Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/6/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
With recent film adaptations of comic book heroes like Superman and Batman, the story of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics for years had been in fruition for a film adaptation worthy of its hardcore comic book fans. Finally after years of development, a film adaptation was finally going to happen as Spider-Man's creator Stan Lee was happen with who was chosen to direct the project. The project was given to filmmaker Sam Raimi, whose credits include A Simple Plan, Darkman, and the cult-classic trilogy of the Evil Dead films. A longtime fan of the comic book, Raimi chose to create not just a truer adaptation of the comic book but create it into one of 2002's runaway summer blockbuster hits.
The movie for Spider-Man that is directed by Sam Raimi and screenplay by David Koepp based on material from the original Stan Lee comic with additional material from Steve Ditko. The plot of Spider-Man is simple, a young nerdy high school kid named Peter Parker gets bitten by a genetically-modified spider where he gains all sorts of powers while fighting crime and the villainous Green Goblin while trying to save New York City and his love interest Mary Jane Watson. Unlike most stories of superheroes, Spider-Man has a more human element in its stories as Parker is often filled with conflicts over his role as Spider-Man and himself. With a cast that includes Tobey Maguire as the title role along with Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson, Spider-Man is one of the best big-budget features of 2002 worthy of being a smart, entertaining blockbuster hit.
For all of his life, the nerdy Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) always wanted to be with the girl of his dream in his neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Yet, he remains bullied as his only friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco) who is the son of a rich scientist named Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). During science fair trip with other students, Peter gets bitten by a missing genetically-modified spider as he returns home sick to the concern of his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). Norman meanwhile, is under pressure from the army to create an experimental formula for human strength as he tries it on himself leading to an accident.
Peter wakes up the following morning with some unexpected strength and perfect vision as the new powers he attained led him to stand up to bullies including Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello). The discovery of his new powers gives him confidence though Uncle Ben feels like something isn't right as he offers Peter advice. At first, Peter doesn't take Ben's advice following a pro wrestling contest that he wins but after the contest, he finds his uncle slain as he goes after the thief (Michael Papajohn) who shot Ben as Peter realizes what his uncle was trying to say to him. Deciding to become "Spider-Man", Peter uses his powers for good though a new threat occurs in a villain named the Green Goblin that Norman Osborn has become following his experiment.
With Peter taking a side-job as a freelance photographer for a newspaper chief named Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), he also learns about Harry dating Mary Jane as he tries to deal with the Green Goblin. Yet, Norman learns about what he's become as he discovers who Spider-Man is as he goes after the people who are close to Spider-Man leading to a climatic battle.
While most comic book hero films have familiarity and predictability in its plot, Spider-Man does make up for it with its screenplay and Raimi's masterful direction. Koepp's screenplay plays true to the comic while giving depth to its main characters, notably Spider-Man/Peter Parker and the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn. The script plays up to its story as it builds up momentum and even clues that would lead to a profitable franchise where the characters can develop more with each film. Raimi brings a fast-paced, directing style to the film while adding some dramatic elements without being too much of a drama film or too much of an action film. Raimi brings balance while belting out entertaining moments where an audience can have fun and cheer for Spider-Man. The choice of Raimi directing Spider-Man was a smart one since he has an idea for story and knowing what an audience would want.
The film's look with its visual effects and colorful cinematography from Don Burgess is well shot by giving color to the New York City landscape as well as the natural-Goth like look of Norman Osborn's rich home and the more suburban look of Queens in Parker's home. With help from production designer Neil Spisak and supervising art director Steve Arnold, the film looks like a comic book but with some life that an audience can relate to. The visual and CGI effect play well also without being too computer-like as if we're really seeing the real thing with many credit to Raimi for bringing out a real look without trying to manipulate the audience. Another element that works in the film is Danny Elfman's orchestral, fast-paced score that plays up to the film's emotional and action intensity. Elfman helps the music move with the film and brings in excitement while the film's soundtrack, with the exception of the original theme, is pretty generic with cuts from Sum 41, and the godawful ballad of Hero from Nickelback's Chad Kroeger and Saliva's Josey Scott.
The film's cast is one that works really well as the smaller performances from J.K. Simmons, Stanley Anderson as General Slocum, "Macho Man" Randy Savage as a wrestler, Joe Manganiello, and longtime Raimi collaborator Bruce Campbell as an announcer are fun to watch as well as appearances from Lucy Lawless, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, and Stan Lee, himself. Rosemary Harris is wonderful to watch as Aunt May as the old woman who brings some guidance to Peter Parker with a sense of heart and charm. Cliff Robertson is also well used in his brief role as Uncle Ben, particularly with the line that would be in Parker's head as Robertson plays a role of a family member you can love with a sense of morality that is often overlooked due to the film's fast-paced action.
James Franco is excellent in the role of Harry Osborn as the best friend who tries to win Mary Jane's love while is trying to win acceptance from his father. Franco brings depth to his character as we get to know him more, especially in a touching scene with Willem Dafoe that would lead to its inevitable sequel. Kirsten Dunst is very good as Mary Jane Watson, the girl who Peter loves and cares for. While it's a typical damsel-in-distress type of role, Dunst is able to bring wit and charm to the character that makes it fun to watch.
Willem Dafoe definitely brings in one of his most accessible performances as the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn. Always playing a role in complex manners, Dafoe brings a lot of elements to make Norman Osborn likeable and sympathetic while as the Green Goblin, he plays the villain audiences love to hate. Even as he is relaxed and plays it cool as it's one of Dafoe's great performances. Tobey Maguire is superb in the title role as he brings emotional depth to the character and anguish while possessing a boyish charm to the Peter Parker character. Maguire brings in a lot of nice chemistry with Dunst and the rest of the cast as his scenes with Dafoe are filled with great, intense acting moments. It's a real break-out role for Maguire as he proves to bring the right notes to play a superhero.
Spider-Man is an excellent, entertaining film that has something for everyone including comic book fans. Even art-film fans can enjoy the entertaining value and depth that the film has, especially since it's going to become a well-deserved profitable franchise. The success of Spider-Man did bring comic book movies back to life but the reason Spider-Man is successful because of Sam Raimi's ability to stay true to the comic as well as giving the characters depth and making the film entertaining. In the end, Spider-Man is a comic book action film done right by giving something for everyone.
Sam Raimi Films: (The Evil Dead) - (Crimewave) - (Evil Dead II) - (Darkman) - (Army of Darkness) - (The Quick & the Dead) - (A Simple Plan) - (For the Love of the Game) - (The Gift) - Spider-Man 2 - Spider-Man 3 - (Drag Me to Hell)
(C) thevoid99 2011