Spider-Man movies 1 – Spider-Man

Spider-Man, from 2002, is actually the first superhero movie I saw from the early 2000’s superhero movie boom. Even before I saw it, I wanted to see this Spider-Man movie. While it didn’t necessarily spark my interest in superheroes in general (I credit X-Men for that), I did very much enjoy Spider-Man, both the movie and the character. I also enjoyed, and still own, the video game based on this movie.

As with a lot of these film adaptation, it took a while to get going, but the result was well worth it in the long run. Plans for a Spider-Man movie went back to the early 1980s, with Roger Corman (Fantastic Four) first buying the film rights and started developing it for Orion Pictures. They even brought in Stan Lee to write the script, which would feature Doctor Octopus as the main villain, and Cold War themes. The project never made it past the script phase because of budget disputes between Corman and Lee (I imagine Lee wanted a bigger budget, considering Corman is known for his low-budget films).

Cannon Group (Superman 4) soon bought the rights. The two producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, were so unfamiliar with Spider-Man’s background that they believed he was a werewolf-like creature, and the script they developed starred Peter Parker as an ID-badge photographer who becomes the subject of a mad scientist’s experiment that transforms him into a human tarantula. As much as I’m glad that never became a Spider-Man story, that doesn’t sound like a terrible idea for an original movie. Nevertheless, Lee hated the horror route and demanded a new script much closer to the source material.

A new version began in 1985 where Doctor Octopus was Parker’s mentor turned enemy, and Parker received his abilities from a cyclotron experiment. In that version, they considered several Hollywood giants from the 50’s for Aunt May, Bob Hoskins was considered for Doc Oc, and Lee wanted to portray J. Jonah Jameson himself. Honestly, I could see him doing pretty good in the role. However, after Superman IV and Masters of the Universe both bombed, Spider-Man’s budget dropped to $7 million, before being abandoned altogether.

One of the Cannon producers, Golan, actually extended his Spider-Man option after he became the CEO of 21st Century Fox, aiming for the same script, budget and storyboards first developed at Cannon. At the time, James Cameron planned on writing and directing, who previously met with Lee to discuss a possible X-Men film … until Lee convinced him that he’d be a good choice for Spider-Man instead. Cameron’s version would be a darker, more mature take on the character. It would include Spider-Man’s origin, along with reimagined versions of Electro and Sandman. It would also use a fair amount of profanity and a sex scene between Spider-Man and Mary Jane atop Brooklyn Bridge.

That film never came to pass because Golan (the rights holder) sued for Cameron trying to make the film without his involvement. Cameron had just finished True Lies, and he soon abandoned Spider-Man for Titanic. That’s definitely for the best, for both Cameron and Spider-Man fans. Interestingly enough, Cameron considered Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Peter Parker. In any case, a mess followed where MGM sued Viacom, Sony Pictures, and Marvel, accusing them all of fraud in relation to the original deal with Cannon. The following year, 21st Century Fox and Marvel both filed for bankruptcy.

The release of Batman & Robin, along with its critical thrashing, severely damaged the chances that Spider-Man would ever make it to film. The next year, Blade released to financial success, while Fox started working on their X-Men movie, which helped convince some studios that a Marvel character could carry a movie. Marvel emerged from bankruptcy in 1998, partly thanks to Blade royalties, and because Golan’s option had expired, the rights reverted back to them. They sold the film rights to Sony Pictures for $7 million.

On a side-note, there was some side-trading with film rights between Sony and MGM at the time to help Sony get the Spider-Man rights, that also involved MGM acquiring the film rights to Casino Royale. Of course between that and Casino Royale’s release, Sony bought MGM anyway, but that was the first step in allowing the official Bond film franchise to actually make Casino Royale.

Along with the film rights, they optioned every script written since the 1980s, however they only took material from the Cameron version. Some of the directors considered for the Spider-Man movie include Roland Emmerich (no thanks), Michael Bay (hard pass), Ang Lee (of 2003’s Hulk – not sure how I feel about that one), Tony Scott (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II – maybe), and M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense – probably not the right choice either.) Chris Columbus of Home Alone 1 and 2 almost accepted the director’s seat, but eventually passed for the first two Harry Potter films. I could see him doing alright. Tim Burton (Batman and Batman Returns) was considered, but he wasn’t interested, seeing himself as more of a DC fan. His unique style really wouldn’t have worked for a more optimistic superhero like Spider-Man anyway. David Fincher, director of Fight Club, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, specifically didn’t want to portray the origin story, and instead pitched a story based on The Night Gwen Stacy Died. That would end up being a major part of Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014.

Eventually, Sam Raimi signed on as the director. Although he was more known for his horror movies at the times, especially the Evil Dead trilogy, he was also experienced with comedy … including the Evil Dead Trilogy. The casting process took a while, and there are plenty of interesting behind the scenes stories, but I’ve talked long enough just on the process of getting this movie made in the first place. The only thing I’ll say is that this movie almost received an “R” rating, just because of the final fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. They had to tone it way down to get under the PG-13 level. Personally I’d like to see the R-rated version of that fight. Let’s get into the cast.

