Spider-Man

Spider-Man ★★★★★

Spider-Man is more or less Marvel Comics signature character, sort of the equivalent of what Superman or Batman are for DC. Reading Spidey’s classic adventures from yesteryear written by Stan Lee with art by Steve Ditko, and John Romita, one can tell the significance the wall-crawler has to the overall infrastructure of Marvel comics hierarchy of characters. Spidey always seemed unusually powerful for being the runt of the litter, so to speak. Stan Lee, being a very discerning huckster, always tries to give the fans what they want, and Spidey was a significant selling point for Marvel comics' bottom line. I think the fact that Spidey struggled to join the ranks of The Avengers or the Fantastic Four had more to do with the character's popularity at being a loner. That didn’t stop the comics from having all kinds of guest appearances from the likes of Daredevil, Doctor Strange, or the Hulk. It’s just that Spidey’s stories had a certain power to them when he was alone, as if the cosmos was playing some horrible prank on this teenager by isolating him with all of his angst and problems. Obviously the powers that be were really Stan and his team of artists knowing what they needed to do to sell comics to a hungry comic reading populace. I can almost see Peter Parker’s plight not being all too dissimilar from the character of Jack Slater, the fictionalized hero played by a fictionalized version of Arnold Schwarzenegger in John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero. When Slater meets his real true self in Arnold, he doesn’t have praise for his real-life incarnation, but criticism. Slater makes sure to tell Arnold that he’s brought him nothing but a lot of pain for all of his fictionalized depictions of his life for the benefit of hungry action movie goers. If Peter Parker reincarnated himself out of the pages of the Marvel comic strip, what words of condemnation would he have for the likes of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Dan Slott, Brian Michael Bendis, Gerry Conway, J. Michael Straczynski, and for that matter, director Sam Raimi! 
     Spider-Man as a movie character languished in development hell for years before Sony Pictures finally got the ball rolling with director Sam Raimi and a script written by Steven Spielberg’s go to man, David Koepp. The success of Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men no doubt helped to get the production moving along, but unlike that modest blockbuster hit featuring Marvel’s mighty mutants, Sony was willing to shell out a whole lot more faith and resources with their adaptation for good ole Webhead’s cinematic debut! Unlike the tightly budgeted and grounded approach to X-Men, or the R-rated edginess that accompanied Stephen Norrington’s Blade, Raimi had the resources to create a grand operatic superhero spectacle along the lines of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie or Tim Burton’s idiosyncratic Batman. Spider-Man was a big event movie for its time, such a big event that it even overshadowed George Lucas’s second installment to his Star Wars prequel saga, namely, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I recall all of the box office pundits predicting a marginally satisfying box office run for Spider-Man, something along the lines of a domestic box office sum total of 200 million. To me, that sounded pretty good because that was enough of a box office tally to guarantee a sequel. No one saw that 115 million dollar opening weekend gross coming! As a matter of fact, those numbers were so huge that the preacher from my church damn near freaked out, and practically criticized all of America during his sermon for having the audacity to spend their weekend watching a movie about a Web Headed freak of nature. If watching Spider-Man was a sin, I was ready to go to hell baby!! I remember being there on opening night, and I was awestruck that the movie practically sold out all of its showings, furthermore, I had to buy tickets for the latest showing possible. I was in high school at the time, and since I didn’t have a car I usually had to take the bus to the movies, so needless to say it was embarrassing asking my dad to pick me up from the movies at close to 1am in the morning. There was no way in hell I was going to miss Spider-Man on opening day, no-matter how many people showed up to the movies!  
