With the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a mere month and a half away, what better time then the present to look back at the previous films that have taken on the character.
Let me preface all of this by naming my two unavoidable biases.
Number one. In may of 2002, I was six years old. Movies up until that point, were fine. I watched several over and over again, but never did I really give them a second thought, until I saw this film. This movie absolutely blew my brains onto the wall. I had never been more thrilled by anything in my life, and 12 years later…here we are.
Number Two. This being the case, Spider-Man is my indisputable favorite Super-Hero. To me, this is the character that perfects the formula. He throws you into his big red boots with a wave of overwhelming relatability, sharp humor, and stunning physicality. I mean, can we just talk about how awesome web swinging is? Sure, Superman can glide around, but the idea that this guy physically throws himself from building to building is exhilarating to even talk about.
See, talking about this objectively is going to be a challenge, but I shall try my hardest. Here we go.
As Spider-Man opens, we find ourselves thrown into the hard knock life of Midtown High’s biggest science geek, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). He has been deliriously in love with the gorgeous Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), since he was 6, but his socially awkward demeanor, and constant torment from school jackass Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello before he became a sweaty vampire) impair his ability to talk to her. The only people he has are his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) and his loving Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Rosemary Harris and the late Cliff Robertson) whom he lives with.
While on a field trip, Peter is bitten by a genitally altered spider and falls into a sickened stupor. When he awakens, he finds that his entire body has fused with the abilities of the spider. At first, he uses his powers for arrogant purposes, but after his uncle’s tragic murder comes as a consequence of one of his actions, he decides to use his powers for good. Ultimately, he is pitted against The Green Goblin, who just so happens to be Harry’s father Norman Osborn (WIllem Dafoe). Amazing how all of these guys seem to get genetically altered at around the same time huh?
This movie is so much fun. Flawed? Very. Awesome? Hell yeah!
As an adaptation of the classic Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko run of Spider-Man, this movie is perfect. This works to the film’s advantage, and slight detriment.
Maguire nails the likable, and vulnerable slides of Peter Parker in equal measure, without overdoing either of them (at least, in this installment). He is a classic movie protagonist, flawed, and yet, we want to see him succeed, and overcome all of his life’s challenges. The supporting players are also all solid. Dafoe is deliciously over the top as the greedy, downright insane Norman Osborn, Franco conveys all of the pain that would be involved in his endless mental rejection by his father, and Dunst is a lovely foil for everyone, and within 5 seconds of her being on screen, we fall in love with her as much as Peter does.
Sam Rami infuses this film with so much style and energy. Not only do the well filmed and occasionally hair raising action sequences feel ripped directly from the comic books, but all of the little stylistic touches do as well, particularly in the production design be Neil Spisak. Everything from Peter’s tiny home in Queens, to the burning buildings and high bridges that the actions scenes are set around, feel every bit as 1963 as they do 2002.
…and therein lies my first major quibble with this movie. It feels very dated. The whole thing has a very ‘Golly Gee’ feel, particularly in some of David Koepp’s dialogue for Peter and Mary Jane. Some of it is not only incredibly cheesy, and despite Maguire and Dunst’s best efforts, stilted. There are long pauses as Peter struggles to get a sentence out to her that at first are endearing, other times maddening, and often, by the end, what is on the end of Peter’s pause makes very little sense anyway. It can feel a bit like a romance novel at times.
However, this cheesiness also leads to a great deal of really fun moments as well, particularly with some of the awful acting of the extras, and corny filmmaking techniques that nobody uses anymore.
HE STINKS, AND I DON’T LIKE HIM
Secondly, while I find Maguire wonderful as Peter, he’s a little bland as Spider-Man. The sharp sense of humor that the character is known for is attempted, but ultimately, his comedic timing is absent. Spider-Man uses constant jokes as a tactic to infuriate his opponents, these feel like little puns and quips, and not all of them work.
Need we bring up “It’s you who’s out Gobby, out of your mind!”?
Thirdly, while Dafoe’s performance is wonderful…that Green Goblin costume, not so much. It looks like a rejected design for Oscar the Grouch.
Despite these hurdles, Spider-Man remains an endlessly entertaining film, it’s light on it’s feet, likable, and a fantastic introduction to the character.