Tobey Maguire - Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Kirsten Dunst - Mary Jane Watson
Willem Dafoe - Norman Osborn/Green Goblin
James Franco - Harry Osborn
Cliff Robertson - Ben Parker
Rosemary Harris - May Parker
J.K. Simmons - J. Jonah Jameson
Joe Manganiello - Flash Thompson
Year - 2002
Score - 3.5 Howls
Let me start off by saying this: I HATE SPIDERS. Where that stems from, I have no idea. I just don't like to look at them. I don't like them near me or around me. They just give me the heebie geebies. But there is one spider I can tolerate and have been a fan of for years. That spider is Peter Parker.
Even though the first comic book I ever read was an X-Men comic [one of the old Jim Lee ones back in the day], Spider-Man was the comic that got me hooked. I just loved the adventures of Peter Parker and his web-swinging ways, beating up the baddies and cracking jokes at the same time. His rogues gallery is impressive and the cast that supports Peter are just as important as Peter/Spider-Man himself. He wasn't like Superman where he was born with powers and his secret identity didn't really interfere with his life all too much [plus, he was made to be too perfect for my tastes]. Peter was and still is haunted by that radioactive spider and the life it gave to him. It's ruined his relationships with his girlfriends/wife time and time again. It interfered with his school and work. His friends and family would be in jeopardy whenever a villain found out his secret identity. Peter struggles with being Spider-Man and vice-versa...which makes the character so sympathetic and so loved at the same time.
Spider-Man has been a pop culture icon for years. Multiple cartoons have seen the light. A TV show was created about him [the less said about that debacle, the better]. And when James Cameron was attached to the Spider-Man film project in the 1990s, the fans salivated for it. Unfortunately that was ruined when Cameron wanted Leonardo DiCaprio to play Peter Parker [thank God that didn't happen, though I do admire Leo's work]. Thankfully, nothing came out of that and Sam Raimi, a lifelong Spider-Man fan and brilliant director, was given the project. The cast was set with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst playing Peter/Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson respectively. Willem Dafoe and James Franco were cast as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin & Harry Osborn. The casting was questionable, but people still wanted to see the darn thing anyway. After the success of X-Men in 2000, a lot was expected out of the first ever Spider-Man film. Was it worth the hype back in 2002? Sure was and it pretty much still is.
In case you lived under a rock and have no idea what Spider-Man is about, here it is: Peter Parker is a puny nerd from Queens, New York who gets heckled by his classmates all the time. He also lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, who pretty much baby him out of love. He goes on a class trip where a discussion on super-spiders is taking place, where Peter is to take photos for the school paper.There, he's bitten by an escaped radioactive spider. It eventually gives him powers of that of a spider, where Peter can climb walls and shoot organic webs from his wrists. His crush on his next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson, leads Peter to fight a wrestling match to win cash to buy a car as the newly labeled Spider-Man. He's cheated out of his money, of course, and when a burgular steals from the wrestling promoter, Peter lets the burgular escape out of spite. It comes full circle, however, when the burgular murders his Uncle Ben, learning that "Great power comes with great responsibility". Due to this guilt, Peter embarks on saving New York City as crime-fighting Spider-Man.
Meanwhile. scientist Norman Osborn has created a serum to create a super-soldier for the military that's pretty flawed. When Norman does the experiment on himself, he becomes the insanely powerful Green Goblin. He gets revenge on the military and his fellow stock-holders who didn't believe in him while setting his sights on Spider-Man. As Spidey fights Gobby, he soon realizes that his villain is the father of his bestest friend, Harry Osborn, who is happening to date Mary Jane. And I thought I had issues...
Some movies are so hyped up before its release that when you actually watch it, you become so disappointed by the result. Spider-Man is NOT one of those films. I remember going to the theater to watch this six years ago and was amazed at how close to perfect the film was to the comics. The action is amazing [no pun intended], the story is great [omg...this is a chick flick disguised as an action movie!], and the CGI was pretty good [it got a lot better in the sequels]. I even clapped once the end credits rolled. Spider-Man does so many things right - why can't all comic book movies be like this!?
Let me start with Sam Raimi and his direction. I am so HAPPY he directed this film. Only a true fan would get Peter Parker's struggle between his personal life and his heroic life and create such an imbalance between the two that it actually flows beautifully together. There's a lot of heart in the story, especially when it concerns Peter's relationships with Mary Jane, Harry, his parents, and even Norman Osborn. It's not like Peter wanted to become Spider-Man. He pretty much fell into it and you can see how hard it is for him to balance the two to create some sort of normalcy for himself. James Cameron, while a great director, would have Spider-Man more of a summer blockbuster with big explosions and one-lines than Raimi's story of love, friendship, and taking responsibility for actions made. And that's what Spider-Man is really about.
