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Wayback Wednesday: Spider-Man (2002)

Superpowers be damned, I do NOT want any spiders biting me!

With this Friday’s release of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), this marks the NINTH time the famous web-slinger has starred in his own movie in the last 20 years. Look, I like the character as much as the next guy, but doesn’t that seem like overkill? Or a bit greedy? Or dare I even say, dull and predictable? Especially when you consider that amazing comic book characters like Zatanna, The Atom or Black Cat have never made an appearance on film. Oh, and would you believe that there are allegedly THREE MORE Spider-Man movies in production? I really like Tom Holland but damn Hollywood, let’s try diversifying the portfolio, shall we? Before we had an abundance of Spider-Men though, the world was gifted with director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), one of the first great superhero movies of the 21st century. It’s been a while since I’ve revisited this movie and oh my God, I forgot just how fantastic it is! 

Credit: / Sony Pictures Releasing

Based on the Marvel superhero of the same name, Spider-Man follows Peter Parker, a shy, nerdy high school student who is bitten by a genetically modified spider and soon develops amazing spider-like abilities. When a ruthless villain known as the Green Goblin begins to terrorize New York City, Peter uses his newfound powers to save his loved ones from evil. 

Along with X-Men (2000) – check out my review, here – and the Tim Burton / Joel Schumacher Batman movies (1989 – 1997), Spider-Man is one of the first superhero movies I remember growing up with. I cannot tell you how many times my brother and I watched this movie and the (arguably even better?) sequel over and over again. One of the things that makes Spider-Man such a great superhero movie is that it transcends the idea that these kind of movies only appeal to younger audiences. There is not only heaping amounts of comic book action and excitement, but also heart wrenching emotional beats and top-notch performances. I mean, that’s kind of the perfect formula when it comes to creating an entertaining superhero movie, right? Spider-Man succeeds on all accounts. This fantastic movie is a winner from the very beginning as it literally starts with the field trip that results in Peter Parker receiving the bite that gives him his super powers. The movie as a whole is excellently paced when it comes to telling Peter’s story. Well, for the most part. It does a really good job of setting up how much of a pathetic nerd Peter is and then has a strong and intriguing transition into him becoming a cool superhero. As with a lot of origin movies or the first in superhero franchises however, the “discovering my powers / becoming a superhero” chunk of the movie goes on for quite some time. It’s halfway through the movie before Peter even officially becomes Spider-Man! I greatly enjoy this movie and I think that truly the only thing I would nitpick about it is that there are some scenes that could have been trimmed down. 

Now that I’m more familiar with Raimi as a filmmaker, a lot of the specific creative and directorial choices made in Spider-Man make a lot of sense to me. On that note, I’m genuinely curious as to how Raimi, who was most famous for writing and directing the cult The Evil Dead franchise (1981 – 2013) landed the much sought after job of directing this big-budget Spider-Man movie. He’s undoubtedly a talented director but I’m just a little surprised considering that this is a more subdued movie than I’m used to seeing from Raimi. Subdued in the sense that there are real people and emotional moments about family, grief, unrequited love and responsibility. Then again, this movie was made in an era before CGI dominated every major movie so there’s a sizeable amount of restraint. Speaking of, I was amazed by how well all of the practical stunts held up! It all looks great and really helps sell you on this web-slinging adventure. Sigh…I miss the ingenuity and creativity of practical effects in mainstream blockbusters. There’s a simplicity and a comforting, easygoing feel to this movie that makes it reminiscent of the fun, innocent days of making superhero movies. Spider-Man feels more like a movie and less like a product that exists to produce sequels or sell toys as so many superhero movies of today do. I would say that this is as close to iconic movies like Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) as we’re going to get. You know who else I like about this movie? Just a personal preference? It’s refreshing that Spider-Man isn’t tasked with having to save the world or the universe. It’s a small, contained story about Peter saving the day from the Green Goblin and rescuing his loved ones from the villain’s reign of terror. I like a saving the world story from time to time, but every once in a while a lower stakes story is a welcome change of pace. 

Everyone in this movie is exceptionally cast. I will say though, even when I was a kid I had a difficult time believing that 26-year-old Tobey Maguire was playing a teenager. What he lacks in physical realism though, he more than makes up for with a youthful enthusiasm and an earnest performance. I’m not going to start a war by declaring him any better or worse than any other Spider-Men out there, but Maguire brings such a positive energy and just good ol’ fashioned sense of heroism to the role that it’s impossible not to be swayed by his commanding lead performance. Than there’s Willem Defoe as the Green Goblin. Defoe does a fantastic job of playing both sides to his character. The desperate, mild mannered Norman Osborn and the insane, chaotic Goblin. He really approached this role seriously in that he’s acting his butt off but also knew when to have fun and lean into the atmosphere of the comic book world he’s playing in. What a great villainous performance. Defoe ALWAYS used to freak me out more so as Norman than the Goblin. The choices he makes with his face and body are so theatrical and unhinged, delivering the same intensity as if he were performing Shakespeare. Defoe is chilling. I always had a sense of suspense, dread and foreboding during the tense Thanksgiving scene! Oh and by the way, it should have been a tip-off that Norman was a bad guy because he brought fruitcake as a dessert.

Also, just really quickly, obviously Heath Ledger, Michael Keaton and Robert Downy Jr., are wonderful, but J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is THE BEST CASTING IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER! Talk about the perfect casting from comic book to screen! Simply iconic. Almost as iconic as Joe Manganiello and Octavia Spencer’s cameos in this movie. The latter is especially hilarious because not only would she would go on to become such a huge star, but because she ALSO cameos in the background of Drag Me to Hell (2009), another Raimi movie! Hmm, just a weird coincidence?

If you’re looking to watch some classic superhero movies, Spider-Man has to be at the top of your list. This movie has it all! Action, romance, drama…It also has some very important lessons. Like, I’m pretty sure that it was this movie that I was first introduced to the idea that if you are in a superhero movie and you’re on the board of directors and fire someone, chances are you will be mercilessly murdered when the fired person inevitably becomes a super villain. 

Are you fan of Spider-Man ?

Let me know in the comments or on social media! 

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