The Movie (Spoiler-Free)
I will get this out of the way first: if you brush off Spider-Man as a movie you will not like because it is about a man in tights you will miss out on something special. For someone coming into the Spider-Man universe cold, my wife loved this film. This film spends a lot of its time on the origin of Spider-Man. Peter Parker (played deftly by Tobey Maguire) is an ordinary unpopular high school student. At the beginning of the movie we hear a narration by Peter that says this story is like every other story in that it is all about a girl. The girl in this case is Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Peter has had a crush on MJ since he was 6 years old, but obviously MJ has not reciprocated the feelings. Problem is Peter is not the kind of person to express his feelings to MJ, he instead lets everyone else know what he feels for MJ. It is the classic "everyone knows except for the person it involves" scenario. Peter admires her from afar and seems to always be there to bring her spirits up.
One day Peter and MJ's class go to Columbia University for a field trip about spiders. We find out that the people here have been studying spiders and then creating super-spiders through genetic manipulation. One of the spiders gets loose and as Peter is taking pictures of MJ for the school paper, he is bit by it. Here is where the origin of Spider-Man begins. The first hour is spent with Peter getting used to the special powers he has gotten and refining them. He is both scared and excited by what he can do and Maguire makes Peter seem like one of us. This is the core of why Spider-Man is so great. It shows that even someone with a normal upbringing and great powers can have a difficult life. This is very much in contrast with heroes like Batman and Superman who either grew up in a rich family or is from another planet. Peter Parker is like many of us. He has a normal life like the rest of us. This is why it is so easy to sympathize with his character.
The other part of the first hour is about Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the CEO and of Oscorp. He has been working on a super serum that will give a human super strength. However one animal died during the testing of the serum. The military is getting tired of Osborn not having a human test of this serum. They give him two weeks to test it to success on a human, but if he is not able to do so they will stop funding on the project and hand it over to another corporation. Osborn decides he is going to be the human guinea pig and exposes himself to the serum in a self-contained vessel. For a while his heart stops and his assistant comes in to revive him. Osborn's heart revives at a faster rate and he has super strength. He turns into the Green Goblin and employs a rocket-powered glider to get around New York City. You can somewhat sympathize with Osborn in the fact that he is very close to his company losing the contract and him possibly losing the company itself. He takes a liking to Peter and treats him like his son, much to the chagrin of his real son, Harry (James Franco). The best parts with Willem Dafoe are when his two personalities (Norman and the Goblin) have a conversation with each other. Norman is obviously insane after being subjected to the serum, but he is still a human that is, albeit very little, trying to fight his Goblin personality. The rest of the movie is spent between Spider-Man and Green Goblin having some encounters here and there and a big encounter at the end. I would give away more, but that would be spoiling the movie.
I would like to spend some time talking about the special effects in this movie. They are very good, but can be very fast and look somewhat unrealistic, even though we are talking about unrealistic situations here. Sony did most of the effects internally through Sony Pictures Imageworks and I think it really hurt the film from this standpoint. I have a feeling that if Industrial Light and Magic was used that the effects may have been a tad better. Then again, I am sure ILM was busy working on Star Wars Episode II and Men in Black 2 and it would cost Sony less to do things in-house obviously. One of the hard parts to fathom is when Peter is jumping from building to building. He looks as if he is jumping off a trampoline and he is not landing hard enough on the next building. It almost looks as if he is flying from building to building when he should be landing realistically and then leaping off of his landing and onto the next building. I may just be picky though, but my wife also pointed out this specific instance.
The other effect problem is when Spider-Man is swinging or doing acrobatic moves. The camera seems to move too quickly trying to give you a look at Spider-Man from all sides instead of making a nice, sweeping camera motion behind Spider-Man. The camera effect looks cool, but you just lose sight of Spider-Man and where he is going quite easily though. Sam Raimi has directed another gem. He is a great director and he feels like he has brought experience from both the Evil Dead group of movies and movies like A Simple Plan. It is both very funny and very serious. He has truck a nice balance between the two on this movie. I was very impressed.