Toby Maguire portrays the title character, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and he plays the part of a socially awkward yet intelligent nerd quite well. Willem Dafoe plays Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, and he’s pretty much perfect in the role. Kristen Dunst plays Mary Jane Watson, and she shows a lot of emotional range in this movie. James Franco plays Harry Osborn, Cliff Robertson is Uncle Ben, and Rosemary Harris is Aunt May. Last but not least, J.K. Simmons portrays J. Jonah Jameson, and he’s such a perfect casting that they straight up brought him back for the MCU movies, and never bothered to try to replace him for Amazing Spider-Man.

There are also a lot of noteworthy minor roles and cameos, including Joe Manganiello as Flash Thompson, before he made his breakout role as a werewolf in True Blood, Bruce Campbell (a long-time colleague of Raimi’s) cameoing as a wrestling ring announcer, “Macho Man” Randy Savage as wrestler Bonesaw, and fellow former wrestler Scott L. Schwartz playing a wrestler who is carried off on a stretcher. Macy Gray appears as herself at the World Unity Fair. Lucy Lawless cameos as a punk girl appearing in the news, partly as a favour to her husband/Xena creator Tob Tapert, since Raimi helped produce Xena.

Spider-Man 2002 ended up a massive success. It became the first movie ever to earn over $100 million in its opening weekend, even adjusted for inflation, with over $114 million. That surpassed the previous year’s record set by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It would take 4 years for this record to get passed, by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It also tied Titanic’s record of passing $400 million in 66 days (both were eventually passed by Shrek 2). With a total worldwide haul of $825 million on a $139 million budget, it was a massive success overall. While Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers earned more worldwide, Spider-Man actually beat it domestically with $407 million. In any case, its total worldwide haul made it the third highest earning movie of 2002, behind Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, while also dethroning Batman as the highest earning Superhero movie of all-time. It remained the most profitable superhero origin film until Wonder Woman in 2017, 15 years later. It also remained the highest earning superhero movie period, until Spider-Man 3 in 2007. Oh, and it remained Sony’s highest grossing domestic film until Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in 2017.

In addition to its massive financial success, Spider-Man did very well with the critics, earning a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.6/10. USA Today’s review said that the movie’s casting compared to 1978’s Superman. Roger Ebert gave it a moderately positive review of 2.5/4, his main complaint being the movie’s action scenes. Some critics criticized MaGuire’s portrayal of Peter Parker, but most of the criticisms revolved around the Green Goblin’s costume, which most found goofy.

The movie received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects, which it lost to Chicago and The Two Towers respectfully. Soundtrack Composer Danny Elfman won several soundtrack awards, including the Saturn Awards Best Music title. Kristen Dunst won the Best Actress Award at the Empire Awards and Best Female Performance at the MTV Movie Awards. On that note, the kiss between Spider-Man and Mary Jane in the rain won MTV’s Best Kiss award, and won the comparable award of Choice Movie Liplock at the Teen Choice Awards. Although he didn’t win any, Dafoe received multiple nominations for Best Villain.

As for myself, I very much enjoyed this movie when it first came out. After a while, as more serious superhero movies started releasing (example –The Dark Knight), I started seeing this movie as a bit too cheesy for its own good, but I still enjoyed it. At the same time, until watching it this past week in preparation for this review, I hadn’t seen this movie since Amazing Spider-Man released in 2012. Sometimes, that distance can help with perspective, for better or worse. In this case, it’s for the better.

There are very few things in 2002’s Spider-Man that don’t work. Sure, the Green Goblin costume is goofy and looks a bit cheap. Sure, there are some intentionally cheesy CGI shots, like when the Oscorp board members are turned into CGI skeletons by one of the Green Goblin’s bombs. Sure, some of the dialogue is a bit strange. But those are nitpicks. In truth, that’s how superhero movies tended to be in the early 2000s, in fact that’s how movies were in general. Spider-Man is a good enough movie that these nitpicks are stylistic choices at best, and they are consistent with the movie’s overall tone.

Spider-Man strikes a great balance between action, drama and fun. Peter’s relationship with his aunt and uncle is clearly established early on. There’s a lot of love between them, and Peter clearly looks up to his uncle. Without spoilers, Uncle Ben’s death and its lead-up is pretty much perfectly handled. Peter clearly feels responsible for what happened, and it serves as his inspiration for being a true hero as Spider-Man.

