Heroic Weekly is a new series that will be happening every Friday on Blugger (for at least three weeks, and after that it depends on interest from you guys). I’m starting it since there are a TON of superhero movies that have come out over time, and it would be fun to break down some of them and give my take. For some of the older films, it would be great to take a look back at them, and for the newer stuff, it’s neat to talk about potential lasting appeal.
For the first episode, I’m taking a look at 2002’s “Spider-Man,” directed by Sam Raimi. It was not only the first superhero movie I ever watched, but also arguably the start of the modern superhero movie boom. Yes, there’s also “X-Men” and a few others that are attributed to shaping this genre, but “Spider-Man” was an amazing achievement at the time of its release.
The plot centers around high school senior, Peter Parker (played by Tobey Maguire), a smart nerd in Queens who lives with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemarie Harris). Peter gets picked on at school, but has his eyes set on the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and has a best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco). When Peter is on a field trip at Oscorp Industries, which is owned by Harry’s father, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), he gets bitten by a special radioactive spider that gives him superpowers. He has super strength, can climb on walls, shoot webs out of his hands, and do pretty much anything else a spider can. When Norman goes through a science experiment gone wrong, he becomes the Green Goblin, and the two fight. You get the point, it’s Spider-Man.
Before this movie, superhero movies weren’t in a great place. In the 80’s and 90’s, Superman and Batman ruled the genre, but began to flop due to poor reviews and just generally being bad movies. Superhero movies back then for the most part were treated as campy products meant to sell toys to kids. In 2002, the most recent huge superhero movie was 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” in 2000, which was a success, but nothing too huge ($300 million worldwide off of a $75 million budget). “X-Men” opened the door for superhero films to be taken seriously again. Around the same time as that film, Sony was making their own superhero film, one with a more iconic presence: “Spider-Man.” Fans were excited beyond their minds. A Spider-Man movie was in the works for over a decade with multiple screenwriters (including James Cameron, who wrote a pretty clear R-rated script) and directors trying to secure roles.
When it finally released on May 3, 2002, “Spider-Man” swung through the box office records with the first ever $100+ million domestic opening at $114 million. This was a massive deal for not just superhero movies, but Hollywood in general. The film received wasn’t just a financial success as it was also critically praised with a 73 on Metacritic and an 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film a positive review and said that “Spider-Man is up, up and away as the firecracker to beat this summer” and that “Maguire and Dunst keep Spider-Man on a high with their sweet-sexy yearning, spinning a web of dazzle and delicacy that might just restore the good name of movie escapism.” Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter also praised the film: ” Backed by Danny Elfman’s full-throated score, the filmmakers’ imaginations work in overdrive from the clever design of the cobwebby opening credits and Spider-Man and M.J.’s upside down kiss — after one of his many rescues of her — to a finale that leaves character relationships open ended for future adventures.”
I think my favorite thing I’ve seen in any review for the movie is in the one by arguably the most famous film critic ever, Roger Ebert, who said,
“I have one question about the Peter Parker character: Does the movie go too far with his extreme social paralysis? Peter tells Mary Jane he just wants to be friends. ‘Only a friend?’ she repeats. ‘That’s all I have to give,’ he says. How so? Impotent? Spidey-sense has skewed his sexual instincts? Afraid his hands will get stuck?”
It’s pretty valid criticism, Mr. Ebert.
Anyways, my thoughts on the film are pretty simple: this movie f***ing awesome and campy as f*** and I love it. People often nitpick that there’s no way Peter could have sewn that costume himself, but who cares? The movie knows its audience and what they paid to see. The biggest complaint that this film and the rest of Raimi’s trilogy gets is that Peter Parker has organic webs that literally shoot out of his wrists instead of the web-shooters from the comics. As a pretty big comic book fan, I’m fine with this change because movies don’t have to be the comics. What would a scene with Peter making his own web shooters add to the film besides showing that he’s smart? We already know that he’s smart. The core of the story is him becoming a hero and learning that with great power comes great responsibility, not him being a smart dude. If no one ever heard of Spider-Man prior to seeing the film, they wouldn’t complain that he has organic web-shooters. The movie doesn’t hint at any other logic so organic webs work. The other thing people like to make fun of is how much Green Goblin looks like a Power Ranger in this movie. It’s a funny costume, sure, but it looks pretty awesome, and Green Goblin acts like a classic, campy comic book villain with a crazy voice and all. The costume works for the film that it’s in. Despite the creative liberties the movie took, it pays great homage to the works that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did that made this character so special.
