The craze of the superhero genre around the early 2000s wasn’t as huge as we see it today, and even if it comes to Sam Raimi’s big-screen adaptation of Spider-Man, I had to imagine it was a huge deal for everyone. That made me realize how incredible it would’ve been if a little six-year-old me saw this and thought it was life-changing.
What’s the Story: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is an ordinary, nerdy teenager who’s trying to get by when he’s broke or isn’t dating the girl of his dreams Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). On a field trip to a genetics lab at Columbia University, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and the next morning, he learns he has abilities similar to a spider. After discovering his newfound superman powers, Peter decides to use them to fight crime and protect the people of New York as the city’s new hero: Spider-Man.
Whenever I look at Spider-Man, I’ve always found this to be the perfect film to come out in the 21st century to introduce those who haven’t experienced something this entertaining. Older audiences had Superman and the greatness it brought in to bring that character to life, and while this argument can be made about Blade and X-Men coming out first from Marvel, it was about time hardcore fans wanted to see the creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko come to life without ruining it. The first time I remembered watching it was on VHS (which I still have). I can’t recall what my initial thoughts were, but what I can remember was thinking this was the first superhero worth remembering.
It was an idea talked about ever since the ‘80s, even with James Cameron considered to direct it. There were script changes and a ton of actors to play the titular web-slinger. But I feel as if it wouldn’t have worked if it came out of the ‘90s if all the right parts fit to make Spider-Man what it is now. And for fans everywhere, how could you not have a blast with this then and now? Spider-Man came out when all the moviegoers needed was a fun and action-packed time that’ll encourage talking to your friends for days on end.
With Sam Raimi as the director, he gets to tone down his horror background seen in the Evil Dead trilogy and maybe Darkman. Thankfully, he gets the job done the way he must’ve wanted. He was thrilled because he’s a massive fan of the comics, and he knows the basics of how to make an origin story feel new to some while feeling grounded in believing a character easily relatable to all of us. Nothing about this had the appeal of a big-budget television series since while it has its moments of cheese, he’s able to keep you invested in the source material. It’s a coming-of-age story with someone who hits strange super abilities who can climb walls, his spidey senses, and shoots webs from his arms (Though I’m not fond of the organic webbing).
Everybody debates on who’s the best when playing Spider-Man on the screen. While Tom Holland holds that place for me currently, I will always love Tobey Maguire’s portrayal since it’s near-perfect casting for him. For me, the quality he attributed to both Peter Parker and Spider-Man was handled the way I wanted to be. He’s always been the character to root for when life beats him down and wants to get back up again. It gets more difficult when he decides to put on the outfit to take on this persona and take on this massive responsibility to do what’s best. Anyone who watched this as a kid wanted to be the next Spider-Man, thanks to Maguire’s performance.
You got your Maguire, but I also enjoyed everyone else. Kirsten Dunst is the best Mary Jane to come by, and I don’t entirely get why people don’t like the romance between her and Peter. I thought it was cute when they talked to each other. Because Peter had always had a crush on her since he was six, it’s someone who comes from a home life not perfect and thinks she’s popular around her friends. I thought Mary Jane was fleshed out well to make us care for her, even though she becomes the trilogy’s damsel in distress. Then you have James Franco as Harry Osborn and on-point performances from Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, respectively. And also quite possibly the best casting with J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. No one can top him.
However, how can one not love Willem Dafoe’s performance as Norman Osborn/ Green Goblin? This was my first time seeing him, and he made an impression on me as the scientist who basically becomes two people, similar to Jekyll and Hyde. Overacting? Yes, but he looked to be having fun in the role and who can blame him? Also, he did about 90% of his own stunts and was in the actual suit. He’s one character I can quote what he’s going to say before it happens. He’s scary whether he’s in the suit or out of it.
But when you’re watching Spider-Man again when it’s about to turn 20-years-old next summer, will everything hold up? Maybe not everything. But regardless, there’s still some amazed that this isn’t just relying on nostalgia. The last time I watched this was just three years ago when I had it on in the background while cleaning my grandmother’s kitchen, and I give a lot of respect to Raimi and his team for pulling it off big time. It’s certainly a fast-paced film told well to hype the imaginations of those who dreamt of becoming a hero. One of my favorite scenes is when Peter is discovering his powers in climbing up the wall or jumping on top of buildings. And who could forget about the upside-down kiss, one of the most memorable on-screen kisses in cinematic history? They showed that in the trailer and on the back of the VHS tape, and it’s every nerd’s dream to make that happen in real life. If only my celebrity crush would do that with no complaints (Hint: She’s the voice of Spider-Gwen).
The action sequences were comic-inspired where we’re seeing Spider-Man saving the day from defeating Green Goblin. As predictable as some were, they were exciting, especially the climax where it unexpectedly gets brutal and Spider-man is getting beat. The moment where the grenade exploded in his face, I’ve always remembered laughing super hard at one tweet I still think about to this day.
The issues I had with the film don’t have to do with the romance of MJ and Peter or complaining about Green Goblin’s costume. Most of the CGI definitely looks dated now, though I wouldn’t call it bad from John Dyskya and his team. And there was some cheesy dialogue that didn’t cut it for me. I still quote them, like, “It’s you who’s out, Gobbie. Out of your mind.” With Green Goblin replying, “Wrong answer.” That sort of stuff can get in the way for some.
On the music side of things, Danny Elfman composed another memorable score for a famous comic book hero. Just the opening credits or the ending piece brings me joy. The soundtrack was a product of its time, which includes the one and only “Hero” by Chad Kroeger and Saliva’s Josey Scott. This is a terrible song I make fun of and I hate it when it gets stuck in my head when it plays over the credits. But for good music, might I recommend Sum 41’s “What We’re All About” or the overlooked Bleu’s “Somebody Else.”
How popular was this? At the time, Spider-Man became the first film to make over $100 million in its opening weekend and became the highest-grossing movie of 2002, domestically with $407 million. Crazy, right? It earned itself two Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. And I say it was the beginning of studios having a superhero movie open during the first weekend of May, the start of the summer movie season.
Final Thoughts: Spider-Man remains an instant classic for those who grew up seeing this in theaters. Even with those minor flaws, it still doesn’t take away from how entertaining it is when it all comes together in its action, casting, and fulfillment for fans alike from Raimi’s unique vision. Pure awesomeness, no doubt.