MaGuire captures the socially awkward side of Peter’s personality quite well. While he’s clearly attracted to Mary Jane at the start of the movie, he barely talks to her until after he gains his Spider-Man abilities. Even then he’s too nervous to be more than just a friend to her, until it’s already too late and Harry starts dating her. Even that friendship is among the more compelling relationships in this movie. It’s also great how close Peter and Harry are, yet there’s that strange element of their friendship where Peter gets along with Norman better than Harry does, despite Norman being Harry’s father. While that doesn’t affect their friendship in this movie, it does have an effect in the sequels.

Of the main protagonists, Dunst gives the best performance. She plays off the attractive side of Mary Jane quite well, but also shows a wide range of emotions. She’s convincingly distressed whenever she’s verbally abused by her father or being yelled at by her boss. She’s clearly angry when she’s seen breaking up with Flash Thompson at graduation, or when Harry says something really stupid. It’s amusing how playful she feels when she’s questioning Peter’s motivations during a casual conversation, as if she knows that he’s attracted to her. There’s also a look of recognition at the end of the movie, where it appears that she suspects that Peter is Spider-Man, yet doesn’t come out to say it.

But the real highlight performance is Dafoe as the Green Goblin. He perfectly portrays someone who’s personality is split in two. Just like in Spider-Man: No Way Home, you can always tell who’s in control by the tone of his voice, the way he movies, and his facial expressions. He’s both very entertaining and terrifying. His Norman personality is clearly terrified of his Green Goblin half and what he’s capable of, but with his life seemingly falling apart around him, he slowly submits to the Green Goblin’s schemes. The best part of his performance may just be the conclusion of the final fight between Spider-Man and the Goblin, especially at the end where they both know each other’s identities, and Norman is struggling to stay in control.

It is true that this movie is a bit light on action. It takes its time building up to Peter becoming Spider-Man, focusing on him adjusting to the changes in his body, and then dealing with the ramifications of his mistakes. Even when the action begins, most of the fight scenes are over quickly, in order to focus on the movie’s dramatic elements. That said, this movie doesn’t feel slow. There’s still enough comedy and drama thrown in that the slow-burn works. In the action scenes, the movie does use some of the slow-motion that was overdone in the early 2000’s (we can thank The Matrix’s popularity for that), but never overdoes it. In his school fight with Flash Thompson, it uses slow motion to emphasize how Peter’s spider-sense works. Even in the burning building fight, when he’s dodging Goblin’s flying bladed bots, it only uses slow motion a couple of times when he’s dodging them, and they’re all great shots.

There’s a lot more to say about what works in this movie, but I don’t want this blog post to go on for too long. Yes, this movie is in a lot of ways a relic of the early 2000’s. Yes, the CGI looks dated by today’s standards. Yes, it does get cheesy at times. These issues may turn off some people. I also have a friend at work who doesn’t like these movies, because he was never convinced that MaGuire passes as a high school student, and he doesn’t like the lack of Spider-Man quips. With all that said, this is overall a very good Spider-Man movie, and it still remains the best live-action portrayal of Spider-Man’s origins as a superhero. It’s not perfect, but after seeing it again for the first time in at least 10 years, I think that of the three first Spider-Man movies, this may be my favourite. Then again, it’s been a while since I’ve watched Amazing Spider-Man.

Next week is Spider-Man 2, which a lot of people consider to be the best Spider-Man movie to date, even after No Way Home. There are major elements of this movie I never liked so I wouldn’t go that far, but I still enjoy the movie quite a bit as a whole. As of right now, I’m planning next month to be Tom Hanks month, November will be War Movies Month, and I’ll spend December making fun of cheesy Christian movies. I’m looking forward to each of these in different ways.

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About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - www.healed1337.blogspot.com As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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9 Responses to Spider-Man movies 1 – Spider-Man

  1. This movie really kickstarted the whole superhero genre of movies back in the day. It’s also a huge part of my childhood, which is probably the case for so many out there too. I look forward to rewatching it properly soon!

    Like

  2. Paul Bowler says:

    I really like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, especially the first two. The original Spider-Man film was a huge hit that took the world by storm. Its east to see why as Raimi skilfully brought the story up to date and kept all the classic elements that make the character of Peter Parker so relatable, Its a fantastic superhero film and still one of my favourites in the genre.

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  3. evaschon98 says:

    I watched the Amazing Spider-Man films before this trilogy, and I think that’s why I prefer the AS-M movies over the Tobey Maguire ones. That being said, I do enjoy Spider-Man. Willem Dafoe, in particular, is SO entertaining.

    Really looking forward to the other reviews in this series!

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    • healed1337 says:

      That makes sense. You’re roughly 10 years younger than me, so the Garfield Spider-Man movies came out around when you were the same age that I was when the MaGuire Spider-Man movies came out. And I will acknowledge that there are parts of the first Amazing Spider-Man that are better than this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t see the movie until around 3 years ago, but I quite enjoy it.

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  5. Pingback: Spider-Man movies 2 – Spider-Man 2 | healed1337

  6. Pingback: Spider-Man movies 3 – Spider-Man 3 | healed1337

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