Spider-Man came swinging onto the big screen in an amazing way. Since today is my birthday, I thought I’d talk about the movie that changed my life forever. Without Spider-Man, I may never have been a huge fan of superheroes. My blog might never have existed if a certain friendly neighborhood wallcrawler didn’t guarantee my lifelong love of movies. At 6 years old, I was absolutely obsessed with Spider-Man. Fast becoming my favorite superhero and the fictional character I most looked up to growing up. I wore the costume, t-shirts, bought all the merchandise, LEGO, played the video game, and saw the movie 3 times in theaters. Including a double feature with Men in Black II.
Spider-Man was all I could talk about at school. My natural flexibility meant I was always crawling around and pretending to swing just like Spider-Man. Everyone knows Spider-Man as the biggest icon in Marvel comics history. Stan Lee & Steve Ditko famously created Spidey in 1962 during the Silver Age of Comic Books. Amazing Fantasy #15 is a classic origin story that I’ve read many times. The revolutionary take on a teenage lead superhero was so successful that everyone was caught in its web. Leading to several cheesy cartoons, a 90’s animated series that I was a big fan of, and terrible live-action TV shows. A serious movie adaptation was long overdue…
Spider-Man wins you over the moment the Marvel logo is revealed for the very first time. The flipping comic book pages were a perfect way to pay tribute to the source material. The opening is very early 2000’s with a video game quality intro, but the Danny Elfman theme is so perfectly suited for Spider-Man. It’s just as heroic as it is mysterious. Despite how young I was at the time, I actually did know who Spider-Man was before 2002 came around. Everything changed for me when my parents got my brother and I some early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics. It made the surprisingly faithful adaptation all the more enjoyable. Spider-Man is initially based on Amazing Fantasy #15. With a bit of the more youthful Ultimate Spider-Man thrown in.
Like the comics, Peter Parker is just your average nerdy high school student who wears glasses, is picked on by bullies like Flash Thompson, and has trouble talking to girls like Mary Jane Watson. Unlike the comics, Mary Jane is a girl next door who Peter’s loved since he was a kid. His only friend Harry Osborn has also known him for years. Although Aunt May and Uncle Ben are just as caring and elderly as they were originally depicted. Rather than getting bit by a 60’s appropriate radioactive spider at a science exhibit, Peter is bit by a genetically enhanced super spider on a field trip. Right as Peter is photographing MJ, his life changes forever when the unique red & blue spider bites. Spider-Man is in many ways a metaphor for puberty.
Peter inexplicably gains muscles and he no longer needs glasses. While his amazing spider powers start to show at the most awkward times. His Spider-sense is represented by a sudden shriek and slow motion. A major change from the comics is the use of organic webbing. I don’t care how unrealistic a teenager creating synthetic webbing is, web shooters will always be way cooler. Nothing beats seeing Peter climb up a wall for the first time. Which is possible thanks to an icky series of spider-like hairs. I’ve always loved how Peter enjoys jumping, climbing, and swinging. It just begins to interfere with his responsibilities. Uncle Ben tries to lead Peter down a nobler path, but more guilt is added after Peter yells at him.
The wrestling is unchanged, except for Crusher Hogan being replaced by Bonesaw McGraw for obvious reasons. I can’t help but feel satisfied every time Peter uses the crooked promoter’s words against him, but it just makes Uncle Ben’s death all the more tragic. The carjacker is ripped straight out of the comics, but having him die was a mistake. Peter graduates high school early on and moves out of Queens, New York and into the big city. As Spider-Man, Peter is able to fight crime, rescue citizens, and attempt to balance his personal life. Peter works as a freelance photographer for a very accurate J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle. Jameson hates Spider-Man, but the city grows to love him.
At the same time, Harry’s distant father Norman Osborn experiments on himself at Oscorp and drives himself mad. As Spider-Man’s archenemy, the Green Goblin takes revenge on Osborn’s board members, offers Spider-Man a partnership, and exploits his secret identity. First by scaring Aunt May, then by kidnapping Mary Jane. Leading to a very loose retelling of The Night Gwen Stacy Died that swaps out Gwen for MJ, but still ends in Norman’s death by Glider. Harry swears vengeance on Spider-Man and MJ realizes it’s Peter she truly loves. Except they can’t be together without his loved ones being in harm’s way. So Peter walks alone, embracing his destiny as Spider-Man. Ending in an epic final swing that can never be topped…
Spider-Man was the third and most important step in bringing superhero movies back into the mainstream. Creating a sort of trilogy of Marvel movies that were equally integral to the genre’s newfound success. Blade made it possible for a Marvel character to make an impact on the big screen. X-Men made it possible to take a well known Marvel property seriously on the big screen. Finally, Spider-Man made it possible for a faithful take on a Marvel character to be embraced by millions. Spider-Man was a major blockbuster and a critical success. But the road to receiving a nearly perfect Spider-Man movie wasn’t an easy one. Spidey is a superhero that needs special effects to do him justice. That’s why none of the previous live-action attempts ever worked out.
