So I watched Spider-man…
I’ve finally reached 200 blog posts! I decided that I needed to do something special and then it hit me, do a Spider-man Review. It’s the first movie I ever saw at the cinema and still, in my opinion, one of the best superhero movies ever made. Here’s hoping for 200 more!
Okay, basic plot: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is your average high school nerd. He spends the majority of his time getting picked on by jocks and the rest of it dreaming about Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) – the hottest girl in school. Peter’s life takes a dramatic shift when, during a field trip, he’s bitten by a genetically modified spider. The bite gives Peter amazing spider-like abilities like increased strength and reflexes, and the ability to shoot web from his wrists. Although initially determined to use his new powers for his own selfish gain; Peter eventually decides to become a hero and takes on the persona of Spider-Man to protect his city.
This is one of those movies that I’ll never be able to view impartially. It’s the first movie I saw at the cinema and, because it was so good, made me want to continue going to the cinema. It’s also a monumental milestone in the history of the the superhero genre. A lot of people say that the first X Men was when ‘good’ superhero movies started being made but I’m not a fan of that first X Men film and think it was Spider-Man that really kicked things off.
When I think of the movies that preceded it, films like Batman and Robin and Justice League of America, it was clear that filmmakers were still unsure of how to translate stories from the pages of comic books to the big screen. They were often far too comical and lacked real-world authenticity. Now Spider-Man still has its overly-comical moments but it makes sure to root its characters in the real world before going all zany and cartoony.
One of the main ways this film roots Peter Parker in reality is the sizeable interval between him receiving his powers and him becoming Spider-Man. He doesn’t immediately go and fight crime or make his supersuit; he does teenage things that we can all relate with. He beats up the high school bully, he tries to get the girl – he does things that you’d expect from any teenage boy and this gives us time to connect with him and makes him seem more real.
This is a thing that a lot of superhero movies often forget to do. They don’t make the hero’s secret identity a main character. Yes the title of the film is Spider-Man and he needs to be on screen a great deal or we’d feel cheated; but the secret identity is as important as the hero’s identity. The conflict between the selfish desires of the secret identity and the selfless sense of duty of the hero, is one of the best things about superhero movies. I think that the modern-day superhero movie has lost this because nowadays everyone knows the hero’s secret identity or being a hero is all they do. This leads to a lack of conflict because the hero no longer has to struggle to balance and fulfill his dual identity.
This film displays this internal conflict beautifully. There’s constantly a clash between what Peter Parker wants to do and what Spider-Man has to do. This adds dimension to the character and keeps him from being a boring boyscout or an emotionless soldier. But Spider-Man doesn’t only give you great internal conflict but also amazing external conflict through Spider-Man’s battles with Green Goblin. Marvel doesn’t have a great reputation for creating engaging villains but Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin is one of their best.
Spider-Man does something that a lot of superhero movies don’t do – it makes its villain a main character. We get to take a look into Norman Osborn’s psyche and see his descent into insanity. Yes, it’s because of the cliched lab experiment gone wrong; but Osborn doesn’t instantly become a homicidal maniac. He starts small, first eliminating immediate threats and as more threats arise he grows more daring and dangerous. There’s a split, a point of distinction between Osborn and Green Goblin; and we get to see the same internal conflict that Peter feels mirrored in Osborn. At first he doesn’t know that he’s doing these things but the more benefit he reaps from them, the more alluring and enticing his psychotic alter ego becomes.
Although Sam Raimi didn’t write the script for this film, his creative influence is apparent in its writing. In 1990 Raimi wrote and directed Darkman, a superhero of Raimi’s own creation. He actually created Darkman because he couldn’t secure the film rights to more popular heroes. The storytelling technique in Darkman is also present in Spider-Man: it’s all about slow-burning resolutions and incredible internal conflict. I think Sam Raimi’s contribution to the superhero genre should never be forgotten.
Now while an amazing movie, Spider-Man is not without its faults. There are times when it’s too slowly-paced. Things go from break-neck action to rather dull dialogue. This is most evident right before the final showdown before Spidey and Green Goblin. Goblin brings the fight to Spider-Man in a very personal way – it’s an escalation to full-out war and the next scene is just Peter Parker talking to Mary-Jane for like ten minutes. It gains and loses momentum at incredible rates but the loss in momentum is often far too sudden and makes the story feel sluggish.
Overall, Spider-Man is one of the modern classics. It began the superhero renaissance and showed that superhero films could be more gritty and realistic without being overly morose. It’s still worth a watch even after all these years 8/10