Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-ManWillem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin
Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson
James Franco as Harry Osborn
Rosemary Harris as May Parker
Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker
J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Written by David Koepp
Directed by Sam Raimi
If you were to ask me who my favorite character in fiction was, my immediate answer would be Peter Parker aka the amazing Spider-Man. He and Godzilla were the two most vital characters of my childhood that have carried into adulthood. I remember being nine years old, sitting in a theater with my grandparents and we got the teaser for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, where he stops a robbery by trapping the criminals' getaway helicopter between the Twin Towers.. I was absolutely enthralled. I had been somewhat familiar with superheroes at the time. I knew who Superman and Batman were, but I had never seen anything of Superman and I had only seen a few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. I did see X-Men in the theater, but I wouldn't say that it quite has the feel of a superhero film. Jump to May of 2002. I remember sitting in my seat in the Marcus Theaters Ultrascreen auditorium and I was so excited that the day had finally arrived. I was finally seeing the movie that I had obsessed over for over half of a year, which, in ten year old time, feels a lot longer. The Columbia Pictures and Marvel logos appeared and Danny Elfman's score began. I think Danny Elfman's theme is one of the best superhero film themes ever composed. Whenever I hear it, I immediately think of Spider-Man. For the next two hours, I was filled with absolute delight and excitement. Walking out of the theater, I knew what I had just watched was life changing for me. Spider-Man was the movie that started my lifelong love affair for superheroes and comic books.
Most people at the time knew Sam Raimi for The Evil Dead films, but I first knew him as the director of this film and its two sequels. Rewatching the film earlier this week, I've picked up on a lot of his trademarks. He did an excellent job directing this movie. You can easily tell that Raimi knows how a comic book film should look, because he's obviously a fan of them. The action is incredibly well choreographed and thrilling. Rewatching the film for the first time in years, I noticed how much of the effects are practical. Sure, there's CGI in there, but most of it still holds up pretty well. I remember getting Spider-Man on DVD for my birthday and that was the first film I'd ever gotten on DVD. I spent that weekend watching the movie and all of the special features and I thought Sam Raimi was such a cool guy to listen to talk about comics and movies. Ever since then, he's been one of my favorite directors.
As for the film's cast, it's fantastic. Each of the main actors fit their roles and they develop the characters very well. Tobey Maguire does a really solid job. He's an excellent Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He fits both parts greatly. A lot of people think he should have been more quippy in the movie, but even as someone who loves the comic book version of the character, I think this worked for the film portrayal. I'm sure Tom Holland will be a great Spider-Man for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Maguire will be the onscreen version of the character I'll remember fondly.
Willem Dafoe is equally great as Norman Osborn. He really sells the character's descent into madness. I think the film does a fine job of showing the changes that he and Peter are going through. Peter goes through the film learning how to be a hero, while things are basically going to shit for Norman and while he does become the villain, you understand where he's coming from. As the Green Goblin, he's menacing and even though the costume looks kind of silly, I think it works for this movie. I like the feature of his eyes on his mask opening up, so that we see Norman's eyes inside the mask and with that feature, he looks even more threatening.
Kirsten Dunst is really good as Mary Jane. She was one of the first film stars that I had a crush on and even today, I still think she's very pretty. She fits the role well and her relationship with Peter is portrayed spot on. The film really gets what it's like to have a crush on someone when you're that age and you just don't know what to say to them. I'm glad that they give her character something to do other than being a damsel in distress. We see early on that she has a rough home life, but as soon as she's with her friends or going out with Flash Thompson, she turns on that fun girl persona and I think that's a great addition to her character. She and Tobey Maguire also have really good chemistry together.
Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson are very well cast as Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Harris really gets the warmth and wisdom of the character right. Cliff Robertson plays Uncle Ben perfectly. We're given enough screen time with him, that when he dies, it's heartbreaking. The last scene between him and Peter in the car is a gut punch. Even after all this time, his death scene still gets me emotional. His famous phrase, "With great power, comes great responsibility," has stuck with me ever since seeing the film for the first time and I'm glad the film used it well. I even have a Spider-Man shirt with the famous phrase on it.
There are a few characters in comic book films, that when I see them, I feel that they've jumped right off the pages of the comics. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, Ron Perlman as Hellboy, Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson and this movie has J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Talk about perfect casting. He is so wonderful in this role, that I hope they don't try to recast him in the upcoming MCU films.
As for the plot, this was all new to me when I first saw it. I had seen film with heroes and villains, but not like this. Peter Parker was just a regular teenager who lived with his aunt and uncle, who gained superpowers. I think they did the origin story flawlessly. It doesn't even take fifteen minutes for him to get bit by the spider and from there, the movie keeps on moving, but each scene further develops the characters and sets up the story, all while being a really fun time. Unlike the 2012 reboot, this movie knows that Spider-Man is a fun, exciting character. It's a good representation of Spider-Man and his world. What's nice about this movie coming out back in the early 2000s, is that it wasn't made in the golden age of comic book films. When you would go to a comic book film back then, they were a gamble. Luckily, Sam Raimi and company knew what they were doing. They weren't concerned about building a movie universe or setting up multiple sequels. Spider-Man is how a proper comic book origin film should be made. Sam Raimi plants a few seeds to set up the second film, but that isn't a major focus. The main two moments that set up what's to come next are in the final minutes, where Harry wants revenge on Spider-Man, because he thinks he murdered his father. There's also the moment where Peter can't tell Mary Jane how much he loves her, because he's protecting her and she has that small moment of realization after she kisses him that he may be Spider-Man. Otherwise the film has told its story well.
Spider-Man has all of the strengths of a great comic book film. It establishes the characters well, the action feels straight out of a comic book and fourteen years later, the movie holds up tremendously well. I watched the film with the critical side of my brain for the first time and the only elements that I may have problems with are so minor, that they really don't affect my overall enjoyment of the film. I'm really happy to say that this is still one of my favorite comic book films, but I can't wait to see where the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes Spider-Man. He's finally home, but I think the first two Sam Raimi films should not be overlooked. I also don't have the seething hatred for the third film that so many other people have. It may not be as good as the first two movies, but I'd much rather watch it again instead of the dull reboot or something awful like Batman and Robin.
I've never related to a character the way I have to Peter Parker. Like him, I'm a huge nerd, I was bullied in school, I could barely make any verbal communication with girls, I have a similar relationship to my grandparents to the way he does to his aunt and uncle, as in we're very close and they've been very important people in my life. I related to him throughout a lot of my school years, especially middle school. But he inspired me. Because of him, I'm proud to be a nerd and to be passionate about what I love. I was made fun of for liking movies and comic books, but I didn't let it get to me, because I would never want to be like the popular kids. I'm a nerd and proud of it. Excelsior!
This was part of the Celluloid Zeroes' roundtable of genre films for kids. The other reviews are linked below.
Checkpoint Telstar: Time Bandits
The Terrible Claw Reviews: Gamera vs. Viras
Micro-Brewed Reviews: The Magic Serpent
Psychoplasmics: The Gate
Web of the Big Damn Spider: The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T.