Spider-Man launches superhero box office dominance
It took Marvel much longer than its DC Comics counterparts to find box office success, but emboldened by the reception of Blade and the X-Men, it was finally time for Marvel’s flagship character to get his due in the stunning and sensational Spider-Man. Not only a box office phenomenon more than any other film, the Sam Raimi production firmly established comic book films as the next big billion dollar genre in Hollywood.
Fortunately with the advancements of CGI effects, a great cast and talented director, not to mention a pretty decent story for a comic book movie, Spider-Man gets the class A treatment on the silver screen he deserves.
Enduring continual torment by the school jocks (including Joe Manganiello) while trying to work up the nerve to speak to the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is the typical day in the life of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire).
Maguire was perfectly fine as the every man social outcast, but Dunst was miscast. She’d be perfect in the Gwen Stacy role as the too-sweet to be attainable girl, but as the so far beyond mere mortal man’s reach Mary Jane? Not buying it. At least Dunst and Maguire had solid chemistry.
The film featured much stronger casting with Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson as Peter’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
Since ‘the life and times of the bespectacled’ wouldn’t make for a very interesting movie, something has to come in to spice things up.
In this case it happens where any good adventure begins – on a school field trip to a science laboratory where the technicians have combined the traits of various species of spiders into a brand new species — and one of them just so happened to bite Peter, endowing him with the super spiders’ abilities.
After some experimenting with his newfound abilities, Peter learns he can climb walls, shoot webs from his wrist, has a ‘spider-sense’ of impending danger and shows those bullies a thing or two when it comes to fighting. There’s a genuine sense of excitement and exhilaration as Peter discovers all of his abilities. Those initial gleeful moments are some of the film’s highlights.
By now, everyone can tell you Spider-Man’s origin, but Director Sam Raimi provides such a strong comic book accurate introduction, it renders the need to retell it moot.
This was a perfectly realized origin save the controversial decision to dumb down Peter so he doesn’t create his own webshooters, one of the character linchpins over the years.
My biggest complaint though remains the lack of one of the character’s trademarks — the snappy puns and put downs while in costume, which empowers him to make fun of all the bullies and jerks he can’t show up while outside his costume.
Beyond those gripes, the costume looks good if a bit overly detailed and intricate for a teenager to create on their own.
When Peter becomes Spider-Man for the first time, it feels well-earned as Raimi and Maguire allowed us to get invested in Peter pre-costume so the audience cares as much when he’s not swinging around as a superhero.
Raimi expertly conveys Spider-Man swinging around as adeptly as Superman flying around Metropolis. Peter heads to New York City with his best friend, Harry Osborne (James Franco, who captures the pretentious aloof billionaire’s son vibe almost too easily), thanks to Harry’s genius father, Norman (Willem Dafoe).
Peter gets a job freelancing for The Daily Bugle, whose cantankerous editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons in one of the best casting moves in any comic book film) desperately wants to get some pictures of Spider-Man in action.
That action will be coming to Spider-Man sooner than he realizes in the form of The Green Goblin, Norman’s less than stable alter ego. Green Goblin was a risky character to attempt to bring to the big screen first and the awful costume design made Spider-Man’s first big screen villain seem as threatening as a Power Rangers punching bag. Dafoe captures the more erratic tone of the character, but the costume and movements make Goblin far too much of a joke.
Fortunately, the straight action scenes are well shot and clear. Raimi had a better than expected take on filming the action giving it a grander sense of scope than anything else audiences had seen from a comic book property at the time.
Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp exceed at one of the most difficult of feats for filmmakers – taking a licensed property and bringing it to a wider audience while remaining faithful to the years of history already established.
Next to Superman, this was the definitive comic book origin movie until Marvel Studios raised that to another level.
The effects were outstanding for the time, Maguire made for a likeable lead and anything that didn’t involve the Goblin in costume was fun enough to be entertaining and engaging. Besides the lack of Spider-Man puns, my only other real gripe was the constant removal of Spidey’s mask.
Rating: 8 out of 10