simmons as Jameson. His time is brief on screen, but he is loud, obnoxious, and hilarious. He is easily the best cast person in the whole series.
There are some negatives, the Power Rangers suit being one of them. The lack of humor directly from Spider-Man is another sore point for me, as that was Spidey’s go to defense and sometimes offense. The story does take a long time before he dons the suit, but Raimi does such an excellent job building the characters and the failed romance that you don’t really feel it drag on, plus the dialogue is very good. A great start to Spider-Man, not as polished as the second, leaps ahead of the third, and I’d say, almost tied with the remake in terms of quality. Maguire makes the best Parker, but Garfield got to be the better Spider-Man.