In Preparation For: Spider-Man
Before Spider-Man: Homecoming hit theaters, my plan was to rewatch and review the first three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. However, life got in the way, and I didn't get around to seeing them until after I had already seen and reviewed Homecoming. I really liked that film a lot, as it brought to screen a lot of character elements that weren't translated as well in Raimi's films. You can read our full review for Homecoming here. But there is still so much that Raimi nailed about the character, things that I think even Homecoming fell short of adapting properly. We live in an age now where Spider-Man can co-exist with the Avengers and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I think it would be foolish to completely ride off Raimi's movies. I still think Spider-Man 2 is a better film than Homecoming, even if Homecoming is a better Spider-Man movie. I think watching these movies after seeing Homecoming really helps put these films in perspective, and allows me to look at them in a new light. With these reviews, there will be spoilers. They've been out for a while guys, so if you haven't seen them yet, then I'm expecting you just don't really care about seeing them at all. This first review will be for 2002's Spider-Man, with reviews for the sequels coming soon.
After being bitten by an experimental "super spider", Peter Parker's (Tobey Maguire) life is transformed as he becomes the Amazing Spider-Man, just in time to stop the maniacal Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).
I mentioned in my Homecoming review that the Raimi films captured perfectly the "tragedy of Peter Parker", and I fully stand by it. The tragedy is that Peter is an awkward teenager. Things never go his way, and even when things seem to change (with the spider bite), it leads to only more problems. Peter can never have happiness because he lives a life of servitude, to the people who need his help. And Raimi captured that in spades. Peter can't have Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), the girl of his dreams, because he's Spider-Man. That is a classic storyline from the comics, and Raimi perfectly pulls it off. I think specifically of the scene near the beginning of the film, before he's Spider-Man, when Mary Jane turns and waves to Peter. He gets excited and waves back, before realizing she was waving to a group of her friends behind him. It's those kinds of little moments that really shows that Raimi and the writers understood the tragedy of Peter Parker. And it's these little moments that really help develop the characters. One thing I was surprised by was how little screen time we have with Peter before he's bitten by the spider (it's only like fifteen minutes), and yet Raimi shows us everything we need to know about him in that short window of time. It's not through blatant exposition, other than the brief narration in the beginning. It's all through visuals. Peter missing the bus. No one wanting to sit with him on the bus. The scene involving MJ I mentioned before. His nerdiness when on the field trip. The constant bullying during the trip. All of these are used to show us who Peter Parker is, and we understand him perfectly. It's really genius character development and story structure.
Tom Holland has since replaced Tobey Maguire as my favorite Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but Maguire's work in these movies cannot go unstated. I always said he nailed the Peter Parker character, more so than Spider-Man. Part of what makes the "tragedy" come across so excellently is how Maguire conveys it. He has a lot of simple, quiet moments where all that's used to show us what Peter is thinking is through Maguire's facial expressions, and it's brilliant. It can be easy to overlook his performance, but he is actually really, really good in these movies. He brings the character to life in such a perfect way, that we never would have had Holland build upon it without the groundwork Maguire set. People give Kirsten Dunst a lot of sh*t for these movies, saying that she and Maguire have no chemistry. I'll talk about it more in the sequels, but in terms of this film, I thought she was really good. They toned down her character from the comics, but that had more to do with the writing. In terms of the performance, I thought she was really good. What makes the love interest work in this film, for me, is that it's an interest. They're not in a relationship. And because it's more of an unrequited love rather than an actual relationship, it makes it more interesting and compelling. The conflict of Mary Jane loving Spider-Man, and Peter's struggle with that, is intriguing. Because of how it's all set up, it makes the love interest (which is usually my least favorite part of a comic book movie) actually engaging. Willem Dafoe is just fantastic in this movie! A lot of people remember him solely for his crappy looking Power Rangers costume, which I admit I didn't love myself, but people often forget just how good he actually was in the film. He plays a truly terrifying villain, who still maintains the inherit campiness that was always apart of the original 1960's comic books. And how could I talk about Spider-Man without mentioning J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson? He has got to be the single greatest casting choice for any comic book character ever. I'm not saying the best performance; that probably goes to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. What I'm saying is that I don't think there has ever been an actor who was cast in a comic book movie who so perfectly embodied and represented the character from the comics more so than Simmons as Jameson. He was born to play this character. I think he's used more and better in Spider-Man 2, but this was the first time we saw him, and he was just absolutely brilliant.
