Before all of Marvel’s movies were linked and part of some huge master-plan, before every superhero movie felt like an “event” and before there were at least 3 comic book movies a year, Sam Raimi delivered the perfect Spider-Man. Superhero movies just were not a “thing” back in 2002, or at least not the staple of every summer, which meant expectations were low and hype was almost non-existent. Luckily, for what you could deliver in 2002, Raimi does a great job.
This was the first time Spider-Man had been on-screen in decades, especially live-action, so it didn’t feel too unreasonable to bring the full origin movie to the screen. Raimi does this perfectly, from the radio-active spider, the wrestling and the death of Uncle Ben, through to the first time swinging through New York. To his credit, he also doesn’t waste time or spend too long over-developing characters or setting the scene, within fifteen minutes Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and within half an hour, Uncle Ben is dead.
That doesn’t mean any of this is rushed though, just well-written. Raimi introduces Peter Parker as the loveable geek, uncomfortable and awkward. Tobey Maguire was perfect casting here, as he pulls off earnest without being pathetic and heroic without being preachy. Kirsten Dunst is also a perfect choice as Mary-Jane, the love of Peter’s life and the unattainable girl-next-door. Although she has a decent amount of story and good scenes here, the finale does mean she falls into the “damsel-in-distress” trope that early superhero movies suffered from. Even James Franco, as the slimy best friend Harry Osborn, gets plenty to do and is the perfect gateway to the movie’s villain.
One trap current Marvel Studio’s origin stories fall into is the perfect evil-mirror villain. Here, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin is not the exact copy of Spider-Man but instead a slightly more complex villain with a decent story and understandable motivations. Again, for the short amount of time, Raimi manages to bring a developed villain and Dafoe is clearly relishing the opportunity to chew the scenery and steal the movie.
For 2002, the action scenes are fantastic. Spider-Man swinging through the New York sky-line works well and is always great to watch. The moments between Goblin and Spider-Man are well executed too, with some great battles both to a huge scale, like at a big-float parade or small, like in a collapsing burning building. There are just a few moments where the dodgy CGI of 2002, something we wouldn’t have noticed at the time, clashes with the action. From weird computer-animation to stiff armed swinging, some of it can take you out of the scenes.
To its credit though, at a time when we have seen every main-stream superhero on the big screen and at least two other Spider-Men, Raimi’s origin movie still holds-up. In fact, it betters a lot of what is being produced because it had no grand expectations of a huge franchise and constant sequel baiting. There is a little here but it rightfully kept for the conclusion of the movie and all it does is entice you to watch Spider-Man 2.
Overall, Spider-Man is a great superhero movie and still holds up against its modern, more slick counterparts. The casting is perfect and Tobey Maguire makes for a great Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Willem Dafoe is also a perfect villain, bringing something different and developed to a usually rushed role. Look past some dodgy CGI and this is still one of the best superhero movies.
Rating – 4.5
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