Raimi directs visceral action that feels epic throughout. The movie is undoubtedly a love letter to New York City and spends a good amount of time showcasing Spider-Man swinging through the city. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when New Yorkers help Spider-Man by throwing things at Green Goblin. One nameless citizen says, “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.” Like, damn dude, you tell ’em. Everyone gives great performances throughout, and I actually buy the relationships between all these characters. One particular standout performance is J.K. Simmons’ role as Daily Bugle Editor in-Chief, J. Jonah Jameson. Simmons easily steals the spotlight in every scene he’s in, offering some much needed levity to a story with an already strong emotional core.
At the core of the story is this relationship between Peter and Mary Jane. Though my friends disagree with me, I’ve been on record plenty of times by saying that one of the best movie kisses ever (along with the Han/Leia one from “Empire Strikes Back” and a couple others) is the upside down kiss between Spider-Man and Mary Jane in this movie. I will stand my ground, that scene is great.
The ending is pretty heartbreaking because for one, it destroys Harry’s life in an instant and then Peter gives up being with the one person he’s always dreamed of being with. This sets up perfectly for a sequel in the same way that “Fellowship of the Ring” ended up with the Fellowship being broken. It’s not your typical “hero saves the day and gets the girl” story that we’re so used to. It sticks with the theme of the film that actions have consequences and that we have to be responsible for our actions. In the start of the film, Peter’s actions ultimately allow his uncle to get killed. He deals with his actions for the course of the movie, ultimately learning that this special gift he has is also his curse, his burden to be responsible for. Peter’s decision to to not be with Mary Jane is clearly shown to be a very difficult situation for both of them, but he does what he has to in order to keep those he loves safe.
It’s not 100% fantastic, though. I love the movie, but it has flaws. A good amount of the film feels like popcorn fluff, which is fine by me in this movie because it’s backed by generally good characters. I say generally good because it’s not exactly clear what Green Goblin’s motivations are. I mean, he’s a great villain and does a great job going toe to toe with Spider-Man and actually feeling like a threat, but I don’t really get why he’s evil. What I mean to say is that he acts more evil that he technically should be. So Oscorp kicks him out, which gets him to test his super soldier experiment thing on himself. That makes him crazy so he goes to get revenge on his former co-workers at an event in New York city with a lot of civilians. This is his first encounter with Spider-Man, who tries to stop him so naturally he hates him. Then for the rest of the movie, he makes it personal against Spider-Man so he goes for people close to Spider-Man. Okay, I take it back, it totally makes sense, I love this movie.
I especially love the final battle between Peter and Norman Osborn. Norman knows that Spider-Man is Peter at this point so he makes Peter choose between saving Mary Jane and saving a thing (cart? I’m blanking on the word) full of people. Rather than choosing, Peter saves both, proving his heroism that even in seemingly impossible odds, he can overcome. This is important for Peter Parker specifically because he’s never really shown as inhuman in this movie. He’s relatable so seeing a real person being able to achieve these things is great for a superhero movie. After he barely saves both the cart and M.J., Green Goblin attacks him and pretty much destroys him. That final fight was definitely brutal for the time and had a lot of blood for a PG-13 movie. Every punch actually has weight to it, and it really feels like the culmination of the film. When Norman’s glider pierces through his abdomen, that was some bloody stuff for a family friendly Spider-Man movie. Sam Raimi didn’t hold any punches, and shot that battle almost like how he did with “Evil Dead.”
Looking back on the movie 16 years after its release, it’s hard not to notice the impact it had on the superhero genre. Yes, it would have reeled comic fans in even if it was bad, but if this movie didn’t work, it wouldn’t have allowed superhero films to become mainstream again. Maybe Marvel wouldn’t have taken the risk to start the MCU and maybe we wouldn’t have gotten all these stories we love to watch today.
As for myself, this movie is what got me into all these characters in the first place. I was 3 years old when I first saw it, and I had it on repeat for years. My parents still to this day remind me of how much of a fan I was. In a way, it had a huge impact on my love for film and still remains as one of those movies I can watch any day. I know it’s far from perfect, as it has its flaws, and there are small things that don’t make sense because the filmmakers purposefully made it that way. However, in the end, “Spider-Man” proved that superhero films that can be amazing.
So that’s the first episode of Heroic Weekly! What are your thoughts on the movie? Do you think it still holds up today? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section!
Next Friday, we’re continuing by taking a look back at 2004’s Spider-Man 2, which is my absolute favorite superhero movie.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out this fan-casting I did for an MCU X-Men!
Thanks for reading 🙂