I know that I talk a lot of smack about how superhero movies are all rated PG-13. Um...after rewatching this one, this one kind of deserves the PG-13 rating. It's not even close to an R, but this movie was directed by Sam Raimi. I remember when the movie first came out that he used some of his horror film background to make this one. Yeah, those scenes are disturbing. I thought I was just going to let Henry watch the first part, but I constantly told him to cover his eyes and the audio is even creepy. Despite the fact that this was part of my adolescence and I remember every kid watching this at the time, it's pretty intense. Well-earned PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
It is weird where these movies have fallen into our public consciousness. When I was in college, the first Spider-Man movie came out. People lost their minds. Admittedly, the only major Marvel property that we had were the first two X-Men films. This is the birth of the Golden Age of Superhero films. I think I saw it thirteen times in theaters. (All of the lines came back to me as the movie was going on. It was still a fresh watch because I only remembered the line immediately before it was said, but it's odd how ingrained this movie is in my head.) Publicly, I lauded this movie to everyone. I'm a huge Spider-Man fan. I've read every issue and I still get the books bi-weekly. But there was part of me that didn't adore this film. I was a little disappointed the first time I walked out of it. I mean, overall, I loved it. But there was something that didn't quite gel with this movie and I think I'm now removed enough from it to actually comment on it. (I will say, I thought that Spider-Man 2 was the perfect superhero film. I really don't want to be disappointed by that.)
We've actually taken a lot of steps forward and a lot of steps backward when it comes to making superhero movies. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt because Spider-Man still kind of holds up. It's not perfect in light of all of the superhero films we've seen, but it is an amazing piece of summer blockbuster action that really hits a lot of the right notes, especially mythology wise. It has a sense of scale and scope that many of the MCU movies don't. (I suppose that I have to give points to the DCEU for this as well.) If you haven't guessed from the fact that I've praised almost every MCU movie relentlessly, I'm a big fan of what Kevin Feige is doing. But Feige's stuff works because he's almost serialized each MCU movie. Honestly, and this is being critical of something I love, the MCU movies work because they are the best big budget TV show ever. I commented that Black Panther was just Game of Thrones. Really, the whole MCU is Game of Thrones. Characters are having separate epic adventures until they eventually meet up for the standoff that everyone has been waiting for. That's television, but on the big screen and top notch casting. The fact that they are referred to as "phases" should just be substituted with the word "seasons". Spider-Man doesn't have that. Yes, this feels like the beginning of a franchise, but the cinematic nature of this movie is right there on the screen. I'm pretty sure that Spider-Man is shot on film and it gives it something epic behind it. I won't fight digital. Digital just looks pretty, but it doesn't carry the same weight. Really, I'm giving the vinyl argument right now, so I'm not going to delve too deeply into this arena. But instead of going wide, like the MCU does, Spider-Man makes his little world pretty big. There are teases to future movies. The whole Harry Osborn story is wonderfully laid out here. It's so amazing to think that the Norman Osborn / Harry Osborn storyline was so well known in the comics that you really can't tell a story without setting these characters up. Raimi hits all the right notes with this storyline. It's a little sad that Raimi had to rush the ending of this epic story with Spider-Man 3. I can't believe that the New Goblin was the direction that Raimi wanted to go in when he created the first movie. This movie is so well crafted in terms of setting up that mythology that sticking Harry as a third string villain in the last movie is just a mistake. But I'm not critiquing Spider-Man 3 yet, am I?
There are a couple of missteps that Spider-Man is taking, but these can be chalked up to people figuring out how to make a decent superhero film. The action is pretty rough, overall. There's a couple of exceptions where it actually is gutsy. SPOILER: Pete takes a goblin bomb to the fact and just gets wrecked in the finale of the film. This sequence is difficult to watch because it is so intense and grounded (pun intended...kinda). Sure, it's a Power Ranger beating up a guy in a Spider-Man costume, but it seems really violent and those guys actually look like they got beat up. In Winter Soldier, Cap takes bullet wounds and just gets back up. Not so much with the end of this film. This film knows that blood exists and isn't afraid to use it. I'm talking about pretty much all of the other Spider-Man / Green Goblin fights. From moment one, I knew that the Green Goblin looked stupid. We all called him a Power Ranger and it didn't get better when we actually saw the movie. Applause for Willem Dafoe for making the Green Goblin not completely laughable. But when those two characters start punching at each other, it's pretty cringy. Part of it is that the movie was only starting to get CG people kind of okay. There's a scene where post-wrestling Pete is chasing down the mugger and climbing a building at night to do it. It is completely CG and you'd see better rendering in a PS3 video game cutscene. It's rough. The idea that an entire fight sequence could happen in constraining suits is laughable. Watch those early Batman movies. Keaton can't even turn his head. Batman's fighting style is having people run into his fists and sidekicks. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin have a lot of that stuff going on. They look like two action figures just being smashed together. The thing about these two characters is that their powers involve being limber enough to do aerial acrobatics. Two action figures butting heads does not a good action movie make.