Final Thoughts: Spider-Man is a movie not to be missed. If you have never been introduced to Spider-Man, this movie does a good job with his origin and one of his greatest enemies. This movie has a great plot (written by David Koepp) and is easily going to be a huge moneymaker. Some of the special effects may look unrealistic or maybe you will not notice them at all. This is a movie you can enjoy both from a story and action angle. Do not think of this as a movie about a person in tights fighting a boring bad guy. Think of it as a movie about a boy that is given special powers who is fighting a man made mad by serum trying to save his company. This movie has layers in its plot. This movie is highly recommended and should make a good DVD release as long as Columbia/Tri-Star goes that extra mile.
The Movie (Spoiler-Filled)
We have waited over a decade for this film to finally make it to the big screen. Originally scheduled to be directed and written by James Cameron (Titanic), this property went into legal hell. Many different studios were fighting over who really had the rights to make a Spider-Man movie. During this time Marvel Comics also filed for bankruptcy and have, as of today, somewhat righted the ship from where it was. Now Marvel is on the cusp of hitting it big on the silver screen. With upcoming adaptations of Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Iron Man X-Men 2, etc., Marvel looks to be setting itself up quite well. X-Menwas a large success for Marvel and left the door cracked for Spider-Man. That door has now been left in shambles by the quake Spider-Man is sure to make.
I started collecting comic books back in the early 1980s. I own, to my knowledge, every Spider-Man comic from the first day I picked up one to the last day in the mid-1990s. Since that time I have kept up on the storylines in all the Spider-Man comics and collected old Spider-Man comics. I have just recently come back into comics with the release of the Ultimate editions of Spider-Man and X-Men. These are a retelling of both from the very beginning with a more modern look at them. This movie parallels the Ultimate line in many ways. I just could not see how they could make the Green Goblin look like he did in the 1960s and make it believable in the 21st century. He needed an update and Ultimate gave it a little push, this movie gives it a thrust forward. They give the Green Goblin an exoskeleton in this movie. From the first pictures I saw of it I was very turned off by it. After watching the movie I just do not see how they could have put the Goblin in any other kind of suit. You make him somewhat look like he did in the 1960s and you will most likely laugh at him. The exoskeleton makes him more realistic and more in tune with the 21st century. Even his weapons are more in tune as well.
Things that worked in this movie: First up is the choice of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I was very against the choice of Maguire as Peter Parker when I first heard it. I had seen him in movies like Pleasantville and others and felt he was geared more toward the dramatic types of movies, not the superhero type movies. I will also be honest and say that my initial impression was totally wrong. Tobey Maguire IS Peter Parker. He plays him perfectly. I especially like the scenes where he is testing out his powers and how surprised he is that he has these powers now. His narration at the very beginning of the movie sets the mood quite well. He makes Peter seem unsure and normal like the rest of us are. This is the magic of Spider-Man. He has his successes and he has his failures as Peter and as Spider-Man, much like we have successes and failures in our lives. I felt like Maguire brought my dream to life on the screen.
Next thing that worked was the interaction between Peter and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). Mary Jane is, in many ways, an amalgamation of herself and Gwen Stacy from the comics. She is made up mostly of Mary Jane, but she is put into situations that Gwen Stacy went through in the comics. Perfect example of this: the ending. Goblin holds a zipline car with lots of kids in one hand and Mary Jane in the other. The Goblin says Spider-Man has to choose which he is going to save. The Goblin then drops them both off the bridge. This is an obvious allusion to Gwen Stacy's death drop, although the ending to it is very different. Mary Jane is not as wild as she is in the comic book, in fact she is more like Gwen Stacy in this regard. Much like Gwen did, Mary Jane is going out with Flash Thompson at the beginning and ends up with Harry mid-way through, much like Gwen. Peter and MJ are the center of this movie. Peter even says in the beginning that this story is about a girl, and that it is always about a girl. The end of the movie is heart-wrenching and obviously sets up things for a sequel (which both Maguire and Dunst are signed on for), but the feelings expressed at the end are powerful, especially when MJ realizes who Peter really is.
Another thing that works in this movie is the interaction between Peter and Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) along with the Norman/Goblin dynamic. Norman treats Peter as his son, given the fact that Peter is a better student than Norman's own son Harry (James Franco) is. Peter also seems to be more in tune with Norman's ideals than Harry is. Harry's envy grows over this and a few other things in the movie. Norman is Peter's friend until he starts to suspect that Peter may be the one thing in the way of stopping him from doing what he wants. Another thing to talk about is the Norman/Goblin dynamic. Raimi and Koepp went an ingenious way with this. They made Norman and the Goblin two different personalities that exist in the same body. It is a sort of Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde dynamic. The neat scene is Norman in front of the mirror in his mansion. On one side he talks like Norman and on the other he shows a sinister face and talks like the Goblin. Norman lets the Goblin psyche take over and that is where things go downhill. In the comics, Norman has been given amnesia many times and does not remember being the Goblin. Eventually the Goblin takes over again though. It would have been interesting to see that in this movie, but unfortunately we do not. And that brings us to what somewhat does not work in the movie.