        So, Raimi comes at his big budget Spider-Man adaptation in a myriad of ways. It feels like the movie is using a lot of the fun flourishes used in Burton’s Batman, but also combined the more massively appealing global justice of Donner’s Superman. And then of course Raimi imbedded his macabre sensibilities while also including his own superhero framework that he explored in his original superhero tale, Darkman. You see a lot of Darkman in Spider-Man’s visual grammar such as the scenes showcasing the inner workings of Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) DNA as it transforms into that of a superhuman spider hybrid. It reminded me of Liam Neeson’s maniacal transformation, with inner animated sequences of his DNA being overcome with Rage!! However, Norman Osborn’s (Willem Dafoe) transformation is also occurring simultaneously with Peter’s, as he succumbs to his inner impulses, impulses that are dark and like Neeson’s Darkman counterpart, impulses full of rage. Osborn develops a Jekyll and Hyde personality, with his businessman tycoon being the front man for Oscorp industries, and the darker evil persona known as the Goblin being the persona used to even the odds by murdering all of Oscorps competition. However, karma is a bitch, and Oscorp’s own board of directors decides to operate in a similar fashion by selling Oscorp to its main rival, Quest Aerospace, right from underneath Norman Osborn, leaving him bereft and without a company to call his own. This action finally brings the Green Goblin out and into the spotlight as he must confront the board of directors at the Unity Day Festival being held at Times Square, with Gobby donning a green Goblin helmet with the visage of a monster, and a state of the art bat-winged glider that provides the Green Goblin with flight. This glider is equipped with missiles, along with pumpkin themed explosives, spinning razor-bats, and an assortment of all kinds of killer goodies. Adjacent to Gobby’s story of ultimate success and revenge, Peter Parker develops his powers, although he has no idea what to use them for. Things are changing rather quickly for Peter, he manages to beat up Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello), doesn’t need his glasses anymore, has a killer body, and realises he can effortlessly leap from one rooftop to another. Then he sees that his physical anatomy has been given a very inhuman upgrade, the ability to shoot webs from his wrists (in the comics Peter has to make his own web fluid, and shoots his webs from wrist-bracelets {or most commonly referred to as web-shooters} under his Spidey gloves), and an early awareness of danger that borderlines on a form of precognition, endearingly referred to as Spider-Sense. 
     Director Sam Raimi traverses through all of this ridiculous material like a consummate scholar of comic books, completely understanding how to precisely orchestrate all of the events leading to these characters attaining these fantastical powers, all the while ensuring that audience members that are not initiated into comic book culture understand exactly what’s going on in the movie. Raimi makes it look easy, and to this day I’m still in awe of how he manages to condense so much material into a movie that just clocks in at two hours, give or take a few minutes. If you’ve never seen the film, that descriptor above is just the tip of the iceberg of what Raimi manages to convey in the movie. Oh yes, there’s a story going on here as well. Raimi wisely honors Marvel Comics Amazing Fantasy, no. 15 from 1962, and uses that basic story as a framing device for the first act of the film, and for a portion of act 2. Pete gets his powers, he’s a stupid teenager who thinks he can get money quickly to impress the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) tries to talk some sense into him by giving him the With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility speech. Pete doesn’t listen, as a matter of fact, he goes in the polar opposite direction of the speech by coming as close as humanly possible to aiding and abetting a crime. Unfortunately, the goon he lets pass him by on to an elevator will be destined to shoot his beloved Uncle Ben to death. That is the basis of the first quarter of the movie, and the full story of Amazing Fantasy, no 15, with the wrestling component in place and all, but instead of Crusher Hogan, we get a new fun creation in the form of Bonesaw McGraw ( Macho Man Randy Savage). The real story of the movie though is actually deeper than even this basic classic comic book framework. Raimi decided to tell a universal story in the form of a love story. Pete’s madly in love with Mary Jane Watson, he has been since they were children. His Spider-Man activities and his romance with Mary Jane, or lack thereof, is inexorably linked together. As Peter watches her from his bedroom window, he sees her in her perfect little world almost looking like a fantasy he wants to escape into. Then when he gets his powers and starts shirking his chores, he sees her through the kitchen window, however, the window he sees her through this time is showing her fighting with her family, in other words, the reality version of her is on full display. This idealized version of her, mixed with the everyday real version, merges together when they both converse with each other in their backyards, and the production crew gives them a subtle separation with the chain link fence between the both of them. Pete is so close to her, but there’s always something in the way, something keeping him physically apart from her, whether it’s his social ineptitude, Flash Thomspon, MJ’s popularity, Harry Osborn (James Franco), or Spider-Man himself. 
