Retro Review: Spider-Man
On a list of the best known superheroes, Spider-Man would be a top 3 entry along with Superman and Batman. One could even argue that over the last decade, through heavy commercialization and merchandise ranging from video games to clothing, Spidey has made it to the top of the list. Created by Marvel legend Stan Lee and collaborator Steve Ditko, Spider-Man first appeared in issue 15 of the comic book Amazing Fantasy in August 1962. Several animated series have since covered the adventures of the hero but a proper live action feature film was yet to be seen until a decade ago when comic book fanboy and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi was given the big chance by Columbia Pictures.
In 2002 the film Spider-Man broke several box office records and began a huge wave of synergy branding when it came out. It features Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe in leading roles. Following Stan Lee’s original creation closely it tells the story of nerdy high school student Peter Parker who recieves superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He must then fight crazy scientist/weapons entrepreneur Norman Osbourne who becomes delusional after his latest invention and turns into super villain Green Goblin.
David Koepp’s script is quite good, especially the introduction of the hero, where him and director Sam Raimi take no more time than needed to explain the transformation of Peter Parker into Spider-Man. The story then proceeds to revolve around Parker’s problems and dilemmas, mainly his difficulty with his new double life, his best friend Harry dating his life-long crush Mary Jane and blaming himself for his uncle‘s death. The film also ends on a high note but it is the middle where it is the weakest, mainly caused by the lack of tension between hero and villain, where a certain element of yearlong battles and mutual respect is missing. Also, the romantic relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane isn’t entirely convincing. The cinematography and CGI is overall very good and help strengthen the main character with nice web-slinging and spider-sense scenes.
The acting performances in the film vary greatly, which is unfortunately its biggest flaw. Filmophilia favourite J.K. Simmons steals the show as Parker’s boss and Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson but gets limited screen time. Willem Dafoe and James Franco both do a decent job as father and son Norman and Harry Osborn, but neither manages to particularly excel. However, it is in the leading roles of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson where Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst fail and drag the film down. Maguire initially manages to be both pathetic and funny as the bullied high school nerd, but sadly some of his later lines i.e. „It’s you who’s out, Gobby. Out of your mind.“ also come off as unintentionally funny. His dramatic scenes and dialogue are of variable quality and sometimes a wider range of feelings is missing. The same can be said about Kirsten Dunst, who seems limited (at best) in some scenes. A certain rainy kissing scene does what it can to create a believable romance, but is mostly dried off by short monologues from each person towards the film‘s end.
Final Verdict: An enjoyable popcorn film. Raimi does a fine job and the story lays the foundation for the inevitable sequels. Good script, production and direction and were it not for some errors in casting this might just be a truly memorable superhero classic.
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