I guess we have to talk about it. Everyone always discusses who my favorite Spider-Man was. I love Tom Holland. He's perfect for the part. You put Tom Holland in this movie and you have a nearly perfect Spider-Man movie. Tobey Maguire is perfect as Peter Parker. I care so much about every Peter Parker scene and my brain shuts off for the Spider-Man stuff. Maguire gets what makes Peter tick. Peter Parker is always down on his luck and Spider-Man is his escape. He's burdened with responsibility and can't always make ends meet. The odd thing is that his Peter Parker stuff if pitiable and funny. It's great. I mean, it's not always funny. But that's the story I love. Maguire might be perfect for the emotional depth that he gives this movie. The reason that the original trilogy was the romantic one is because Maguire really throws himself into the humanity of Spider-Man. He also nails the origin story of Spider-Man. But he does not, unfortunately, get Spider-Man. Spider-Man is almost the opposite of Peter Parker. It's that Clark Kent / Superman thing. One is bumbling, the other is perfect. Spider-Man tells dumb jokes well. That's what Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland understand. He's delivering the kind of dad jokes that make you blow milk out of your nose. I can't blame it all on Tobey Maguire. Spider-Man's jokes aren't that funny in this. (One of them is a little dated, playing on some homophobic ideas.) But he delivers them terribly. I mean, when he refers to Green Goblin as "Gobby", it should have worked. It's in the comics and it never raised a red flag then. Why is it so cringy now? But both other Spider-Men knew how to tell jokes because I kept laughing at those guys. The rest of the cast is also pretty good. I preached Kirsten Dunst when I watched Marie Antoinette. She's not exactly Mary Jane Watson here, but she's a pretty solid character regardless. I do like that the movie focuses on MJ, the slight failure. The comics always played up the confidence angle on Mary Jane Watson, but giving her some of her traumatic background as the forefront of the movie was a smart movie. James Franco doesn't really sell Harry to me. It's so funny that I like James Franco's performances in a lot of other movies, but this movie is early for him. He's not great as Harry. Some of his deliveries are pretty blah. Part of it is that Harry isn't a really well developed character. This entire movie is his origin story, so how do you play something when he has almost no background. There's a few lines where he defends a clearly guilty Norman Osborn that are great, but there's not much beyond that. Willem Dafoe is nearly perfect casting, besides a younger Tommy Lee Jones. (Check out Mike Deodado's art during his run on Thunderbolts to see how this would play out.) But there are two moments of absolutely perfect casting that I'll never see in a movie again:
Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is pretty revered. Pretty much, he is unanimously the best part of all the Spider-Man movies. There is a man who understands comic timing and just embracing the heck out of something. Honestly, I wait for his scenes in every Spider-Man movie. I could gush about him forever, but I'm not the first guy to mention this. The person who gets overlooked is Rosemary Harris. I know that there is a trend to make Aunt May younger and younger. This is probably inspired by the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, but there's just something absolutely perfect with Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. She is this fragile, God-fearing woman who absolutely loves and dotes on her nephew. Yet, there's one thing that could have easily been portrayed by someone who didn't put the time and effort into the character. You can't walk over Aunt May and when she is upset with Peter, she lets him know it. She has the best speeches in every movie. It's so good. Aunt May in these movies does something that I'm floored by in the films. Rosemary Harris plays her as a person that makes you question whether or not she outright knows that Peter is Spider-Man. That's great. It's the Lucius Fox thing, only way more understated. I don't mind the other actresses playing Aunt May, but Rosemary Harris is just perfect. Every. Single. Shot. Perfect. I also love her paired up with Cliff Robertson, but Uncle Ben is not in the movies as much as Harris is. Uncle Ben might be an easier character to play, so I tend not to give him as much cred as Harris.
I love the first Spider-Man movie. I really do. It's hard to watch something you loved at the time seem a little dated. It isn't perfect by today's standards, but it is still a great look into the Spider-Man mythology. I can almost smell Sony's frustration with not being able to get it as right as this first film. This movie was a beautiful love letter to Spider-Man that works more than it doesn't. I'm actually really jazzed to find an excuse to watch Spider-Man 2 now.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.