     One of the things that this movie does exceptionally well is how each of the characters relate and are interconnected with one another. Norman has a rocky relationship with his son Harry, at least until he meets Harry’s best friend Peter Parker. Norman is very impressed with Peter, and this is a great set-up because Uncle Ben’s death leaves a huge vacuum in Peter’s life that needs to be filled. And Norman tries to fill that void, at the expense of Harry’s affections. As a result, Harry then tries to fill his disappointment with Peter and his father by stealing MJ right from behind Peter’s back. Harry is a tragic chip off the old block in that he despises his father, but tries to resolve all of his problems the way his father would. I also noticed one of the movie’s secrets in regards to Raimi’s excellent economy when it comes to storytelling, foreshadowing!! The opening scene for the school field trip is a scene designed to let you know everything about how these characters will relate to one another. There’s Pete getting his powers from the spider bite as he’s distracted by taking pictures of MJ. There’s Harry’s off handed reply when it comes to him calling spiders hateful little things, which is then followed by MJ’s declaration that she loves spiders. All of this indicating where each of them will stand when Peter shows up in their lives as Spider-Man. Of course Harry’s half hearted attempt to stand up for Peter against Flash Thompson, as we’ll see this motif repeated later when Harry doesn’t stand up to his father after Norman says some terrible things about MJ. This is how Raimi was able to miraculously cover so much material in such a small period of time, he just has storytelling skills that help the movie move along at a brisk pace.
     The connection between Peter and Norman is quite palpable, and not just because they are both becoming Spider-Man and the Green Goblin simultaneously, but because Raimi uses some fantastic film-making bravura in relation to both characters. Peter examines himself in the mirror after awakening from his first night following being bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and Peter sees how he’s changed in his bedroom mirror. What he sees is potential and possibilities. Cut to later in the movie when Norman finally comes around to seeing himself in the mirror, where he also sees his future potential and possibilities in the form of the Goblin revealing its murderous nature. Rather than Gobby pointing out the potential for Norman to be a surrogate father to Peter, he points out the potential benefits of a partnership with Spider-Man (unbeknownst to the both of them, Spidey is Peter) and how that can be great for Oscorps financial gain and future longevity. We have the captain of industry in Norman, crushing all of the little people for the sake of success, the little people like Uncle Ben. It’s Ben Parker who reveals to Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that he was fired so that the company can downsize its people and upsize its profits. You see how Peter is now traversing the world of joining the captains of industry, or focusing on the small people like his Aunt and Uncle, and to a degree this all reflects back on the speech that Ben gave Peter before he was fatally shot to death, the concept of Peter having to be careful with what kind of man he’s changing into, a theme that remains relevant throughout the movies ongoing events.
     Legendary actress Rosemarie Harris is without a doubt the quintessential Aunt May, and there has never been a better one since. And I say that with all due respect to Sally Field, Marissa Tomei, and Lily Tomlin. In the comics Aunt May was always this extremely frail woman who would dote on Peter, however, this became more of a curse once Pete segued into the life of a crime fighter. Now his every waking worry was concerned with the well being of his Aunt, which became a staple of the comic series with almost every issue it seemed. In the film, thankfully Raimi and co back off with the weak and frail Aunt approach, and they allow Aunt May to be a source of strength and refuge for Peter as the stresses of living up to Ben’s philosophy and growing into a responsible adult weigh on our hero's heart. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when May has to console Peter after a very difficult graduation ceremony, a ceremony in which Peter felt his Uncle's absence the most. Then of course, yes the movie does give us the frail Aunt May scene, however, at least she was hospitalized for a legitimate reason, primarily because the Green Goblin blew the bedroom portion of her home to smithereens while she was trying to submit a prayer to God. The Goblin presents himself as this horrific demon demanding that she finishes her prayer. Frankly, that would send an extremely young spritely person to the emergency room! Needless to say, even though May is in a hospital bed nursing some minor scratches, and a serious case of emotional trauma, she still presents herself as Peter’s strength and comfort as she gives him critical life advice and wisdom when it comes to trying to be emotionally forthcoming with Mary Jane Watson. Furthermore, if it wasn’t for this crucial pep talk, it would’ve never dawned on Pete to check up on Mary Jane and learn that she was abducted by his arch nemesis, firmly sending us the audience into the movie's thrilling climax. 
