Should I Watch..? Spider-Man
What's the big deal?
Spider-Man is an action superhero film released in 2002 and is the first film in a trilogy to star Tobey Maguire as Marvel's iconic character. The film also features Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and J.K. Simmons and acts as an origin tale, explaining how high school student Peter Parker developed his powers and the beginnings of his rivalry with nemesis, the Green Goblin. There had been an attempt to produce a movie about Spider-Man for many years but it was worth the wait - the movie became the first film in history to earn more than $100 million in its opening weekend, eventually taking more than $821 million worldwide. Critics praised the film for its casting of Maguire as Parker and the direction by veteran Sam Raimi.
What's it about?
During a high school field trip, student Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically enhanced "super spider" and returning to his Aunt May's house, passes out. The following day, Peter notices that his vision has improved and he suddenly possesses a number of strange abilities including heightened reflexes, a more muscular physique and the ability to stick to walls. Exploring his new-found powers, Peter enters a wrestling contest but is cheated out of his winnings. Allowing the promoter to be robbed, Peter is horrified when he discovers that the robber has also carjacked and fatally wounded his Uncle Ben.
Meanwhile, scientist Norman Osborn - the father of Peter's friend Harry - experiments on himself with a performance-enhancing chemical that his Oscorp company have developed. Unfortunately, it drives Norman insane and he adopts the guise of the Green Goblin as he begins terrorising the citizens of New York. Realising that his studies and his romantic interest in fellow student Mary Jane Watson must come second, Parker creates his own alter-ego and realises that it must fall to him to save the city...
Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Mary Jane Watson
Norman Osborn / The Green Goblin
J. Jonah Jameson
David Koepp *
Release Date (UK)
14th June, 2002
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
It took forty years to get Spider-Man from comic to cinema screen but it was worth the wait. With renowned comic fan Raimi on board, the film explores the world of Peter Parker like never before and offers us an origin tale that's exciting and fresh. The movie makes good use of the effects, throwing us around New York as though we were the character, and the action scenes also truly deliver a great blast of fun.
Maguire might not have been everyone's first choice but he is superb as Parker, tormented by his responsibilities whilst simultaneously enjoying his powers. Dafoe's overbearing madness is also utilised well and brings a suitably unstable edge as Osborn. The film is a perfect piece of comic book escapism, combining the dangerous and exciting with the moral philosophy behind the character but not in the way Christopher Nolan does in Batman Begins (1). Dunst and Franco haven't a great deal to do and frankly, Simmons' whirlwind appearance as J. Jonah Jameson - the hyperactive editor of the Daily Bugle - is enormous fun and edges anything either actor could bring to their part. For a superhero film, it's nice to see characters remaining in the foreground instead of disappearing behind the effects and the film allows us to examine the origins of the character, something which may have escaped anyone who has no real interest in the comics.
- The scene where Peter catches Mary Jane's lunch on a tray involved no CG. With the help of sticky adhesive, Maguire eventually performed the stunt as it was seen in the finished film.
- The teaser poster shown above was recalled after 9/11 as the Twin Towers can be seen reflected in Spider-Man's eyes. Not all of them were recovered and original copies are now sought after collector's items.
- 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, who appears in a cameo as the wrestler Bonesaw McGraw, wrestled under the name of The Spider earlier in his career.
What's not to like?
Unfortunately, the film does drop several clangers and the first is with the Green Goblin. Everything from costume design to storyline feels wrong - he simply doesn't feel particularly threatening and his mask prevents any sort of facial expression, meaning that Dafoe's particular strengths (power-crazed, swivel-eyed lunacy) are wasted. Were it not for the love triangle subplot between Peter, Mary Jane and Harry, Norman Osborn's motivations feel somewhat weak.
Speaking of the three young leads, their various trials and tribulations feel underwritten as well. All three do a fine job but Maguire and Dunst lack a certain chemistry and Franco has very little else to work with. It just made the movie feel a bit too much like Dawson's Creek for my tastes and the last thing I want with a superhero movie is for things to get bogged down in a predictably soppy romance. Lastly, the movie lacks the gravitas that most films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) possess. Obviously, this was released some time before the blockbusting Iron Man (2) and Marvel's subsequent success but it reinforces the films comic book origins. It makes the film feel more geared towards children and as an adult, I would have liked to see more.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the wall crawler will be eagerly awaiting their heroes arrival in the MCU but this is not a bad film to revisit. It does everything you'd want from a Spider-Man film - plenty of action, a prolonged origin tale, iconic characters and fantastic use of CG effects. Spider-Man feels like a love letter to the character and while trumped by its own brilliant sequel (see below), it remains a great movie for fans and non-fans alike.
Great For: fans of the character, action lovers, date nights
Not So Great For: viewers spoilt by the riches of the MCU, grown-ups
What else should I watch?
Raimi struck solid gold with Spider-Man 2 (3) which replaced the Green Goblin with my personal favourite Spidey villain, Dr Octopus, and didn't spend so long going over the origin of the character so we get thrown right into the action. Alfred Molina gives an amazing performance as Otto Octavius and the film is more exciting and imaginative than this first entry. However, there are some who believe that the ball was dropped big-time with Spider-Man 3 (4), a film that killed Maguire's tenure stone-dead. The film's characterisations of Parker, Venom (another great baddie) and Sandman is all wrong and the plot is muddled for anyone unfamiliar with the comics. I still enjoyed it but it was a wasted opportunity and could have been much better.
Now, however, Spidey has a guest spot in Captain America: Civil War (5) and his own official entry to the MCU with the appropriately-named Spider-Man: Homecoming (6). Tom Holland's portrayal is excellent and with Marvel personnel supervising every aspect of the production, it gives the character an air of authenticity. Marvel are keen to make every one of their titles a five-star production, which is more than can be said of DC with disappointments like Suicide Squad (7) and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (8).
© 2015 Benjamin Cox