Things that somewhat did not work in this movie: First up, the sometimes flaky special effects. The special effects were done mostly by Sony Pictures Imageworks. I think this movie would have been better from this angle had Industrial Light and Magic been given the special effects duties. I am sure ILM was too busy with movies like Star Wars Episode II and Men in Black 2 though or Sony did not even contact them (more likely). A specific scene that shows somewhat unrealistic movement is when Peter is jumping from building to building after getting his powers. As he lands on a building and run, he seems to glide instead of properly land. I think it would have been smart to have a proper landing and then run. He looks like a puppet in this scene. Some of the flying/action scenes can be very convoluted with special effects and the camera work. Spider-Man moves too fast for the camera. Instead of following him we are usually following a New York Skyline. I wanted to see more Spider-Man in these parts and less of the quick movements as he flew by. At the very end with him swinging through New York...that is the type of camera work I wish there had been all along. They follow Spider-Man's movements very well and I think this would also have worked in the night action parts.
Next up are the small differences between the comic and the movie. Overall the movie is very much like the comic, but in some parts it deviates. Peter now has organic webbing instead of building his own webshooters. I can understand the need for organic webbing, but I am just a bit freaked out that the webs now come from Peter's body instead of from a gadget. Another difference is at the wrestling match. When Peter is picking up the money he actually has his pre-Spidey costume mask off. Why the heck doesn't the con man ever contact the Daily Bugle or the police and give a description of Peter? At least they did the burglar correctly, but there is at least one person other than Osborn and MJ (at the end) that knows that Peter is Spider-Man. Another little miss is the use of the Spider Sense. This is of course the most difficult thing to portray in a movie and they do a pretty good job of it. However the Spider Sense is not used enough and the fact is that Peter's Sense works against the Green Goblin, yet is rarely used in the movie. The reason it did not work in the comic was because Goblin had hit Spidey with a bomb that disabled his Sense. The biggest guffaw with this is in the burning building. Spidey should have known there was trouble before he went up to the hooded figure. It takes away from the plausibility of this movie, but it is also difficult to portray. There are other minuses I am sure, but I cannot think of any right now. Now onto the big minus.
MAJOR SPOILER: And my biggest strike against the movie is that they actually killed Osborn in the end much like he died the first time in the comics. I knew as soon as Osborn put the glider up that he was dead. Why not make him amnesic and put him into the hospital like they did more than once in the comic? Why not leave the door open for him to reclaim his role at Oscorp? X-Men is the only modern superhero movie, outside of Unbreakable, to do this correctly. There is no need for the Batman rut of killing the villians. Willem made a good enough impression to deserve to be in, say, the 3rd film. They did make a good brewing plot about Harry wanting revenge against Spider-Man. This is the beginning of how he became the Green Goblin II in the comics. Maybe he will become that in the next movie? At least they pulled that off correctly.
Although those are minuses they do not detract from the enjoyment of this film. This is probably the perfect way for Spider-Man to be portrayed on the screen. When I walked out of the theater I was astounded by how much I loved the film. The story was good, it moved well and the action parts were very few. This movie hones in more on the personal tribulations of both Peter and Norman Osborn. They are opposite faces on a coin and this movie did a good job of portraying that. The story is the main thing here and this movie delivers it in spades.
Final Thoughts: Spider-Man is a dream come true. It has taken over a decade for this movie to be made. Luckily the special effects technology has progressed far enough to show a good version of Spider-Man swinging around the city. Had this been made ten years ago I do not think it would look so realistic. I wish they would have touched up some of the effects or given it to Industrial Light and Magic, but they do not severely detract from the movie. This movie is better than X-Men, which was also a good movie. From a Spider-Man fan, this movie was simply phenomenal. Yes, there are problems, but no movie is truly perfect. I highly recommend this movie and the DVD will hopefully be very good.