Posted on 8/03/13 03:09 PM
"Remember, with Great Power, comes Great Responsibility"
Spider-Man is one of my favourite movies, and undoubtedly the most important Superhero film ever made. Groundbreaking CG (I am aware that Lord of The Rings came out first, but small scale versus the easier to pull off large scale of Jackson's films, blah blah blah), mind-blowing direction, and a sense of awe rarely found in today's blockbusters put Spider-Man on the map, marking it out as a genre icon, a financial powerhouse, and a modern classic.
The story of Peter Parker is one we're all familiar with: Boy meets Girl, Spider meets Boy, Boy turns into the Spider-Man. The reason the story remains interesting is Raimi's grand vision: he isn't aiming to make a franchise so much as he is trying to tell his own Spider-Man story. And tell it he does. With a stunning eye for detail, Raimi brings Spider-Man into the present in a way that has become arguably more famous than the comics themselves. All the classic Spider-Man traits are here: socially awkward Peter Parker is infatuated with The Girl Next Door, attends science convention, and gets bitten by a genetically modified spider. From here, we are treated to some fantastic directorial flourishes from Raimi, who seems to take great pleasure in having his Spider-Man on the big screen. All in the first half of the film, before the action picks up, we get scenes displaying Peter's commitment to school, the torture he goes through under jocks like Flash Thompson, and his genius intellect. The subtlety with which Raimi introduces us to Peter's character, is furthered in his development into Spider-Man. At one point, Uncle Ben utters the now-immortal words, telling Peter that he's changing "From the man he is, into the man he's gonna' become". This line carries much significance to the plot, as we are experiencing Spider-Man in his infant stages, developing from an emotional teenager, into a selfless defender of justice. There are so many recurring themes and motifs thrown in, that would carry through, and some of them require rewatching to get, or comprehend fully. At this stage, I find it hard to believe that it took another 6 years before Superhero films were recognised as being just as creditable as non-genre pieces.
Positives: Where to begin? Spider-Man broke new ground, both technically, and artistically. It introduced the masses to a modern, more complex image of Peter Parker, one who keeps up the act of bravado as Spider-Man, but struggles greatly in his personal life. Tobey Maguire's interpretation is one of the better performances in any comic-book film, as he effectively balances sweet goofishness, with the burden and responsibilities of being a masked vigilante. Raimi introduces all the struggles of being a superhero, but wisely focuses more time on Peter's relationships, and the effect it has on those around him, rather than himself. reflecting the thoughts of Peter himself. He leaves off the pressure and stress Peter experiences as Spider-Man until the (admittedly superior) sequel. This is a great way to split the trilogy, focusing on different aspects of Peter's life as a super-hero (as with the third one's dealing with revenge and acceptance). This also conforms to the brilliant pacing of the film. I have watched it a stupid amount of times, and never have I found myself feeling bored, or pointing out any inconsistencies in the the films tone, or atmosphere. In terms of pacing, and the developing of story and characters, this is arguably the finest super-hero movie of all (again, maybe behind the mind-blowing sequel). Another pro? The acting uniformly ranges from good (Dunst), to flat out brilliance(Dafoe). Tobey Maguire captures the essence of his character in a way few have before in this type of film. His keen balance between moral crises and head-rushing adrenaline, is pulled off with little effort. You truly sympathise with him, as he faces various dilemmas, both personal, and on the super-hero end. Then there's his best friend, Harry Osborn, played by the fantastic James Franco. Franco's role as the overlooked son of Norman Osborn, in favour of his own best friend, is done to perfection. Franco plays the role in a way that convinces you he just wants everything to be alright, he just wants a normal, happy life, but knows that his father's personality, and high expectations, coupled with his best friend harbouring an obsession with his girlfriend. With all these stressful factors, and Franco's great portrayal of a guy struggling with his personal life, while keeping up the illusion of successful, happy young man, you really just want to see him come out happy. The actor that is probably most deserving of praise though, is Willem Dafoe, as Norman Osborn, the wealthy, and powerful head of Oscorp, foremost producer of military weapons. In his quest to unlock the "vastness of human potential" Norman accidentally unleashes his "greatest creation", the brilliant, but psychotic, Green Goblin. The Goblin serves as the darkest recesses of Osborn's mind brought to the fore. Norman is an upstanding individual, one who isn't strong willed enough to resist the Goblin's power. Dafoe plays this role to absolute perfection, so much so, that I pity whoever has to follow him up in the reboot. Dafoe perfectly captures the duality associated with Norman: he's a good person, who can't repress the evil within himself. Dafoe's conversation's with himself (Raimi cleverly employs a mirror and a mask to make the scenes less silly, and a lot scarier), are masterful examples of an actor totally understanding the mind of his character. Props also have to be given to the script, as Norman and the Goblin are written as two different characters, something Dafoe captures effortlessly. One more actor I want to bring up is J.K. Simmons: his portrayal of the legendary J.Jonah Jameson is, in my eyes, a masterclass in utterly inhabiting your character. Every scene he appears in is eaten up by his charisma, and remains in the memory, long after the film is over.
Negatives: Trust me, there are few. I wouldn't necessarily call it a flaw, but Kirsten Dunst's role of Mary-Jane Watson, while pivotal to the story, and it's themes, doesn't quite match up to hugely talented cast around her. Many remember her for excessive screaming, and while it is noticeable at times that she screams a lot, she plays the role of a girl torn between two men (and Spider-Man) rather convincingly. Also, her bubbly personality, which is classically to play off her terrible home life, is represented very well, and very subtly in the film. The CG, is also looking a bit dated, nearly 11 years on, but that can very easily be overlooked, as it was a groundbreaking step towards the CG films we see today. Not only that, but due to Raimi's clever directorial eye, most of the time, any faulty CG is covered over by fast edits, and electric fighting scenes. Yeah, so aside from a few forgivable flaws, the film is damn near a perfect representation of what fans have wanted on the big screen all these years.
In closing, Spider-Man is a film that, by today's standards, may look a little worn (graphics -wise), but when you take into account the breathtaking views of New York City, the edge-of-your-seat action scenes, and the hugely competent performances all round, you can't help but admire Raimi's tenacity as a director, to see through his idea, and not only make it a damn-good film, but turn it into a hundred-million dollar franchise too. To sum up, Raimi delivered us not just a super-hero film, but a complex tale on responsibility, heroism, and the battle of good versus evil. Despite all these hard-to-swallow musings on morality, enough humour, and breathtaking views were injected to make this a rousing, timeless mini-masterpiece.
Final Grade: A-