Spider-Man (2002)

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Spider-Man.

Although this will show up at January 10, I started watching the film for this review on the 9th, the day that The Superior Spider-Man #1 comic came out.  I am most definitely not the comic book type, but I did get The Amazing Spider-Man #700 where the Peter Parker we know and love dies and is replaced…well I won’t give it away.  The new series is a different, superior mind occupying Parker’s body.

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I remember seeing this in theaters a decade ago.  I didn’t grow up with Spider-Man (I was more of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles guy), so outside of some of the obvious things: Peter gets bit by a spider and has supernatural abilities, loses his uncle, a few of the villains, etc., I knew very little about the storyline.  I remember thinking this was one of the last superheroes to make it onto the big screen.  It also marked a new era, in a sense, of film making and how these types of stories are told.  It became the plumb line in a sense for comic-book hero movies.

Since The Amazing Spider-Man came out last year, I can’t help but draw comparisons since these films are primarily back story and laying groundwork for future stories.  Each one has its own merits, but I will try to stick with the original film.

By today’s standards this movie’s special effects seem, well, primitive.  Specifically the scene where Peter first scales the wall, and then leaping from building to building as he realizes the new powers he’s acquired.  Watching this for the first time in a number of years, it serves as a reminder of how far special effects have come along in the last decade.

One of the reasons why this movie was successful was the balance Sam Raimi brings to the table.  It remains faithful to the comic books (though I can’t specifically vouch for this) while remaining light and informative enough for a broader audience (which I wholeheartedly agree with).  It was entertaining and left me hungry for what would come next.  Spider-man 2 was great, probably better than the first, and Spider-Man 3 could have been a whole lot better.

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I was thoroughly impressed with the acting in this film.  Tobey Maguire was good as Spider-Man, though I think Andrew Garfield is more convincing as a geek/super-hero.  Maguire almost seems too normal and un-geeky.

James Franco and Willem Dafoe do great together.  In the scene where the two reconcile after their spat at Thanksgiving, the only thought in my head was the fact that they could be father and son.  They look so similar.  Franco had auditioned for the role of Peter Parker, but he does a decent job as Harry.  I’ve always been impressed with Willem Dafoe as an actor.  He shows great range and contrast as Norman Osborn, schizophrenic CEO/villain.

Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson pull off a far more convincing Ben and Mae Parker than Sally Field and Martin Short.  Robertson is especially great in this movie because of the impact he has as a character in his limited screen time.  He adds weight and depth to the story.  Harris also shines as a strong source of wisdom, hope, and rational.

The only casting that I would have done differently was Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson.  I looked over her filmography, and specifically the movies I’ve seen, and I don’t know that I’ve liked any of the roles she’s played.  She’s missing a certain “it” factor.  Raimi originally wanted to cast Alicia Witt (Gertrude Lang from Mr. Holland’s Opus), but it didn’t work out for some reason.  Dunst has enough talent to continue to get work, but honestly I don’t see how that happens.  This prejudice, at least in the Spider-Man series, probably has more to do with her in Spider-Man 2 and 3 and not so much this one.

It’s interesting to note that Spider-man’s costume consisted of the bodysuit and the mask, while The Green Goblin’s outfit had 530 pieces and took a half hour to put on.  Willem Dafoe insisted on suiting up, as he believed a stuntman could not communicate the body language that came with his dialogue.  I think this was a very wise choice to make.

J.K. Simmons is great.  He works perfectly as J. Jonah Jamison.  It just works.

I think this film does a good job of laying the groundwork for later stories.  It brings the appeal of Spider-Man to a wider mainstream audience much like Star Trek (2009) did while remaining true to the source material.  A person can get the basic gist of the mythology and still be entertained.  The die-hard fans probably see more layers as they know more back story from other mediums.

I would definitely watch Spider-Man again, though I’ll cringe on the inside from Kirsten Dunst’s performance.  However, there are far more great qualities to this film that outweigh aspects that are more personal preference than anything else.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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