Sequential Cinema – “Spider-Man” (2002)

Created by artist and writer Steve Ditko along with Stan Lee, Spider-Man came to life one sleepy 1962. In Amazing Fantasy #15, high school geek Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider. Peter gains the powers of a spider with incredible strength and the ability to climb walls and ceilings. He also swings around the city with the aid of homemade web-shooters.

Cocky with his new celebrity after defeating Crusher Hogan in a wrestling match, he lets a thief escape backstage during a television appearance. Peter learns of his Uncle Ben’s passing at the hands of a burglar returning home that night. While hunting him down, he realizes it’s the very thief he let escape. Peter realizes his power comes to him at an important and memorable cost.

Source: Marvel

And a lean, silent figure slowly fades in the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!

– Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug. 1962

Since then, Spider-Man has taken the world by storm. The character has been alive since 1962 with an absolute bevy of representation in media. Spidey is to Marvel as Batman is to DC. Spider-Man is also one of the first superheroes I loved as a kid. The fact they are both playable in Fornite cement that.

The show on Fox Kids had a dope intro, had villains galore and not to mention the sickest toys to get me hooked. His unlockable appearance in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 blew my mind as did his own game. I even dressed like him for Halloween. I adore Spidey and still do to this day (hence this trilogy of blog posts). One day, I went to a hospital in Downey, CA for a check-up and saw a set on the old NASA shuttle building plant. It looked like New York with ads placed everywhere. I asked my mom what it was for.

“Oh, they are filming Spider-Man over there,” my mom told me.

To her, it was another movie set. To me, it was a whole event. Spidey was coming to the big screen.

To make a long production history short for those reading, Cannon had the film rights. When they dissolved, the rights moved over to Carolco and MGM. This version was to be by James Cameron who was white-hot after Terminator 2.

[Sidenote: It’s said that Cameron wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger to be Doctor Octopus. There is an alternate universe in which Arnie is not Mr. Freeze. I want to visit that universe. It sounds bonkers.]

MGM got nervous because the then-head of Columbia, John Calley, knew Columbia had the rights to the coveted Casino Royale. Calley wanted to make a competing Bond series thanks to that knowledge. I’ll explain further when I do the first five Bond films in January. MGM made a deal for Columbia to relinquish the rights to Casino Royale in exchange for Spider-Man. MGM and EON Productions would go on to produce an S-Tier Bond film Casino Royale with Columbia’s parent company Sony in 2006.

With all that out of the way and Cameron out, production finally hit the ground running. Director Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame was at the helm after expressing his love of the character having grown up reading the comics. Tobey Maguire was cast as the web-slinger. Maguire beat out actors such as his real-life pal Leonardo DiCaprio and Jake Gyllenhaal for the role. Gyllenhaal would come into the Spidey-Verse as villain Mysterio in Far from Home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was years after portraying a real-life villain as Taylor Swift’s boyfriend in October 2010.

[Sidenote: Imagine fucking up so bad as a boyfriend you get a song written about you on 2012’s Red (“All Too Well”)? Then you get Ether’d on a near-perfect 10-minute version 9 YEARS later? Goddamn. Never break Swift’s angelic heart.]

2002’s Spider-Man follows the same path as the origin’s written above. It does so with the addition of Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and his friend Harry Osborn (James Franco). The major changes include Peter’s web being natural. Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) delivers the “great responsibility” line himself. He goes toe-to-toe with a wrestler named Bonesaw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage) for “three minutes. Three minutes of playtime!”

“BONESAW IS READY!” Y’all, I love “Macho Man” Randy Savage so much. I miss him. Source: Sony Pictures

He soon becomes Spider-Man swinging and helping around New York stop crime much to the chagrin of his boss at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). Meanwhile, Harry’s father Norman (Willem Dafoe) gets the boot from Oscorp, the company he worked hard and sacrificed so much for. After experimenting with his own serum for the Army, Norman loses his mind to become the Green Goblin on a crime spree.

Green Goblin’s crimes include:

  • Killing a general and soldiers during a routine training exercise.
  • Interrupting a celebration festival and turning Oscorp board members into dust.
  • Ending Macy Gray’s career at the said festival (that’s up for debate).
  • Blowing up J. Jonah Jameson’s office and demanding him to sell out a fellow journalist.
  • Blowing up Aunt May’s room and demanding her to finish the “Our Father” prayer.
  • Impersonating an old woman in a building fire to be rescued and punching Spider-Man through several walls.
  • Birthing a kid that looks like James Franco (that’s unfortunate given the circumstances).

Spider-Man must stop the Green Goblin from bringing harm to Mary Jane, Harry, and all of New York with his newfound power and responsibility.

Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is ready to save New York from Green Goblin’s (Willem Dafoe) destruction. Source: Sony Pictures

Spider-Man swings and does not miss the mark. This is a damn good first outing for the hero after years of trying to get him on the big screen. I still remember being in a line that went around the block to watch this film. The hype was unreal as a kid and even more so once we got inside.

The direction by Raimi is stunning as he makes everything feel larger than life with a good bit of camp and cheese. This is his direction that was first seen in the Darkman played up to gargantuan levels. It sets the tone and style of the trilogy. Many forms of Spidey media after this does their best to emulate the style. It’s Raimi’s signature flair throughout while never wavering to the doldrums of modern comic films.

He directs it like it’s proud to be a comic book film. It isn’t edgy and grimdark like DC’s lineup from 2013-2018. Nor is it too formulaic and safe like Marvel’s MCU films after Phase One to an extent). The action sequences alone leap off the panels with nothing but love throughout. If Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness does not let Raimi be Raimi, I’m leaving that theater mad as fuck.

Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) stands in the office of J. Jonah, now blown up, with THOSE EYES! THOSE HORRIBLE YELLOW EYES! Source: Sony Pictures

Speaking of madness, Dafoe is a beautiful crazed menace in this. This for many kids my age (29) was their first introduction to Willem Dafoe and what a hell of an intro. He has this almost charming calm to him as a man trying to do the best, but his own arrogance and anger ruin him asunder. He is hammy in all the best ways while also being a true threat. There isn’t a moment that makes you roll your eyes because he is having the time of his life. Dafoe wants you to have a ball too.

His yell of “FINISH IT!” is burnt into my brain. His sinister laugh is beyond memorable (No Way Home’s trailer even knew that). He has all the best lines, save for J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of J. Jonah getting some great ones in there. The slander scene might be my second favorite J. Jonah moment and scene on film.

All this is to say that Maguire is okay as Spider-Man, the hero. As Spidey, he doesn’t have much time to get quippy, but the presence is there. He does hold well in action scenes as do the stunt doubles getting their asses handed to them by Dafoe. As Peter himself, Maguire nails it from his insecurities and strifes that he goes through. He encompasses the humanity of Peter that balances along with Rosemary Harris’ Aunt May. Harris’s portrayal is a warm hug that is simple and perfect. Maguire does grow as the trilogy rolls on becoming fleshed out by the end of the sequel.

Maguire is the first Spidey many of us Millenials saw in live-action, so he holds a special place in our hearts. He does in mine. I still remember seeing him don the suit for the first time, being in awe of it all, and thinking “He is Spider-Man.” Maguire is still Spidey to me, no matter the film. The Great Gatsby would have kicked more ass if he was Spider-Man in it.

Harry Osborn (James Franco) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) look at some spiders on a field trip. (I had the biggest crush on Dunst. *swoon*) Source: Sony Pictures

It’s a shame the rest are kind of there to be there. Franco is okay as Harry, but he shines brighter in the sequel with more motivation. MJ does have her trauma backstory and dreams, but she’s a damsel-in-distress by the end as another pretty face. Dunst does well with what she has in this film, but like with Franco, she’ll gleam brighter as time passes in each film.

The first cinematic outing of the friendly-neighborhood superhero is a beautiful ode to Spidey. It’s a memorable classic burnt into the mind of Millenials and Spidey fans. The performance from Dafoe is the biggest strength that plays along with Spidey’s heroics like butter. Raimi blends his style with the world of Marvel to spin a wonderful web of a film, even if can be rough around some edges.

Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Spider-Man: The Raimi Trilogy 1/3 Complete

Next week, Spider-Man returns in a film that gives the audience a lesson in work-life balance. Only while dealing with an eight-armed mad scientist. Will Spider-Man be vindicated for his poor time management skills or will he be Spider-Man no more? Find out next week, true believers, in one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made. Till the next sequence.

——————————————————————————————

P.S. There was no way in hell I wasn’t going to mention “Hero” by Chad Kroeger of Nickelback. It also features Josey Scott of Saliva. I cannot stand Nickelback at times. They are at best a band whose music plays at The Yard House in Burbank during Happy Hour.

This song is so early-00’s modern rock it hurts. This song, along with “Kiss from a Rose” from Batman Forever and “Bring Me to Life” from Daredevil, are so synonymous with their respective soundtracks. To separate them from it would be a sin to the world. It encapsulates the generic idea of heroism in 3 minutes of cheese so glorious, it would make Creed blush. This song rules. It’s so bad, it’s good. It’s a rarity. Nickelback still sucks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s