Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker
Kirsten Dunce as Mary Jane Watson
Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn
Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben
James Franco as Harry Osborn
Rosemary Harris as Aunt May
J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
In the late 1990s, adaptations of comic books, which had been a big deal for decades, were dying. The failure of Batman and Robin killed the series of movies by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher and the TV adaptation suffered a decline. Some have credited Spider-man with saving this genre even though it was really X-Men that proved that comic book movies could still succeed if done right. But it was probably Spider-man that made comic book movies big again. For until the Dark Knight, remained the most successful of its genre ever.
The first Batman and Superman movies were the only examples on how to make a comic book movie to follow. Director Sam Raimi and writer David Koepp chose to follow the Superman: the Movie model of spending a great amount of time on the hero’s origin, not just jumping in like Batman. We see the tale of nerdy high school kid Peter Parker, who is mocked for being uncool and more than a little weird by his classmates. About his only friend is Harry Osborn, son of CEO Norman Osborn. Peter, of course, is bitten by a radioactive, experimental spider, giving him spider-like abilities. At first he uses these abilities to make a fortune. Until that is, he fails to help catch a criminal who escapes and murders Ben Parker, Peter’s uncle and surrogate father. Peter realizes that “with great power comes great responsibility.” And a career in superheroing is born.
As usual with these movies, there is love interest: Mary Jane Watson. We’re told that Peter has loved her since he was a child and despite his unpopularity during the high school portion of the movie, he becomes friends with her. But no more, or so it seems. This creates a level of angst, which made this movie quite popular with female viewers.
This was one of the earlier movies that were very CGI-heavy. For its time, the CGI is extremely well done. It makes for the kind fast-paced high-flyin’ combat that could never have been done before. Of course, coming after the Matrix helps as well; action scenes filmed before the Matrix look very slow-paced compared to those shot after it.
As for the antagonist, this series begins with, as usual, the most prominent villain: the Green Goblin. Willem Dafoe plays this character with a thrilling amount of sadism and megalomania.
Unlike most superheroes, Spidey gets a minor antagonist who doesn’t really do more than slander him. I refer of course to newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, played by J.K. Simmons. Simmons does a very good job of playing Jameson with the bad temperament, opportunism, and cheapskatedness of the character.
This movie does almost everything right, but there’s one thing I can’t really praise. Except for Dafoe and Simmons, There aren’t really any particularly good performances. They’re not bad or anything, they’re just very ordinary. Some might argue that in a movie maintaining the true Marvel Comics feel of “regular people with powers,” mediocre acting actually helps. I’m afraid I can’t agree. Mediocrity is mediocrity.
Despite this major flaw, Spider-Man is a very solid superhero movie and well worth seeing.
Overall: 8 out of 10