“[How old] am I, are you sure you want to know?”
2002. The world was still coming to grips with the event of 9/11. Queen Elizabeth’s was celebrating her 50th Jubilee. Europe was introducing the Euro. The number one movie of that year at the US Box office was Sam Rami’s Spider-man. Taking out Hogwarts students, hobbits, Jedi’s Dr Evil and Greek wedding goers for the top spot. (Though it was beaten at the worldwide box office by the school aged wizards and folks from middle earth.)
It seems both a lifetime ago and yet only yesterday that the film came out. It was almost half my life ago. I’m 31 now, I was a 16 year old at the time. I was in 10th grade. I had just gotten my first job packing shelves at a supermarket. The next weekend’s party and which girls were going to be there was most important part of my weekly conversation. In the background though I was following news of this movie I had heard was happening based on one of my favourite comic book characters. Spider-man. I had become aware of this film the year before when wizard magazine had written an article on the film being in development. Slowly I had gained tidbits here and there. This was still early days of the internet in Australia the information was harder to come by. I remember seeing the infamous “twin tower” teaser once on a local information show but apart from that had seen very little.
My excitement for the film really grew the night I went to a shopping centre with my father to see a film “Kung Pow: Enter the fist”. I was still an action figure collector then and spent my all my hard earned money on the second wave of spider-man classics figures early on that night. However upon entering the Target I spotted for the first time Spider-man movie Action figures. This was first marketing for the movie I had seen. The half mask and title up the side in a black box. I wanted them so bad but was broke from spending my money on the classic figures at an earlier store. So there I was, a grown man in most cultures, standing in a toy aisle pleading with my daddy to by me the spider-man dolly. Lucky for me my dad is awesome and he did buy me two. The superposable Spider-man and a Green Goblin (I still have them. Peter is sitting here with me as I write this). While at the movie that night wouldn’t you know it but a trailer that played was for “Spider-man”. I was more excited about this than the movie we saw (which was forgettable). My poor father had to put up with me explaining the history of Spider-man and Green Goblin to him unwarranted the whole trip home.
I was lucky enough that year to attend the Australian premier of Star Wars: Attack of the clones. (thanks to another awesome family member). I was excited as any geek would be but my spider-man fandom even broke out here through my inner star wars geek. Rove McManus (think the Australian version of David Letterman) was sitting two seats over from me. I knew he had seen an early screening of Spider-man for interview purposes. I leaned out of my chair and said “Hey Rove mate can I ask you a question?” people around me went silent as im sure they thought this 16 year old was going to say something embarrassing. “What was spider-man like?” …well he just looked at me, smiled and said “Really’ good” . I sat back in my chair and grinned.
Eventually my hype had reached its apex. It opened in cinemas 3 of May 2002…. And I had to wait… the film didn’t open here till 6 of June. They do this with international releases they are not sure about. They will hold them off till school holiday time to earn more. Well in the US anyway Spider-man was a smash hit. It became the first film to reach a 100 million in its opening weekend. It is still the largest grossing Spider-man movie in the US and is barely knocked off top spot world side by Spider-man 3.
Despite my strong memory of the lead up to the film, seeing the film itself is a bit of a blur. I know I saw it with my father at Watergardens shopping centre the Friday after its release. I remember loving it. Proclaiming to all that will listen that it was my favourite film ever. I even got my hands on a bootleg VHS tape and watched it constantly. I remember a girl calling me up to ask me to the Debt (Australian version of Prom) and I turned her down as I was so annoyed she made me pause the film to answer the phone (I was an idiot of a teenager). I brought the DVD the day it was released and devoured the extras. I even brought the Xbox game and finished it in one sitting.
So how do I feel about the film now? Superhero films come so think and fast its rare I get to go back and rewatch anything that doesn’t have a direct sequel. I decided to watch this film for the first time since I reviewed the series around the release of Amazing Spider-man in 2012.
The Film Style
I had forgotten how stylish this film actually is. I am now far more familiar with Raimi’s work than my original viewing and his style is all over this movie. So many odd cuts, splices, and framing. I did think the opening CGI web credits, something I thought were immensely cool back in the day, where incredibly dated now. It looked like prototype to Spider-man Netflix show. What I was amazed at though is a golden age of Hollywood sensibility to the film. It almost could be a film taking place or shot in the 60’s or 70’s. It does have a timeless quality to a lot of its design and I think it has helped keep it in peoples favourites where other films like Amazing Spider-man series seem to date quickly.
