WITH GREAT POWERS COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITIES.
For many years, “Spider-Man” was a dream that many wanted to turn into reality. Several independent studios were interested in the project, but the only thing it led to was financial ruin. Big names were attached, but it always fell through. Eventually, the rights were secured by Columbia and Sam Raimi was hired to direct the movie. After all, he was the guy who made the superhero flick Darkman (1990) reasonably entertaining and he had more recently shown maturity to match his sense of humor and pace. He definitely turned out to be the man to make Spidey come alive on a big screen.
Visiting a genetics lab
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy teenager with an interest in photography and a crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). On a visit to a genetics lab with fellow students, Peter is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider and thinks nothing more of it… until he wakes up the following morning and learns that he no longer has poor eyesight, that he has developed quite an impressive torso, and some nifty superpowers. As he starts to explore them, dark clouds gather. A family crisis helps Peter go from being a teenager to a man.
Also, the father of Peter’s best friend Harry (James Franco), billionaire scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), is becoming a danger to public safety. He has developed a chemical vapor for the army meant to increase performance in many ways, but it has a side effect – insanity. Norman goes bonkers, turns himself into a supervillain, the Green Goblin… and gives Peter the ultimate reason to pursue a career as your friendly (but superstrong) neighborhood spider.
Basically a set-up for future films
Several sequences are dark and violent, but Raimi steers his ship with great experience, keeping the film lighthearted, finding the exact right tone. Maguire does his part. He’s a perfect choice as the nerdy but immensely likeable kid who learns that being able to sling web and throw himself from one highrise to the other is kind of fun, but also that a lot of responsibility comes with it. The supporting cast is rock solid. Dafoe knows how to play a villain, but it’s pretty clear this time that he’s enjoying himself; the crazier he gets, the more of a hoot Osborn becomes. Dunst is the ideal girl next door and James Franco shows plenty of promise as a future arch-nemesis. It’s also nice to see veteran actor Cliff Robertson as Peter’s uncle, the ultimate role model to Spider-Man.
The script is engaging enough, and we are certainly entertained, but the filmmakers can’t avoid the impression that this is basically a set-up for future films. We’re introduced to major characters, there’s a few fights, the beginning of a love story and a spectacular climax. It is exactly the same concept as X-Men (2000), which was also followed by a better, more engrossing sequel. Danny Elfman’s score is grand, though not as thrilling as the one he wrote for Batman (1989).
The visual effects are uneven. Some sequences do deliver a sense of awe and wonder, others make you think of a plastic-looking video game. The Green Goblin’s immobile helmet is a distraction; the man talks, but there’s no movement. However, as a whole, this is a superb opening to a magnificent franchise.
Spider-Man 2002-U.S. 121 min. Color. Produced by Ian Bryce, Laura Ziskin. Directed by Sam Raimi. Screenplay: David Koepp. Comic Book: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko. Music: Danny Elfman. Cast: Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris… J.K. Simmons. Cameos: Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell.
Trivia: Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich were reportedly considered for the part of the Green Goblin; Leonardo DiCaprio for the part of Spider-Man. At one point, James Cameron considered directing the film. Followed by two sequels, starting with Spider-Man 2 (2004); the franchise took a new direction with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
Quote: “You do too much. You’re not Superman, you know.” (Harris to Maguire)
Last word: “The movie’s really made for the whole family. [In] Stan Lee’s original conception, the great strength of Spider-Man was the fact that he’s a real person, unlike Superman from the planet Krypton or other fantastic heroes. He’s a kid from Brooklyn; he doesn’t have a lot of money; he doesn’t get the girls, he’s got acne. He’s a fairly average looking kid. He’s really a kid that we identify with. And this kid is vested with these powers, or perhaps cursed with these powers. But the important thing is he’s one of us. So it really broadened that base of people who could appreciate comic books.” (Raimi, CineFantastique)