Published on June 25th, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery0
Spider-Man – A Movie Flashback
With The Amazing Spider-Man coming out next week, now seems to be a good time to take another look at Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spidey films. At the time of its release in 2002, Spider-Man was easily one of the most anticipated movies of all time. Don’t believe me? They created an entirely new rating for it in the UK because of the public outcry when it was rated 12. Spider-Man is the very reason the 12A certificate exists. There are few films in this day and age which can claim they had a whole rating created for them. In fact, it’s pretty much just Spider-Man and Tim Burton’s Batman.
Like Hulk last week, Spider-Man was a film that I hadn’t watched for a long time. Unlike Hulk, I enjoyed Spider-Man a lot more than I expected to. Bashing these films has become the vogue these days, with people only remembering the negatives. The emo, mopiness of them, some poor effects shots, a lack of quips from the Wall-Crawler, etc. Well, don’t listen to those naysayers, as Spider-Man is actually a fine example of a superhero origin movie.
We start with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in full on high school nerd mode, lusting after the object of his affections, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but it’s not long (ten minutes, in fact) before Parker has a fateful encounter with a certain genetically modified spider. The opening act of the film is pretty much perfect. Maguire is spot on as the awkward, shy Peter Parker, and plays the slow discovery of his powers with just the right amount of surprise and delight. How many weedy, nerdy types didn’t fantasize about being able to beat up the school bully? And then Peter does what anyone would do. He tries to use his powers to make money. One moment of selfishness later, and Peter’s Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) is dead, killed by the very burglar Peter chose to let escape. Peter then goes after said burglar, learning that oft quoted lesson, with great power comes great responsibility.
These scenes are played well, and very much keep the feel of that classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko story from Amazing Fantasy #15 which started the whole thing. The scenes of Peter experimenting with his powers and the scenes at the wrestling match (featuring both Macho Man Randy Savage as Bone Saw McGraw and a scene-stealing Bruce Campbell as the ring announcer) are immense fun, which only makes the subsequent tragedy of Uncle Ben’s death all the more painful. If the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to this opening act, it’s only because the first act is so good that it would be difficult for any film to do so.
That’s not to say the rest of Spider-Man isn’t good, far from it. It still nicely captures the Lee/Ditko era of the comics throughout, but the flaws do settle in. They’re small, but they’re there. Dunst isn’t well cast as MJ, but the character is also not served well by David Koepp’s script. The MJ in the comics is a vivacious, outgoing party-lover. MJ here just comes across as a bit wet. There’s nothing in the film to convince you that Peter would be so obssessed with her for so many years. And while Willem Dafoe is superb as both Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin, sometimes playing both characters in one scene to great effect, he is hampered by a poor costume design which looks like something that was rejected by the Power Rangers TV show. No, you couldn’t have done the Goblin the same way he appears in the comics, but neither does this plastic armour look, with a static, emotionless face, work.
However, there are other complaints people have about Spider-Man which simply don’t hold up. The effects? Yes, sometimes the CGI Spidey looks rubbery and like a cartoon, but there are other shots which are done beautifully, so much so that even today people don’t realise they’re CGI creations. The slow motion shots of Spidey dodging the Goblin’s projectile attacks in a burning building and the final scene of ol’ Webhead swinging around Manhattan are both perfect examples of CGI shots which look stunning, and never had a physical actor anywhere near them. As for the lack of quips, something I myself have accused the film of… Well, I was wrong. Certainly in this first film, Spidey is quipping throughout. The wrestling scene, the initial Spidey montage, the first fight with the Goblin, the scene of Spidey and the Goblin at the Daily Bugle… All these scenes feature trademark Spider-Man quipping. No, his final fight with the Goblin doesn’t feature any lighter moments, but then, the Goblin’s just tried to kill the woman he loves and a cable car full of children. In the comics, when Spider-Man is fighting someone who has genuinely hurt him this way, he goes quipless, so the same should be true here. Maybe the sequels were light on quips, but honestly, it’s not a complaint you can level at this film.
There’s humour elsewhere too, particularly in the Daily Bugle, with J.K. Simmons proving he was perfectly cast as J. Jonah Jameson, and not only getting the biggest laughs in the film, but stealing it out from everyone else. He also shows us the human side Jonah tries so hard to hide, refusing to divulge the identity of the photographer taking Spider-Man’s pictures to the Green Goblin even when his life is being threatened. It’s Jonah, more than any other character, who feels like he simply stepped off the pages of the comics. Mention must also go to James Franco as Harry Osborn and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, both of whom do exactly what the script requires of them.
The only thing the film really lacks are those traditional Sam Raimi touches. Yes, there’s a brief fever dream sequence which feels very Raimi, and his car, his brother and his Bruce Campbell, hallmarks of a Sam Raimi film, appear, but there’s little in the way of fast cuts and crash zooms which Raimi does so well. He’s made a heck of a Spider-Man film, but it feels vaguely disappointing that he didn’t also make a heck of a Sam Raimi film.
Still, it’s a small complaint in what is otherwise an excellent movie. The Amazing Spider-Man has a lot to live up to next week.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. X-Men: First Class
6. Iron Man
8. The Incredible Hulk
10. Iron Man 2
12. X-Men: The Last Stand
13. Ghost Rider
14. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Recommended Reading – Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man volume #1
No other choice. At all. The first ten issues of The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, plus Amazing Fantasy #15, are high school superheroics at their most perfect. Everything that any Spider-Man creative team has done or built on started here. In the first ten issues, Peter would not only have his first battles with the Vulture, the Chameleon, the Sandman, Electro, the Lizard and Doctor Octopus, but would have his first meeting (and misunderstanding) with the Fantastic Four. Also featuring the first appearances of J. Jonah Jameson and Betty Brant, these issues represent Lee and Ditko at the peak of their creative powers. Stan Lee was determined to create a superhero we could all empathise with, who had the same problems as many other teenagers in the world. In Spider-Man, he co-created the ultimate everyman superhero, and set the template for comics about teenage superheros which have been pouplar ever since. Don’t forget, before Spidey came along, teenagers were never the lead hero, but always the sidekick. Combined with Ditko’s wonderful pop-art sensibilities, and bizarre, almost groteque designs when it came to the villains Spidey would face, Lee crafted some of the best superhero stories of all time. Check out this volume, and marvel (thank you) at some of the most creative stories you will ever read.
Next week, Spider-Man 2.