Toby McGuire is one of my least favourite things about this series. I honestly don’t think he is a bad actor I just don’t know if he was right for Peter. He can play a type of nerdy well but he carried that over way too much into the Spider-man main persona. His voice also has an annoying quality to it. It sounds weird when he says lines like “Gobby” to Green Goblin. Banter is a must for an actor playing Spider-man. I do give him credit for being one of the first actors to transform for a superhero role (after Billy Zane as the Phantom of course).
The actual look of Spider-man is so close to right. Remember however you younglings that we really didn’t get comic accurate costumes in film back in the day. For every superman there was a Steel, Batnips or S&M mutants. The raised webbing rather than print bothered me back in the day. I honestly never considered the issue of Peter getting a costly costume till this movie and reports came in about how much the suit cost. Watching this film however I did wonder how a poor kid like Peter could get such a piece. I wonder if this is where the Spider-man homecoming plot came from. I do find it funny how dated the suit looks now. It was the Apex of Hollywood costuming 15 years yet now it looks like something the stunt double gets for a wide shot. This is more a comment on how far we have come.
For those that didn’t have access to the Internet back in 2002, the Web shooters were a big deal. You think Tony helping out Peter in Homecoming sparks debate! Having organic web shooters argument was raging across comic shops as we bought our latest issues of League of extraordinary Gentleman and Dragonball Z action figures. I had honestly forgot about them however on my return. I do hate that it takes away from Peter’s ingenuity. Which is annoying in this film because 90% of the characters talk about what a great scientist he is but we never see him actually use any of it. Maybe it’s an Australian thing but if a spider does bite you, and the reaction spreads larger than the bite radius or your feel nauseated you seek medical assistance. So it was hard to see him as clever here.* However aside from the scene where he develops the power you could pretend he has shooters under there and it wouldn’t change a thing.
Kirsten Dunst. The woman who for some reason always looks like she smells a bad fart when she tries to emote. She is the weakest part of the movie for me. I never really bought her as MJ. I do like her here better than the other two of the series but it is not saying much. I don’t put all the blame on Dunst. The character is poorly written. She is just an object for the male characters to fight over. Even herself as a character is fickle beyond compare. Basically just going for the most impressive boy without ever knowing them. There were people also disappointed she wears a wig in this film but I honestly believe this was her best hair of the series
Willem Dafoe is one of my two favourite things in the movie. This man is evil and you sense it. Him sitting with the knives at thanksgiving is just terrifying. He has so many great line deliveries and a wonderful sense of physicality. Willem delivers here one of the best portrayals of a comic villain we have seen yet. It may not be comic accurate but at least it is interesting. Now remember he manages to be one of the great villains despite having what is arguably the worst costume in cinema. Lets be honest this is a power ranger suit. I still to this day don’t know what the design team where thinking. Yes, the Green Goblin outfit is out there, but how is this an improvement in anyway. Yet Dafoe manages to act through it and you forget how stupid it is really quickly. That is a mark of a really good performance.
James Franco was my biggest surprise here in returning to this film. Harry arguably gets the best character arc in the film. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this film series probably treated Harry better on the whole than any other medium including the comics. This film is probably the reason he was brought back to the books in the manner he was at the end of OMD.
Aunt May and Uncle Ben
I almost forgot how old May is actually meant to be. I remember thinking in 2002 she might have been too young to be May. Seems crazy now. Cliff Robertson as Ben is still a great performance for such a short period of time on screen. You do get a sense of everything this guy is about and can truly understand why Ben’s death would have the impact on Peter that it hard.
WHY?! The thing that destroys this film from being undateble. She was old news by the time this film was released let alone now.
J.K.Simmons , even the actor’s name seems almost like Jonah. This is arguably the best casting in comic book film history. The man personifies Jonah. He is pitch perfect. There is a reason why folks have steered clear from Jonah in the other films and it is the fact they know its near impossible to do it better. Even the writing of Jonah is on point. Having him not give up a source to Goblin is the impeccable Jonah scene for me.
All in All
As you can see I am a bit off from my “greatest film of all time” state of mind I had when I was 16. I do however think there is a better film here than I give it credit for. This is something hard to define in its DNA. It captures in a lot of ways “Pure Spider-man”. It may deviate at points but it never strays to far from centre. There is almost always something iconic to spider-man going on in any scene and that is something the other two spider-man series were/are yet to do. So after 15 years I am happy to say at the end of the day I’ll still happily give this film a thumbs up to anyone after a good spider-man film.
But what about you ? where were you in 2002 ? what was your hype like ? how did you see the film?
* PS If a spider ever does bite you, Take a penny and put it over the bite. Draw a circle around the penny with a pen. If in the following minutes/hours/days the affected area of the bite goes beyond the circle seek medical assessment. If you feel sick following a bite seek medical assessment. Don’t try to suck out the venom.