The Origin of ‘Spider-Man’

Spider-Man (2002)Origin movies are generally pretty dry.  They have to tell the back story of the character to make sure that everyone is up to speed.  This movie suffers a little bit from that but it’s one of the best first installments of a comic book character that we’ve had in a long time.

Written by comic legend Stan Lee and directed by Sam Raimi, Spider-Man tells the story of Peter Parker (played perfectly by Tobey Maguire).  Parker is a teenager coming of age who happens to be bitten by a radioactive spider on a school field trip.  After that fateful day, the story follows Peter’s transformation from a bumbling, awkward teen into Spider-Man: a vigilante crime fighter who’s out to save the world from evil.

The main villain is a Spider-Man staple: Green Goblin / Norman Osborn played to near perfection by Willem Dafoe.  Dafoe’s performance is outstanding… his voice is great for the role and he shows off the intellect that makes the Goblin more than just a super-powerful bad guy.

Every great hero needs to have a love interest.  Here it’s a character named Mary Jane Watson played by Kirsten Dunst.  There’s not a whole lot to the performance here.  She looks good and does a decent job in the role.  The relationship between Peter and Mary is quite a bit different in the movie than it was in the comics but you’ve got to expect some of that when a book is transferred to the big screen.  The one great moment in the film that contains Watson is the one that has been shown over and over in clips… Spider-Man has just saved Mary Jane from a group of thugs and hangs upside down in an alley and they kiss.  Sounds stupid but it’s pretty intense on screen.

A couple of other characters that need to be mentioned:

  • James Franco as Harry Osborn – Harry is the son of Green Goblin / Norman Osborn who is Peter Parker’s best friend and boyfriend of Mary Jane Watson.
  • Rosemary Harris as Aunt May Parker – I’m not a big fan of this character in the Spider-Man universe but Ms. Harris does a very admirable job with her.
  • Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben Parker – delivers a recurring line in the series, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Unfortunately at the time its delivered it has nothing to do with Peter being Spider-Man.
  • J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson – the editor-in-chief at the Daily Bugle where Peter works as a freelance photographer.  He delivers some of the best lines of dialog in the entire movie.
  • Randy “Macho Man” Savage as Bone Saw McGraw – Randy plays a professional wrestler.  Not too much of a stretch but cool to see him regardless.

A COUPLE OF COOL THINGS:

I’m a big comic book fan and even a bigger fan of comic book movies.  The key to a good (I.E. financially successful) comic book movie is to have enough content in there for the comic book geeks out there but not too much that you alienate the non-comic fans.  Two super cool references make it in here:

  1. Stan The Man – Stan Lee makes an appearance in just about every Marvel based movie.  You can see him here in the fair scene where the Green Goblin blows up town.
  2. Eddie Brock reference – in what seems like a throwaway line of dialog someone at the Bugle makes a reference to how “Eddie” has been trying to get a good shot of Spider-Man for weeks.  This is an obvious reference to Eddie Brock who will show up in Spider-Man 3 as Venom.
  3. I think just about everyone on the planet knew that a sequel to this was coming.  The way they set it up was very nice… at the very end of the flick Mary Jane kisses Peter and at the last moment before the camera pans away from her she gets a look of recognition when she realizes that the man she just kissed is in fact Spider-Man.  This isn’t addressed at all in this film which leaves things open for the next installment.

A COUPLE OF “SCRATCH YOUR HEAD” THINGS:

This movie certainly wasn’t without its faults.  It’s far from perfect even for a comic movie.

  1. Aunt May delivers the following line when she’s talking to Peter: “You do too much – college, a job, all this time with me… You’re not Superman, you know.”  At first this is a “ha ha” moment until you think about it for a second.  Spider-Man is a Marvel character.  Superman is a DC character.  Not a huge deal for non-comic fans but one of those things that rubs THIS comic geek the wrong way.
  2. There’s a scene in the movie where Spider-Man saves a small child from a burning building.  At first glance there’s nothing out of place here… until you realize that the mother of the child is OUTSIDE THE BUILDING screaming for Spider-Man to save her baby.  Um, huh?  As a parent I can guarantee that I’m never leaving the house without my kids… especially a newborn.  Just kind of takes you out of the scene.
  3. I made reference earlier to Willem Dafoe’s near perfect portrayal of the Goblin.  The one big bitch I’ve got about that character isn’t even his fault… he looked like a mix between a Power Ranger and a Voltron character.  Absolutely terrible outfit.

RECOMMENDATION:

Origin movies tend to be slow because they have to set up a ton of back story.  Luckily Spider-Man’s back story is pretty simple… it’s a dude that gets bit by a spider.  There’s plenty of action here for the non-comic fan and the story is true enough to the original that the comic geeks will be satisfied.  It’s a good beginning to a worthy franchise.  If you haven’t seen it yet I’d urge you to do so.

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