Tobey MaguireKirsten DunstWillem DafoeJ.K. Simmons
Included in: Spider-Man 1-3
Medium: film
Year: 2002
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: David Koepp
Keywords: Oscar-nominated, superhero, action
Country: USA
Actor: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris
Format: 121 minutes
Series: << Spider-Man >>
Website category: Superhero
Review date: 28 June 2002
I saw Spider-Man yesterday, with Dad. Bizarrely, he had no idea who Spider-Man was, hadn't even heard of the comics and was thus fascinated by all these changes that were happening to Peter Parker. He didn't even know in advance that this was a superhero film! Me, I'm envious. Imagine seeing a Batman movie having never heard of Bruce Wayne, or a Superman movie having never heard of Clark Kent. As a result Dad loved this film, although obviously he missed the script's winks to those versed in Spidey's comics lore.
The movie... well, it has the usual comic book movie problem of defeating the villain with a big punch-up. X-Men did the same. Great movie, until the last twenty minutes whereupon it degenerates into a big punch-up. This is even worse, since there's nothing at stake in the fight beyond Spidey and the Green Goblin kicking the shit out of each other. At least Magneto had that muto-field threat going.
Broadly speaking, I felt the comic-book bits were the least successful elements of the movie. Spidey just ain't interesting as Spidey - he's just your standard save-the-innocents superhero, with no wrinkles to those scenes whatsoever. The Green Goblin is well portrayed by Willem Dafoe, but the script doesn't help him. Norman Osborne has inner life, but the Goblin is just a cackling psycho without goals or plans except on the kindergarten level of trying to smash anyone he sees as an enemy. What does he want? Who knows? He's mad! Random pointless destruction does not a fascinating adversary make.
Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker as a little slow - by which I don't mean stupid, but deliberate. He's got brains, but it's slow-burning brainpower rather than quicksilver intelligence. He'll put the pieces together... eventually. Maguire makes some interesting acting choices, especially since the script would seem to make Parker a geek (wins science prizes, gets bullied, knows lots of obscure facts, can hardly even talk to Mary Jane) but Tobey's Peter isn't one. He's not socially incapable, just quiet. All this worked surprisingly well for Peter Parker but didn't gel for me with the wisecracking Spidey of the comics. Maybe Parker will get a quicker wit and some more self-confidence once he's got more bad guys under his belt. I'm sure the actors would be able to pull it off.
However everything non-costumed was lots of fun and the final scene between Parker and M.J. was a stonker, giving the film a great closure that the Green Goblin's demise, er, didn't. All that discovering-himself stuff was splendid and the origin story is one of the better origins in comics, since it doesn't involve our hero as a kid (as with Batman, Superman, etc.). The relationship between Peter, Uncle Ben and Aunt May was warm, understated and all the better for it. A less deft handling could have smothered that side of the film with sentimental goo. Trouble is, they won't be able to rerun all that for Spider-Man 2 and instead we'll get more costumed Spidey action - which was comfortably the least successful aspect of the movie. (Though I didn't much mind the CGI.) Much will depend on the villain they pick for the sequel. The Kingpin would rock, but he's apparently off-limits 'cos the Daredevil movie has first dibs (as is right and proper).
Mysteriously mega-popular, I liked this film a lot but have serious reservations about the series it will undoubtedly spawn. However something in it clearly struck a chord with the movie-going public, which I'd guess is "revenge of the geek". Peter Parker is a downtrodden loser who gets super-powers and the power to humiliate his former bullies - but instead of being as bad as them, he discovers nobility and wants to do the right thing. In this age of Columbine massacres and high school shootings, that's reassuring.