Flashback Review: Spider-Man (2002)

Flashback Spider-Man (2002)
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In anticipation of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN's July 4th opening, here at JoBlo.com, we've decided to take a look back at the original SPIDER-MAN trilogy; a franchise that came to illustrate just how good a superhero film could be (SPIDER-MAN 2), and how badly a series could go awry (SPIDER-MAN 3).

A SPIDER-MAN movie had been in the making for years. In the eighties, the schlockmeisters at Cannon Films threatened to make a low-budget feature film (which at one time was rumoured to star Bob Hoskins as Doc Ock) before the company went under. Considering what they did with SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, and what Menahem Golan did with CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FANTASTIC FOUR, we should be grateful this project never came to fruition.

Throughout the nineties, James Cameron was attached to direct a big-budget version, with Leonardo Di Caprio rumoured to star. For one reason or another, this never happened. In 2000, Bryan Singer's X-MEN demonstrated that a credible, non-cartoony superhero film could be made, and would have crossover appeal beyond comic-book fans, opening the floodgates, from which the SPIDER-MAN series emerged.

Thus, in 2002, a SPIDER-MAN film finally hit the big-screen. Sam Raimi, director of THE EVIL DEAD series (not to mention DARKMAN- a nifty superhero film in it's own right) was on-board to direct, and Tobey Maguire, a low-key actor known for his work in films like THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and WONDER BOYS was signed to play the title role. At the time, he casting was ridiculed in the same way Michael Keaton being signed for BATMAN was over a decade earlier. Like BATMAN, a trailer was enough to change peoples' minds, and SPIDER-MAN opened amid a white-hot fury of hype, broke box-office records, and was well-received by fans and critics.

Ten years later, the first SPIDER-MAN holds up relatively well, although I'd wager that it loses some of it's luster in hindsight only due to the fact that later superhero entries (X2, BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT, IRON MAN, THE AVENGERS and SPIDER-MAN 2) proved just how good a superhero film really could be.

In a way, the first SPIDER-MAN is like a rough draft for all the superhero films to follow. A good deal of time is spent establishing the character of Peter Parker, and Tobey Maguire absolutely anchors the film with a role he seems to have been born to play. In fact, Maguire is so good both in and out of the Spidey suit that he's still struggling to emerge from the typecasting that's linked him so closely to the part. The first section of the film is really good, establishing his sweet relationship with Aunt May, and Uncle Ben (beautifully played by Cliff Robertson in one of his final roles). Once he gets bitten, Maguire's (real) physical transformation is startling, as the usually gangly and weak-seeming Maguire was able to pack on pounds of muscle and instantly transform himself into a big-screen hero.

For me, the weaker parts of SPIDER-MAN mostly have to do with his relationship with Mary-Jane. I always liked Kirsten Dunst in the part, but other than the steamy rain-soaked upside-down kiss, I always felt the relationship came across as shallow. Sure, Parker is in love with her, but why? Because she's hot- that's why. And of course, Mary-Jane won't give him the time of day until he's absolutely ripped after the mid-way point, and her final confession of love to Parker seems unearned and phony, although Raimi takes the unusual step of ending the film without them together. Of course, that would all change later in the franchise, and the second film does indeed make the relationship a little more credible.

As Parker's best pal, we get James Franco, who was just coming off the amazing FREAKS & GEEKS. Franco's always been the kind of actor who can either knock your socks off or be as boring as watching paint dry. I always thought he was phoning it in as Harry Osborn, and this would actually get worse in each film.

But back to what works. The CGI, for the time, was truly-groundbreaking, and the FX still hold up pretty well, making the web-slinging look convincing, a considerable feat ten years ago (just look at how bad THE HULK looks in a film that was made a year later). Most importantly, SPIDER-MAN feels like a real “A-picture” meaning that all involved took it seriously, and didn't turn it into a campy ride, like what happened with the nineties post-Burton Batman movies. There's a reason SPIDER-MAN was a smash and crossed-over to a mainstream audience, and it's that- warts and all, it's quite a good film.

SPIDEY: In his first outing as Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire is just great. Obviously he knew this role had the potential to make him a star, and he clearly threw himself into the role, giving a performance that compares favourably to the parts that helped him break-out in the nineties. He's terrific, but over time, Maguire would obviously lose the enthusiasm for the part that he shows here, and by the time SPIDEY 3 came around, he would be downright toxic in the role.

VILLAIN: Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/ The Green Goblin. With the Goblin's suit is a bit dumb, Dafoe is excellent, striking exactly the right balance between the relatively sympathetic, weak Norman, and the evil incarnate of Green Goblin. The final moment, before he dies, when he says “Peter” in Norman's voice is one of the more affecting moments of the series. Dafoe is one of the best villains we've ever gotten in superhero films, coming in just under Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT, standing side by side (in my opinion) with Brian Cox in X2, and Tom Hiddleston in THE AVENGERS/THOR.

MUSIC: Now THIS is what I really didn't care for. Danny Elfman, a brilliant composer, seems like he was shackled a bit in the films, either by Raimi, the studio, or whoever, as these are serviceable scores, but lack the OOMPH, or a heroic main theme (such as his BATMAN theme) that would have made the films even more memorable. As for the pop rock part of the soundtrack- Chad Kroger of Nickelback (BARF!!!!) sings the title track. Must have seemed like a good idea at the time...

RECEPTION: SPIDER-MAN was a hugely successful film, grossing $403 million domestically, and another $418 million overseas, making for an $821 million global cume. That's real money folks, and it paved the way for the first wave of Marvel superhero films, including DAREDEVIL, THE HULK, and others.

Extra Tidbit: Ten years later, how does SPIDER-MAN sit with ya?
Source: JoBlo.com



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