Spider-Man (2002) Columbia Pictures/Action-Adventure RT: 121 minutes Rated PG-13 (stylized action violence) Director: Sam Raimi Screenplay: David Koepp Music: Danny Elfman Cinematography: Don Burgess Release date: May 3, 2002 (US) Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Gerry Becker, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Jack Betts, Stanley Anderson, Ron Perkins, Michael Papajohn. Box Office: $403.7 million (US)/ $821.7 million (World)
It took about a quarter of a century for it to happen, but fanboys around the world had cause to celebrate in May 2002 because that's when Spider-Man finally made the leap from the pages of a comic book to the big screen in a solidly entertaining superhero flick. Spider-Man is a grand action/adventure that doesn't quite have the epic feel of the original 1978 Superman movie, but under the supervision of director Sam Raimi (the Evil Dead movies), it has a playfully campy spirit while still maintaining a respectful attitude towards its original source. Since Spider-Man is an origin movie, that means several things ..... the major characters from the series are introduced, we learn how Peter Parker gains his super powers, we learn how he becomes Spider-Man , the establishment of various complex relationships, exploring the internal conflicts of the main character as it relates to reconciling the self and the alter-ego and drawing parallels between the hero and the villain. Screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible) balances these plot elements and some bravura action sequences making for one hell of a great superhero movie. Both Koepp and Raimi do justice to a property that richly deserves it. Spider-Man is one of the most prominent superheroes in the Marvel universe and a lesser movie would be an insult to the legions of fans who have been waiting a long time to see their web-slinging idol brought to life on the big screen.
Nerdy high school senior Peter Parker (Maguire, The Ice Storm) constantly gets bullied by his peers and can't bring himself to approach Mary Jane Watson (Dunst, The Virgin Suicides), the girl next door that he's had a crush on since childhood. He lives with his Uncle Ben (Robertson, Charly) and Aunt May (Harris, Tom & Viv) in Forest Hills, a quiet neighborhood in Queens, New York. His only friend is Harry Osborn (Franco, 127 Hours), the son of wealthy Dr. Norman Osborn (Dafoe, Wild at Heart). He's also the president of the Oscorp corporation and they're attempting to win a contract to supply weapons to the US military. During a field trip to a genetic laboratory, Peter gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider and it has strange and unexpected effects. The boy finds that he has increased strength, super quick reflexes and the ability to climb walls and jump from one building rooftop to the next. He can also shoot web strings from his wrists. Initially, he's not quite sure what to do with his new abilities, but after his uncle gets killed by a carjacker, Peter decides to become a masked crime fighter and make New York a safer place. Calling himself Spider-Man, Peter makes money by selling photos of the superhero to Daily Bugle newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (Simmons, Law & Order) who immediately labels him a public menace.
Meanwhile, under pressure to secure a contract with the military, Dr. Osborn tests a dangerous performance-enhancing chemical on himself. It makes him much stronger, but he also develops a maniacal alter-ego and proceeds to go on a killing spree, wiping out his competitors and the Oscorp board of directors after they attempt to fire him. Calling himself the Green Goblin, he attacks the directors at an Oscorp-sponsored function in Times Square and almost kills Mary Jane who's in attendance with Harry, her boyfriend. Spider-Man springs into action and drives away the maniacal villain. Now, it's on between the hero and the villain! Among other things, Spider-Man gives depth to the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. He's loved her for nearly his entire life and it breaks his heart to see her with his best friend. She sees Peter as a good friend, never considering that he obviously has feelings for her. She does fall for Spider-Man after he saves her from the Green Goblin's attack in Times Square. At one point, they share an upside down kiss on a dark rainy night. She loves the hero without knowing his true identity, it's very much like the Clark Kent/Lois Lane/Superman love triangle. There's also the father-son-surrogate son relation between Norman, Harry and Peter. Harry is the perennial screw-up and Norman makes no attempt to hide his disappointment in his biological son. On the other hand, he starts to look at Peter as a surrogate son, he's everything Norman ever wanted in a son (smart, ambitious, can do no wrong, etc.). Naturally, this makes Harry jealous and bitter, but he cannot bring himself to stand up to his father, not even when he expresses his disapproval of his relationship with Mary Jane within her earshot. All of this provides psychological depth to the proceedings and makes the myth all the more real ..... that is, as real as a story about a guy who swings from webs can get.
The special effects in Spider-Man look great; however, they're also my only complaint about the movie. Well, it's a fairly minor complaint. The CGI effects make me feel as though I'm watching my nephew playing a computer game instead of an actual movie, but at the same time, they look so awesome! The sequences of Spider-Man swinging through the city on his web are extremely thrilling and breath-taking. I'm actually glad that it took this long for a Spider-Man movie to get made, the whole visual scheme would have looked cheesy and unconvincing without the benefit of computer-generated special effects. Based on what's up on the screen, the $140 million budget is money well spent. As Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Maguire does a great job embodying the idea of duality, a common trait of all superheroes. Who would ever guess that this geeky photographer is also the city's baddest protector? More importantly, he has to learn to accept his new identity and use his powers responsibly. Uncle Ben sums it up best by saying, "With great power comes great responsibility." The coolest performance in Spider-Man comes from Dafoe who really camps it up as the Green Goblin. It ranks right alongside Jack Nicholson's performance as the Joker in 1989's Batman. Very often, the villain is more entertaining than the hero and it's true here as well, but who doesn't love a cool scenery-shredding bad guy? I love that he gets to spit out such typical comic book villain lines like, "We'll meet again, Spider-Man!", "You've spun your last web, Spider-Man." and (my personal favorite) "The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. Down came the Goblin and took the spider out."
J.K. Simmons is absolutely hysterical as the blustery J. Jonas Jameson who's always screaming for big headlines and better pictures. He runs the Bugle like it's a tabloid and constantly terrorizes his entire staff. Dafoe and Simmons lend Spider-Man some extremely welcome campiness without compromising the integrity of the property. Look for cameos by Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell (as a wrestling ring announcer), Lucy Lawless (as a punk rock girl) and Stan Lee himself in the Spider-Man/Green Goblin fight sequence in Times Square (he saves a young girl from falling debris). It's great when a long-anticipated major movie like Spider-Man not only meets expectations but exceeds them! Raimi proves himself worthy of the monumental task of bringing this hero to big screen life. Interestingly enough, he wasn't the only one considered for the job, the list of other candidates includes some pretty big names ..... Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), Tim Burton (Batman), Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and David Fincher (Seven). Koepp's screenplay is based on a treatment written by James Cameron. The Danny Elfman (Batman) score is definitely an asset. In short, Spider-Man is one of the better early superhero movies and its success gave rise to the subsequent wave of similar films to hit multiplexes over the next decade, recently culminating in the ultimate superhero epic The Avengers. I don't know how the upcoming reboot The Amazing Spider-Man can improve upon this, but I'll certainly let you know once I see that movie later this week.