And as a huge fan of Raimi's ever since The Evil Dead series [probably the best horror trilogy ever created], I knew he would hit this film out of the park and I was not disappointed. The direction of action is graceful, almost like watching a dance, and his scenes of humanity between the principal characters are sincere and extremely well-done. He shows us things when we're needed to see them and surprises us at certain moments to create suspense and drama. I really can't explain it. It's just great directing and Raimi actually improves with Spider-Man 2 & parts of 3. Just a great show for Sam Raimi that gave the man the recognition he deserved from the mainstream audience.
The acting is also well-done here [great acting in an action movie/summer blockbuster - what a novelty!]. Tobey Maguire was made to play Peter Parker, as he plays a convincing nerd to a tee. He's very convincing with his hardship to maintain a normal life when he has the shadow of Spider-Man hovering over him. He has great chemistry with everyone he shares scenes with, especially Kirsten Dunst, making their eventual romance very believable. He also does well as Spider-Man, though it's probably mostly a stunt double or CGI when he's in the red-and-blue scrubs. But I probably couldn't think of a better actor to play Spider-Man in this first installment. Kirsten Dunst wouldn't have been my first choice to play the beautiful Mary Jane Watson, but she works for me here. She's definitely cute and gives a very vulnerable performance a lot of the time. She has great chemistry with Maguire in all of their scenes together, bringing the love of Peter & MJ to life. Plus she's a bit fiesty in this film, which I liked [she's pretty tough in the comics]. What happened to that in the sequels? Plus she has great nipples. LOVED that rain scene. Willem Dafoe is probably the best actor here as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. Another vulnerable character as Norman, who gets rejected by his colleagues left and right. But when he turns evil, he really goes a bit over-the-top [not Jack Nicholson's Joker over-the-top but close] and it fits the Green Goblin character. I loved any scene where Norman and the Goblin spoke to each other at the same time. Great acting from Dafoe there. James Franco knows how to brood, which makes him the perfect Harry Osborn. Another vulnerable and sympathetic character due to his wanting of acceptance from his father, Franco does a good job setting up his story arc in the future sequels [he's honestly the best actor in part 3]. He's barely in the film, but it's a good performance nonetheless. And the resemblence between Franco and Dafoe is scary. You could actually believe they were father and son. And a special mention must go to J.K. Simmons, who plays Daily Bugle's asshole-ish news editor, J. Jonah Jameson. He IS JJJ. From the flat-top, to the voice, to the attitude, Simmons was born to play this role. Thank God he got a larger part in part 2.
While Spider-Man is a great film, it has its flaws. First, I completely dislike the Green Goblin costume. He looked like a fuckin' Power Ranger. I was waiting for him to pull out his Dragon Dagger and play a tune to awaken the DragonZord or something. The Green Goblin is supposed to be scary. The costume is laughable at best. I understand that the suit probably wouldn't have translated to well on screen but they could have at least tried. But everything else about the character was pretty spot-on [the glider, the pumpkin bombs], especially his final scene [perfectly faithful to the comics].
Also, the CGI was hit-and-miss with me. I understand no normal human being can do the things Spider-Man does [web-slinging and doing all these acrobatic moves in mid-air], but alot of time, you could tell what was fake and what wasn't. Especially during that festival scene where Spider-Man is jumping from one float to another. I thought I was watching an outtake from Shrek for a second. A bit too cartoonish for my tastes but thankfully the CGI was improved in the sequels.
Also, Spider-Man is an origin story to set up the characters for the future chapters of the franchise. So the story was pretty limited in what it had to tell. But what a great origin story it is to base the sequels off of. Sam Raimi and the screenwriters did a really good job setting up the franchise with a great start.
THE FINAL HOWL
Spider-Man was my favorite comic book film until the sequel came out 2 years later. Raimi and the rest of the cast and crew took the soul and spirit of the comics and wonderfully placed them on screen. Finally, a comic book movie that focuses on the HERO and HIS problems, not just on the villain [yes, I'm looking at you DC]. If you're one of the two people who hasn't seen this film, I highly recommend it. It may be a bit dated after the hundred of other comic book films that have been released since this one, but it's still one of the best films of the genre to ever be put on film and rightfully deserves the praise it got and still gets.