    The action sequences in the movie have been treated very well with the passage of time.I recall Roger Ebert complaining that the CGI Spider-Man was about as convincing as Mighty Mouse, and for 2002, he wasn’t wrong. However, I think that the weirdness of the CG gives the movie this interesting stop motion feel now that wasn’t as prevalent almost 20 years ago (I don’t care if this makes me sound like a Spider-Man apologist!). Then there’s the aspect of the Green Goblin’s Power Ranger inspired costume, which again, that was a little cringey to have to look at in 2002! Now though, it works on a tokusatsu kind of level, and I think it’s fair to consider it an homage to the tokusatsu genre. Especially since there was in fact a Japanese Spider-Man tokusatsu series back in 1978, which is appropriate because Spider-Man, then as much as now, has always been a global phenomenon. I also love how uncompromising Raimi is with the superheroes presented in the movie. A lot of film lovers can’t stand the idea that Marvel is trying to monopolize the concept of fun from the movies. I sense that Marvel isn’t as sold out to fun as much as they think. They seem to tread a fine line between trying to be fun, but at the same time trying to look cool and hip to modern audiences. This movie is so uncompromising with the outlandish superhero stuff that it will actually make the most dedicated Marvelite you know blush pure red and feel embarrassed about their fandom. I mean it! This movie is not for the sideline casual Marvel fans that are only into it because it’s what's popular. This isn’t anything like Avengers: Endgame. This is pure superhero comic book movie fuel for those that experienced the crucible when they were in school. I was a fan of Marvel back in the 90s when they were about to file for Chapter 11. It was not easy talking about Spider-Man during recess, let me tell you. So, this movie may seem embarrassing if you’re not completely sold out to the goofy, brightly colored, superhero aesthetic that Raimi sells his audience here.
       I remember when the Goblin and Spider-Man had their first major fight at Times Square, and Spidey pulls the wiring out from underneath the Goblin’s glider, and then the glider goes haywire signaling the end of Spidey and Gobby’s first bout. But before Gobby barely flies away, he gives Spider-Man a parting dialogue: “We’ll meet again Spider-Man!” I hated that piece of garbage dialogue then, but I can’t live without it now. I’m infatuated with Gobby’s pitiful and serial inspired parting words with the web-slinger. To me, where I am now in life, that line is solid gold for me! The films climax is another wonderful concoction by team Raimi, a reimagining of the iconic moment from The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122, wherein the Green Goblin drops Gwen Stacy, the love of Spidey’s life in the comics, to her death off the Brooklyn Bridge. In the film, Gobby abducts Mary Jane, takes her to the Queensboro Bridge, and while holding MJ in one hand, he’s holding a Roosevelt Island trolley by its cables in the other hand, with the trolley being full of innocent children. “This is why only fools are heroes, because you never know when a lunatic will come up with a sadistic choice!” This is what the Goblin taunts Peter Parker with as he responds to the situation as Spider-Man. Raimi and his collaborators reconfigured one of the darkest moments in Spider-Man comics to bring Spidey’s inherent conflict in the movie into focus. Spidey has to choose constantly, day after day, whether his personal life or the lives of strangers will receive the benefit of his powers, his opportunities, and more importantly, his heart and his time. The movie allows Spidey to triumph in this climactic moment, yes I know it was all a trap to make Spidey vulnerable to Gobby’s attacks, but still, it’s a hopeful way of showing that when there’s a will, there’s a way for Peter Parker to make room for his personal life and for others if he just has a strong enough desire and will to fight for what’s right. 
     This movie is a film made and built to grow on its audience. The Danny Elfman score didn’t blow me away, as a matter of fact, I felt disappointed with it during the opening weekend viewing. But it's grown on me over the years, just like that crazy line of dialogue from the Green Goblin has grown on me. Now I love Danny’s score, probably more so than any of the other composers' contributions over the years, although Young, Giacchino, Zimmer, Horner, and Pemberton have done some splendid work over the full range of Spidey flicks we have received. Yeah, this movie is top tier superhero movie for me, it's what I perceive to be one of the ultimate superhero movies. Up there with the likes of Donners and Burtons contributions to the genre. There are other contributors as well that would arise after this film, and I can’t wait to get a chance to write about those achievements as well. In the meantime, I absolutely enjoyed my current rewatch of Sam Raimi’s excellent Spider-Man! Frankly, it wouldn’t be hard for me to put it in again and give it another go. I give this movie my highest recommendation!

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