Something I noticed when I rewatched this film was just how little Spider-Man was actually in it. A majority of the film revolves around Peter Parker, and it's honestly for the better. Sam Raimi understood that for any of us to like Spider-Man, we first have to like Peter Parker. Some comic book movies get bogged down by focusing on making sure to have giant action set pieces and dazzling visual effects, but what Spider-Man does first and foremost is tell a good story. And not even a good story about Spider-Man; a good story about Peter Parker. This is a Peter Parker movie, and Spider-Man is woven in and out of it. That was a risky choice, but it makes this a stronger and a better movie. Because of this, it doesn't really feel like a comic book movie, or what we've come to know a comic book movie to be now. It feels like a human story, that happens to have a superhero in it. And I think that's why you have someone like Sam Raimi tell this story, because he'll look to make it a good movie first before it being a good comic book movie. Of course, this came out in a pre-Iron Man world. Comic book movies were very different then than they are today. But I don't think that changes just how essential Raimi's direction was to pulling this movie off. He could've gone super campy and cheesy with it, ridiculously so. He could've gone way too dark. He could've pandered to kids, or pandered entirely to adults. This movie works because it finds a balance. It takes the source material seriously, but it has fun with it. It has campy elements to it, resembling the campiness of the original comics. But it's only campy to a point, and doesn't take it so far that it becomes ridiculous or stupid. This tonal balance is imperative to making this movie work, and I think Raimi nailed it!
As much as I've been raving about this movie, it does have flaws. The design of the Green Goblin doesn't really work for me. They nailed the Spider-Man suit, as it's probably the closest we'll actually ever get to the comic book costume being on screen. But the Green Goblin looks nothing like his comic book counterpart. Now, I understand that the comic book design is a little implausible. Not everything that's drawn in a comic book can work on the big screen. But, the thing is, they made a great costume that looked terrifying, and it was true to the comics! You can see it here for yourself. It was perfect, and for whatever reason they decided to go in a different direction. If they just couldn't figure out how to make the comic book costume work on screen, that's fine. I could live with it. But the fact that they made the comic book costume, and it looked fantastic, but then chose to go with the Power Rangers suit instead... it just doesn't make sense to me. There's also some outdated CGI in the film. Raimi does a great job in utilizing practical effects when he can, so that the amount of CGI on screen is limited. This does help to keep this movie from being unwatchable or anything along those lines. But there are a few cringe-worthy moments, and that's no one's fault by time's. The second act doesn't have much of a driving narrative. It's basically a collection of scenes (which are great scenes, by the way), but they don't really have much of a story connecting them, ultimately pushing the film forward. This makes the movie drag just a little bit. However, it certainly picks back up as we head into the third act.
Overall, Spider-Man may be one of the best comic book origin movies put to screen, and is a fantastic Spider-Man movie. The filmmakers truly understand who the character is, and perfectly capture the "tragedy of Peter Parker". Tobey Maguire does an excellent job portraying the character, and laid the ground work for Tom Holland to come in later and surpass him. Kirsten Dunst is often given a bad rap for her performance in these movies, but I thought she was rather good in this film. What makes her and Maguire's dynamic work on screen is that it is truly a love interest. The fact that Peter can't have her makes it more interesting than if they were simply in a relationship. James Franco is really good in this movie, and Willem Dafoe is absolutely fantastic. His Goblin suit, however, leaves a lot to be desired. I also wish the film had spent a little more time developing Norman Osborn before he became the Goblin. J.K. Simmons is probably the single greatest comic book character casting ever, and completely nails the role! Sam Raimi does an excellent job directing this movie, and strikes the perfect tonal balance. The score by Danny Elfman is fantastic, and is still the best Spider-Man soundtrack by far. I also noticed how good the editing was, and I would say it's rather underrated. Its use of montages was surprisingly effective. The film does suffer from some outdated CGI, but luckily Raimi wasn't overly reliant on it in the first place, making it rather forgivable. There are some narrative issues come the second act, but the third act delivers enough to allow that to be mainly overlooked. In the end, Spider-Man is a rather underrated Spider-Man movie. It's favored within its own trilogy by the (superior) Spider-Man 2, and the character was adapted better in Spider-Man: Homecoming, leaving Spider-Man in a strange place. But it is endlessly rewatchable, and its achievements in adapting the character and the overall world cannot go unnoticed.
What do you think? Do you like Spider-Man? Are you planning on seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by: Nate
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