Spider-Man (2002): Meme or Masterpiece?

These last few years have proven good for Spider-Man fans. And that good fortune doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon! Unless No Way Home is actually trash and Across the Spider-Verse somehow flops. But I don’t want to fear for the future. Instead, we’ll have a look at the past.

The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies were a large part of my childhood. But as I grew up and became much more critical of the things I loved, my affection for these films waned. That said, I wasn’t exactly a good critic in my early years. So, with my now fully evolved adult brain, let’s have another look at these movies. Are they as good as the child I was remember? Or as bad as the teenager I was thought?

The answer is: neither.

We all know the story. Peter Parker is a nerdy photographer in love with the pretty girl next door, Mary Jane. One day, he’s bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super powers. When his Uncle Ben dies after imparting a valuable lesson, Peter becomes Spider-Man, hero of New York. While this is happening, Normal Osborn subjects himself to a genetic experiment gone wrong, turning him into the Green Goblin. When these two forces clash, will it be good that triumphs over evil?

It’s a simple story, as any Spider-Man story should be. The question is: is it still an effective story? The answer is: yes.

This movie hits all the necessary beats for a Spider-Man origin story. Uncle Ben’s death is suitably heartbreaking, Peter becoming Spider-Man is suitably exciting and heroic, the romance between him and MJ is actually pretty well done (if a bit corny, but that’s the whole movie). It doesn’t reinvent the formula, but it does execute it remarkably well.

Especially because it fleshes out an often forgotten character: New York. The city has so much personality! Seeing all the different kinds of reactions to Spider-Man and his antics makes the setting feel alive and organic. We get to see all kinds of reactions, from hate to admiration to even lust (which would totally happen, you can’t tell me otherwise). It even comes back at the end!

Also, can we appreciate how this is a super-hero movie where the hero actually saves people? God, I miss that.

I love how the story creates the parallels between Goblin and Spider-Man. Both of their origin stories happen at once, essentially running parallel to each other before they finally intersect. And given that they basically have the same story, it makes the comparison Goblin makes later in the film feel genuine rather than some crap pulled out of the bad guy’s butt, like most movies.

Even if it is still cheesy. But I kinda love that. It fully embraces the goofiness inherent to comic books. Which can make it a bit hard to take seriously sometimes. But if you look at it as a comedy-action movie, you’ll have a great time.

Especially because of the extras. Every background extra is a laugh and a half.

This is only furthered by the performances. Everyone is clearly giving it their all, and I’m not saying they’re bad. They are corny, though. Toby Maguire, our main star, is a bit stiff and awkward. Perfect for the nerdy Peter Parker! Not so much for the charismatic Spider-Man.

Willum Dafoe, on the other hand, is absolutely perfect as Norman Osborn. He manages to capture the helpless fear of Norman and the total maniacal evil of the Goblin. Sometimes both in the same scene! He is a genuine delight to watch from start to end.

There is one problem the film suffers that limits their performances: the masks. See, in order to make the masks look good on camera, they basically had to make them into helmets. Unfortunately, that means neither Spider-Man nor Green Goblin are capable of emoting while in costume. At least not until the end, when their masks get damaged. Modern movie magic allows expression through the mask with the aide of CGI. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t an option back in 2002.

On the subject of CGI: hoo boy, the CG in this movie hasn’t aged well. Now, I don’t think the models themselves are all that bad. But in motion, they just don’t look right. There’s no weight behind them, no buildup to their movements. Luckily, it isn’t used all that often. Instead, we’re treated to some fairly impressive practical effects instead!

Well, most of the time. That one shot of MJ swinging with Spidey hasn’t aged all that well.

Overall, Spider-Man (2002) has definitely aged. But it’s still a damn fun movie! The writing holds up, the performances are (mostly) still really good, and it’s just damn fun to watch! This is definitely a highlight of any Spidey movie marathon.

But let’s be honest. It’s the next movie everyone looks forward to.

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: