Sunday, June 30, 2019


Directed by Sam Raimi.
2002. Rated PG-13, 121 minutes.
Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
Willem Dafoe
James Franco
Rosemary Harris
J. K. Simmons
Cliff Robertson
Joe Manganiello
Bill Nunn
Elizabeth Banks
Octavia Spencer
"Macho Man" Randy Savage

After the success of Blade and X-Men, Sony, who owned the rights to Marvel's most famous hero, decided it was time to bring Spider-Man to the big screen, worldwide. Since this was his cinematic debut in most countries, America included, we all knew we were getting an origin story. It feeds us the traditional tale many of us know and love. High school outcast Peter Parker (Maguire) gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops many of that creature's natural abilities. He can climb walls, has super-strength, and can spin webs from his wrist. That last bit is a wrinkle added just for the movie, and we'll discuss it further. As Peter himself tells us, though, this story is not really about him but about a girl - Mary Jane, aka MJ (Dunst). He's been in love with her since forever, but she doesn't seem to share the same feelings, and dates popular jock Flash Thompson (Manganiello). Peter's Uncle Ben (Robertson) is killed shortly after Peter gets his powers, and it's kind of Peter's fault, so he's feeling even worst than most would be in that situation. Meanwhile, his best friend Harry's (Franco) dad, Norman Osborn (Dafoe) has tested a strength enhancer on himself with disastrous results. He becomes the Green Goblin and causes a whole lot of trouble once the board forces him out of Oscorp, his own company.

Back in 2002, when this came out, the first thing audiences were looking for was the same thing I was looking for when revisiting this in 2019 and especially after watching the made-for-TV Spidey movies from the 70s. We all want to see if the special fx are sufficient enough to support and enhance a movie based on a guy who climbs walls and swings all over New York City on a web. For the most part, they do. Things got off to a rocky start because the first wall-climbing scene of the movie doesn't look a whole lot better than the Nicholas Hammond version of the character. It significantly improves in a hurry. There a few noticeable green screen shots, but nothing much worse than much of what's made today. The bigger issue is something Roger Ebert pointed out back in '02. I agreed with it then and noticed it on this rewatch. The cgi Spider-Man bouncing all over the screen doesn't always convey the proper weight of a man doing such things. Again, it's nothing that's so bad that it couldn't happen today. I just saw a number of shots in Avengers: Endgame that were pretty easily spotted as computer generated, yet there weren't many complaints about the fx in that movie. The same applies here. While the mix with some of the practical fx in the film isn't quite seamless, it's good enough to maintain the illusion.

That illusion is created by the story-telling. Before it tries to wow us with its visuals, the movie meticulously builds the world of Spider-Man. It takes the most well known aspects of our hero's origin and brings them to life the way ardent fans always imagined and quickly bringing newcomers up to speed. In a fairly short amount of time, the film manages to forge an emotional connection between Peter and the audience. We instantly feel all the years this poor dude has spent pining over MJ. Likewise, we understand how important his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Harris) are to him. To do so, the writing sticks fairly close to the source material and much of the casting is perfect. Maguire is really good as the titular character. He appears a tad old for the role, but makes up for it by really seeming to be deeply touched by every setback Peter suffers. J. K. Simmons and Rosemary Harris are the gold standard for the characters they play, J. Jonah Jameson and Aunt May, respectively. They both seem to have stepped off the pages of the comic books and directly onto the screen. The big get is Kirsten Dunst as MJ. Her individual acting is very good, but what really sells it is her chemistry with Maguire. They feel like lifelong next door neighbors and friends with ever-growing feelings for one another. This magical connection creates the current upon which the entire film (franchise?) floats.

The casting falters a bit when it comes to the Osborn family. Willem Dafoe is a fantastic actor, but he doesn't take the best approach to Norman/Green Goblin. He's a bit over the top as he's clearly just doing his version of a cackling comic book villain. It doesn't help that one of his big moments has him screaming at his own reflection in the mirror. Neither is it beneficial that the mask he has to wear as Green Goblin is the stupidest looking thing ever. Dafoe is good enough to make it work, but it still seems like he sold the character a bit short. James Franco as Harry is more problematic. The script burdens him with many sudden changes in demeanor and he fails to handle any of them. Rather than Harry quickly running the gamut of emotions, it feels like James Franco acting. Some of what he does is downright laughable.

The movie's shortcomings are not nearly enough to sink this ship. It cruises along on the Peter-MJ connection to give us a story strong enough for us to forgive many of its sins. It generally sticks close to the character's tried and true path to success. The biggest place where the movie diverges from its source material is one of its biggest triumphs. The comics always had Peter having to create his own web using some super-sciency process. Here, his webbing is organic and shot straight from his wrists. I never understood why Spider-Man couldn't organically produce his own web. If we're talking about a guy who gains the ability of a spider, that would seem to be a logical inclusion. Kudos to director Sam Raimi and anyone else involved in the decision to make that part of this story. And its a story that holds up very well. There are some nitpicks to be had, but overall, Spider-Man is a movie that draws us in and not only makes us believe a man could do all the amazing things a spider can, but also makes us believe he is a young man with real feelings. We simultaneously want to nurture him and be saved by him.


  1. I'm seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home tomorrow

  2. I really liked the web coming from his body too, I thought it was a nice change that made sense. I kind of wish they would've kept that going with the newest incarnations, but I suppose there's less drama with it.

    I still like this one even if it feels a bit dated at this point. Plus that kiss is so iconic.

    1. Not really. Spider-Man 2 built a large chunk of plot around the what's going on with his body.

      Honestly, it didn't feel dated. The bad parts were the same sorts of things superhero movies still get wrong.

  3. I thought this was an excellent movie that couldn't be topped. (And then SPIDER-MAN 2 came out. Can't wait for your review of that one.)

  4. I do enjoy this film not just as a great origin story but also as a story of innocence about Peter Parker's journey into being Spider-Man. That kiss is iconic. There's a lot about the film that I loved such as Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben and Randy Savage's cameo... OOOOHH YEAH!!!!

    1. This whole trilogy is about innoncence, to be honest. Cliff Robertson doesn't get enough credit for what he did here.

  5. I'm a fan of this film and distinctly remember how it and X-Men (2000) cemented the superhero genre as legitmate. I actually really liked DaFoe's Osbourne. And one thing I like about this series over the current is that here Spidey feels more like a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man where as in the new films he feels more like an Avenger.

    1. And Blade! Let's not forget how the success of that film (& Blade II) were in helping the cause, too. The MCU is definitely hellbent on making him an Avenger, at least before I've seen Far From Home, so I guess they're succeeding.

  6. This was a dandy start to the trilogy. I'm very interested to see your take on the next one, because I think it's Raimi's best from this series (but a lot of that is because of Alfred Molina).