Spider-Man (2002)

July 3, 2012

Let’s go back to when comic book movies were in their infancy, or at least in terms of building viable franchises from them. There was once a time when we had only had movies like Blade and X-Men coming out from Marvel, and they put a lot of eggs in the Spider-Man basket when it finally got made. I’m sure I saw it opening day and I remember definitely being into parts of it. When Spider-Man swings through the city on his webs for the first time, there was an undeniable rush, a thought of “Wow, we can finally do this in movies? Thank God”. The real comic book movie had arrived. In the year 2012, these comic book blockbusters are commonplace, but ten years ago this was new and exciting.

So watching Spider-Man today, what holds up and what doesn’t?

Once you get past the hammy voice over and crappy intro credits, The first 20 minutes are really where I wanted the movie to stay. Peter Parker in his element, being ridiculed and picked out as a real dork got me on his side. The sheer amount of bullying is baffling here, but it also kind of works in a way. I am still a little curious of the security in a place where deadly super-spiders are missing from cages, and I question just how smart Parker is if he doesn’t immediately go to a doctor after getting bit by one, but y’know, high schoolers will be high schoolers. The debut of Spider-Man at the wrestling match with Bonesaw (RIP Macho Man) is still fun and where you say “Ah-ha! This is why Raimi was selected to do this movie!”. Also the last fight between Goblin and Spidey is extremely physical and pretty sweet, and seems to be the innovator of the slow-down punches that have since flooded action movies (a la 300). Good stuff.

Unfortunately, that’s more or less the only stuff that really works in this movie. Now for the bad stuff.

I don’t buy Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. Yes, he is a dork and kinda nerdy, but he is even more so dopey. I can’t picture him staying up late doing his homework and building computers. I see him more as a “watching the Simpsons and pining over MJ with the lights off every night staring through his window” type of guy. His relationship with his aunt and uncle seems very forced and surface-level, where he is constantly coming and going exchanging hellos and goodbyes, with only the “great responsibility” speech tying it all together that he actually cares about his family (his behavior kind of becomes part of the story, but it makes me doubt that they were ever tight-knit). It’s more 1950’s than it is 2000’s.

The obvious focus of the entire trilogy is Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s relationship, which from the get go is flimsy at best. She literally ignores him throughout the entire first half of the movie, with these moments of “Hmm, there is that guy again, isn’t he my neighbor? Oh my ride is here, gotta go date the school bully and general shithead!”. It is unfortunate that her character is so one dimensional and it really seems like Peter could do better. We go from this to 5 months later (I estimate) where she desperately confesses her love for him. Excuse me? Where is this coming from? They meet each other like 4 times throughout the movie, in passing, catching up through stop-and-chats. They don’t hang out. They don’t e-mail each other. They barely know each other. It takes Green Goblin throwing her off a bridge for her to realize she loves the dweeb she barely knows? Come on. The foundation of their relationship is so weak, and that carries throughout the entire series as a result.

The Green Goblin is grossly misused here. He doesn’t really seem to have much of a beef with Spider-Man until the very end of the movie. His costume is ridiculous; he should not be acting through a mask. Have you seen Willem DeFoe? The guy looks like a goblin! Paint him green and there you go (salt in the wound seeing his SFX make-up test). His little side story seems like how kids might think an adult world is. The military is invested in flying gliders and goblin helmets? I guess so…

There are a few scenes that really get under my skin:

  1. The sleeping gas that Green Goblin uses on Spider-Man – What? First of all, I’ve seen better sleeping gas in the Adam West Batman movie than was used here. The gas is barely going towards Spidey’s face. Also, why tell him to sleep? Maybe because its so impractical of a “weapon” that Spider-Man was thinking “What the hell is that? What am I supposed to do here?”.
  2. The kid who almost gets killed by the balloon at the parade scene – Worst kid in the history of kids. The stupid awe-struck face of his, the wind blowing his hair back; Spidey should have left him be.
  3. Norman Osborn enters Peter’s room while Peter hides on the ceiling – When you enter a room, you don’t have a narrow tunnel of vision. You don’t enter a room and just see where your face is pointing.
  4. The attack on Aunt May by the Green Goblin – I honestly didn’t remember this scene at all, and it almost made me vomit whilst my mouth was agape. Unforgivable.

All in all this is a very safe movie. They don’t delve too deep into the mythology, they don’t push the audience too far, it’s an entry level movie that shows more potential than prowess. I certainly never say to anyone (other than to write these reviews) “Hey, let’s watch Spider-Man” because it really is just a ho-hum early entry in the history of blockbuster comic book movies. It was that time where comic book movies were insecure and made fun of themselves to compensate for the sheer ridiculous premise of super heroes (when he tries to figure out how to shoot his web by saying things like “Shazaam”, etc.) which are all fun and a cheap laugh, but it let’s the audience know “Hey, we aren’t taking it seriously either folks”. And you don’t have to. If you want a campy, fun, romp that just goes a steady 55 mph on a 55mph signed road, then hey, maybe you will like this one. Me? I can’t drive 55. I want more.

Final Grade: C- (5 out of 10)

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