With great corniness comes great heart.
Synopsis: High-school senior Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a pretty unremarkable kid. Orphaned at a young age, he lives with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). He is brilliant, but awkward and only has one friend, the super-rich Harry Osborne (James Franco), son of Oscorp CEO Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe). He spends his days being an outcast and pining over the beautiful girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), until a bite from a radioactive spider genetically enhances his DNA and he becomes the crime-fighting hero Spider-Man.
Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.Peter Parker
Breakdown: It is incredibly refreshing to watch a superhero movie unencumbered by the trappings and weight that come with being in a larger franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe is doing for serialized storytelling and mega-franchise cinema, but this very first Spider-Man film is simple, not bloated, and able to just breathe and tell the self-contained story it wants to tell. Tony Stark isn’t showing up halfway through to help save the day and there are no Nick Fury’s showing up at the end, hinting at larger things to come. It’s just the story of a high-school boy who gets more power than he knows what to do with.
2002 was a much different time in theaters—superhero films were not the big money makers that they are today. Sure, you’ve got your Christopher Reeves-led Superman films and Michael Keaton’s Batman and Batman Returns, but it was a much simpler, less crowded space that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man entered into in 2002. Two years before, X-Men reinvigorated the superhero genre, but it wasn’t until Spider-Man that things started to really open up for comic books on screen.
Watching this movie in 2021 certainly is quite the trip. Its an earnest film that takes itself very seriously, but it had a lot to prove back then. And sure, the graphics don’t hold up and the movie plays as incredibly corny and cheesy at times, but it genuinely is a good movie. Tobey Maguire, though not believable as a high-school student, does a good job of portraying the weight on Parker’s shoulders as he navigates the responsibility that comes with being a superhero. James Franco delivers a surprisingly present performance, given his increasingly more wooden acting in recent years. Even Kirsten Dunst does a fine job as the damsel in distress, but honestly, this is not a movie that people walk out of talking about the love interest. This is Parker’s movie through and through, and it is all the better for it.
The true stand-out in this movie, however, has to go to Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborne/Green Goblin. Dafoe chews scenery as if it is going out of style, but he does it with such gravitas and chemistry that it is just fascinating to watch. His ability to convincingly play the quickly out of control Osborne and the truly evil Green Goblin, and handle each role as if it is a distinct and different part, helps elevate this movie into something more than it has any right being.
The biggest thing that surprised me when re-watching this film is how much DNA it shares with Tim Burton’s 1989 classic Batman. I don’t know if it is because Danny Elfman provided the score for that film and this one, but so much of Spider-Man reminded me of Batman, from the action scenes to the music to the story beats. It really is astounding how similar the two are. I’m not saying Spider-Man is copying Batman, but if you are going to build on the shoulders of another film, there really isn’t a better one to build off of. Batman, all those years ago, did a lot of the same things that Spider-Man did in 2002. It proved that superhero films can be big business and they don’t have to be silly in order to work. They can be taken seriously and have real consequences, and audiences will willingly go on these journeys with the film makers. You just have to believe in the story that you are telling, and that is something that oozes out of every frame of Spider-Man: the realness and believability of these characters and the story they are trying to tell.
Verdict: Tobey Maguire may not be my favorite Spider-Man/Peter Parker, and this movie is definitely starting to show its age. But there is just so much the movie gets right, and aspects of it hold up surprisingly well all these years later. Maguire is the Spider-Man I grew up with, and to be perfectly honest, if the rumors are true and he is in Spider-Man: No Way Home, it will be a welcome sight to see him as Peter Parker once again. Though it is not a perfect film, it is a perfectly good film and one that is extremely enjoyable and refreshing to watch in this age of connectivity and continued storylines.
**This movie review is part of a series of reviews, where we are watching one Spider-Man movie a week leading up to the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home. You can read more about this review series here.
To see the other reviews, click the links below (we’ll update this list each week as we release new reviews):
- Spider-Man 2
- Spider-Man 3
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Venom: Let There Be Carnage
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- Spider-Man: No Way Home
- Movie Marathon Review: Spider-Man Recap
Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.
Featured image source: 501 Must See Movies Project