Spider-Man (2002) Review

With great power comes great responsibility.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In 1999, Sony Pictures acquired the film rights to Stan Lee’s Spider-Man property following years of litigation and creative conflicts between Columbia and MGM. Thus, a Spider-Man trilogy fell to American director Sam Raimi to take the wheel. It’s hard to imagine a time in Hollywood when superhero movies were considered risky, but after the disappointments of Superman IV (1987) and Batman & Robin (1997), a new big budget interpretation of Spider-Man was approached with a great deal of caution.

In keeping with the Marvel comic backstory, Tobey Maguire plays a charmingly innocent high school student named Peter Parker, a nerd if there ever was one, who pines after a girl in his class named Mary Jane “MJ” Watson (Kirsten Dunst). One day, while on a field trip, Peter gets bitten by a genetically-engineered/radioactive spider granting him strange new powers. Along the way, we meet his friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of the CEO of Oscorp, Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe). Oscorp has recently failed to secure a vital military contract for a hoverboard and component suit. Norman is then ousted by the board of his own company. In seeking revenge, he goes on a rampage throughout the city as the “Green Goblin” donning his military grade suit. It is then up to Spider-Man to save the day, but first he must make some difficult decisions –i.e. destroy his best friend’s father, while keeping his love for MJ a secret. These are the burdens a hero must bear (his identity remains a secret from MJ in this film).

There are some cheesy yet culturally iconic moments in this film, such as the fast-talking cigar-smoking newspaper editor, John Jonah Jameson Jr. of The Daily Bugle (played by J. K. Simmons), Uncle Ben’s sage advice “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the memorable upside-down kiss in the rain between Spider-Man and MJ. I should also say, there is a quality of innocence to these older, more simplistic, Hollywood hero movies. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series is somewhat conservative in tone –there are damsels in distress, villains who are cartoonish, Spider-Man rattles off timely one-liners, and our protagonist is a geeky everyman who secretly saves the day. Spider-Man is a film made for teenagers and it doesn’t really try to be much more than that. It is a fun little adventure, in contrast to the dark and gritty turn of most modern hero films. Watching “spidey” sling through the CGI cityscape of New York is a nice throwback. For a corny comic book story about a boy who accidentally acquires supernatural powers via a genetically-engineered spider, this is still an entertaining ride. And Spider-Man creator Stan Lee makes an amusing cameo as an ordinary civilian in the film! He appears in several subsequent Spider-Man films, as well.

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