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Spider-Man (2002) – Movie Review

Spider-Man movie poster

Written by: David Koepp, based on the comic book character created by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee, published by Marvel Comics
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris

My Advice: Matinee

Meet Peter Parker (Maguire). He’s the kid most everyone can identify with–we’ve all been freaks at one time or another. It’s not that he’s got a third eye in the middle of his forehead or anything, he’s just that shy introvert that’s in every high school class and must somehow be perceived by everyone else as having a bullseye on either forehead or ass. Anyway, he lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson), has a crush on the girl next door (Dunst) and has the friend who’s better off (at least financially) than he (Franco). Then one day, on a field trip to Columbia University, a “super-spider” just happens to drop onto Peter’s hand and give him a little love peck. Somehow this bite transforms the formerly scrawny into a helluva buff bloke. Not only is he major beefcake now, but his vision’s improved, he can “sense” danger coming and he can stick to walls. And then there’s the fact that he can shoot spiderwebs out of his wrists…

[ad#longpost]Too much more backstory than that and suddenly I’ve given away half the movie. Those of you that know it, know it. Those of you that don’t now know enough. After three-hundred and fourteen years trapped in litigation, we finally have a Spidey movie–and the news that I bring you is that, eh, it could have been a lot worse. Trouble is, it could have been a whole lot better.

First, the good things. They assembled a really good cast to bring the characters to life. Maguire makes both a convincing Peter and Spider-Man (despite the fact that he can talk under the mask without his mouth moving at times). Dafoe is a great villain and a perfect Norman Osborn. He’s good as Goblin and has some really great MPD moments which teeter off the brink into oblivion. His Goblin then goes beyond camp as his “villainy voice” gets turned up to 11 near the end. That’s a shame, but hey, he was doing this for a paycheck–more power to him. Kirsten Dunst made for a decent Mary Jane. Both Robertson and Harris were excellent in their respective roles–even J.K. Simmons was a decently comedic J. Jonah Jameson (though I still think Gunnery Sgt. Ermey would have been better in the role). Standout among the cast was James Franco, and that’s probably because he had the most to play with: son tormented by his father’s double-edged sword of both over-indulgence and constant dissatisfaction. He managed to ride his rickety little story arc to glory, and played well opposite Mr. Willem.

The action sequences were amazing when they were shot or structured in such a way that didn’t draw attention to the subtle herky-jerkiness of some of the CGI human characters in motion. No idea how they managed to get away with it so well in Fellowship of the Ring. At least it wasn’t as distracting as the CGI movement in Harry Potter, so you can at least be thankful for that. Anyway, the fights were sufficiently brutal, there was just enough humor in the script to keep it light (as Spidey should be–shame he didn’t get many good lines in costume)–it wasn’t a terrible movie. Ah, but what went wrong?

The filmmakers did not trust their audience. Notice how many things were handed to you on a silver platter. Watch the television screen behind Peter when he gets bitten. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? How can you not? It’s center screen, spelling out what’s happening. Flashbacks are put in places just in case you don’t recognize a certain face. Certain voiceover speeches drip with Velveeta. And there’s proof an “oh” in the right place will completely undermine a scene. Not to mention a line lifted blatantly from the middle of Arthur.

Everytime the film would really start to slough off its cheesy/campy nature, it would suddenly drop down again and wallow in the dairy products. And they’re such sharp dips that it makes one’s nose bleed. A nice story about, well, yeah, power and responsibility is reduced by Hollywood into a ride. And it’s not even a consistent one. Which is a bloody shame.

In short, it’s worth seeing on the big screen for fans of the comic. Or if you like moderately shallow action flicks. But if you’ve got a bigscreen at your house, it wouldn’t hurt you to wait for the DVD and save yourself the hassle. Make no mistake, though. It’s going to do huge money and the sequel will start taking off soon.

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