Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Marvel Media Mania: Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man (2002) is the first (American) theatrical release for the character. It shattered box office records and its success cemented the place of superheroes in movies for the next ten years.
Do you believe a man can webswing?

This film is simply amazing. There's no other way to put it.

Sure, fans made a big deal about organic webbing and genetic spiders vs radiation in the origin but to me I can easily move past these issues. I find this origin story to be incredibly faithful to the comic books, including the wrestler Spider-Man fights. The one thing I can't forgive is eye color. In the movies but MJ and Peter have blue eyes. In fact, MJ even points out Peter's eye color. But MJ famously has green eyes in the comics and Peter, of course, has hazel eyes. Oh, the humanity! (I joke of course!)

I feel that the film goes out of its way to make Spider-Man fans happy. All of the film's major characters are directly taken from the comics including some secondary characters like Robbie Robertson. Plus, there are tons of hidden gems in the film that fans of the comics pick up on. For example, Dr. Stromm, the Green Goblin's first victim, is, in fact, a real (if little known) comic book character that worked with Osborn. The battle scene on the bridge with MJ falling was obviously suppose to mirror Gwen Stacy's famous death scene.

The story seamlessly weaves together a complex story with many narrative themes. First, the transformation into Spider-Man is used as a metaphor for puberty. Aunt May and Uncle Ben worry about Peter growing up and the choices he's making. And the father motif is a strong cord throughout the movie. Uncle Ben says, "I know I'm not your father," and Peter's last, stinging words to him are, "So stop pretending to be!" Ouch! Then to have the villain, Norman Osborn, take a "fatherly interest" in him in the film's climax brilliantly ties the film together. The motif of masks is integrated through the story even in the set pieces - Osborn's mansion is decorated with all sorts of creepy masks.

There is a surprising amount of emotional weight for a superhero movie. After Spider-Man stops the burglar that kills his uncle we're shown Peter coming home to a grief stricken Aunt May. It's a small moment but a powerful one. Likewise, after graduation, we see Peter crying on his bed. "I missed him a lot today," he tells his aunt. We get little glimpses into the worlds of the characters such as seeing Mary Jane's father chase her, yelling, into the street or, when Norman meets MJ, he checks out her body. These brief moments give us great insight into each character.

The movie is also has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments such as Peter crying out, "Shazam!" when he's learning how to fire a web ("Shazam!" would be how Captain Marvel activates his powers) and then swinging directly into a billboard. Peter tells MJ, "I hunch," to explain why he looks taller. And Aunt May tells Peter, "You're not Superman, you know." Funny moments like these really break the tension of the film.

Likewise, the special effects are absolutely astounding. Spider-Man's webswinging was done in a fashion unlike anything else before it. Not only does the camera go along for the ride with Spider-Man but we see him dodging street lights and you can actually see the physics of how a webline would work in real life.

William Dafoe and J. K. Simmons turn in absolutely brilliant performances while Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst merely hold down the fort. Simmons in particular absolutely nailed J. Jonah Jameson with his short, clipped sentences spit out around a cigar. William Dafoe had the additional obstacle of having most of his face hidden but the scene in which he walks toward the mirror while talking to himself in two personalities should be archived in the film hall of fame.

And, of course, this film has perhaps the most famous Spider-Man moment on screen - the upside-down kiss. How many guys have strained themselves trying to recreate that scene?

Two words: Simply amazing.

1LR REVIEW - 19 out of 20! It's a Solid Hit!

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