In the 80’s, Spider-Man was nearly turned into a truly awful sounding creature feature by people who didn’t understand the character. Then a less terrible sounding story featuring Doctor Octopus and starring Tom Cruise was nearly commissioned before that was scrapped. The most infamous idea was from James Cameron himself. In an alternate reality, we could have seen Leonardo DiCaprio fight inaccurate versions of Sandman & Electro, swear constantly, and have sex with Mary Jane on the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m so glad that’s not the version we ended up with. Instead Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Sony/Columbia Pictures (the final loose end). Although cult horror director Sam Raimi might have seemed like an odd choice, he was very passionate about Spider-Man. It’s PG-13, but the action is well suited for children. Of course there are still a few jump scares, visuals similar to Darkman, and a necessary Bruce Campbell cameo. Playing a hilarious ring announcer who gives Peter the name Spider-Man.
Although the studio didn’t believe in him, Tobey Maguire was a perfect choice for Peter Parker/Spider-Man. You need someone who looks like a scrawny nerd, but who can convincingly become a strong hero. His emotional journey is genuine even if he did become a walking meme. Maguire nails Peter Parker as an awkward teenager despite being 25 at the time. The muscle reveal proves he’s more than capable to wear the costume. The Spider-suit is ripped straight from the Marvel pages. The classic full body red & blue design with spider symbol, pointy eyes, and webbing will always be his most iconic outfit. The only difference was the more modern raised silver webs. Maguire is a spectacular Spider-Man, even if his banter is a bit corny. His only zingers are taunting Bonesaw’s outfit and “It’s you who’s out Gobby, out of your mind.” Really the web gags are his funniest jokes.
Willem Dafoe couldn’t be more suited for a maniacal supervillain like the Green Goblin. You can’t recreate Norman Osborn’s comic haircut, but Dafoe did perfectly recreate a serious businessman turned cartoonish antagonist. Like all Spider-Man villains, Peter is connected to Norman through his friendship with Harry. It’s retroactively strange to see a before he was famous James Franco as Harry, but his difficult position is well represented. Norman favors Peter over his own son, MJ favors Spider-Man over him, and his father dies just as they start to makeup. Although every Green Goblin line is comedic gold, Dafoe’s laugh is unsettling, and his split personality is the right kind of cheesy, covering up his face was a real shame. I can accept the green armored suit with a stiff goblin face and hints of purple, but how awesome would it have been to see the more faithful animatronic mask. The tactically equipped glider and more high tech pumpkin bombs are a nice touch though.
Their fight scenes are all tons of fun. Despite the somewhat dated CGI on the early swinging sequences, they really come together in the end. One of the most impressive stunts contained no CGI whatsoever. Peter catching all of MJ’s food is totally real. The first fight is actually a satisfying take down of bully Flash Thompson. Joe Manganiello isn’t blonde, but he makes a convincing Flash. The wrestling match with the prototype spider-suit is made all the better with real life wrestler Randy Savage. The fight at the festival is a great first encounter with the Green Goblin that ends in Spidey rescuing MJ. Look out for Macy Gray and Stan Lee’s quick heroic cameo. The Matrix inspired fight in the burning building is an intense second encounter. Which leads to a fun hiding scene during Thanksgiving that reveals Peter’s identity to Norman. The climactic fight on the Queensboro Bridge gives Spidey a sadistic choice that ends in a more brutal hand to hand fight in a warehouse.
But Spider-Man is also a love story. So his true love Mary Jane Watson had to be equally well represented. Kirsten Dunst increased her image by playing the iconic redhead. This MJ lacks the party girl “Face it Tiger” personality of the comics, but she does date Flash, then Harry, flirts with Spider-Man, and eventually falls for Peter. There’s no denying the chemistry between Maguire and Dunst. The famous upside down kiss in the rain is one of the hottest, most iconic kisses in movie history. No doubt people have tried their best to recreate it. Since Spider-Man has one of the strongest supporting casts in comics, all the important players are present. Rosemary Harris is every bit the fiercely protective Aunt May you’d hope she would be. The most action she sees is at the hands of the Green Goblin demanding she finish her prayer. Cliff Robertson is the ideal Uncle Ben who delivers the trademark “With great power comes great responsibility” with complete sincerity.
The Daily Bugle is a major highlight that also leaps off the page. J. K. Simmons was born to play angry editor-in-chief J. Jonah Jameson. He’s toned down compared to later performances, but he does get plenty of great one-liners. I’ll bet you forgot a pre-fame Elizabeth Banks is the one who plays Betty Brant. She doesn’t noticeably show any interest in Peter, but they do share a moment. Bill Nunn accurately portrays Robbie Robertson’s trust of Spider-Man even in a brief appearance. While Raimi’s brother Ted Raimi plays an original comic relief character Hoffman. There’s also a quick mention of Eddie Brock. Of course X-Men was the only successful Marvel movie at the time, so Hugh Jackman nearly had a cameo as well.
No matter how many Spider-Man portrayals there ends up being, the 2002 film will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve remembered pretty much every line and all the narration. It represents a love for comics that you just don’t see too often. Peter sketching costume ideas before drawing a perfect Steve Ditko Spider-Man inspired me to create my own superheroes. While the wacky New York citizens reacting to Spider-Man’s slow building introduction is everything a superhero movie needs. I don’t remember the Twin Towers teaser, but that would have made an epic moment if not for the real life tragedy. Nickelback’s “Hero” couldn’t have come at a better time. Spider-Man does whatever a spider can to save the day.
Followed by: Spider-Man 2