Once upon a time, everyone seemed to like Sam Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” films, but in recent years I’ve heard some people say they’re not as good as people remember, that people made the movies out to be better than they actually are. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film to find the answer. For the first installment “Spider-Man” is enjoyable but not without its flaws. To understand some of them, one must understand the story.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a high school student who lives with his aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). He has a crush on his classmate Mary Jane Watson (nicknamed M.J., played by Kirsten Dunst), and his only friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of Norman Osborn (William Dafoe), a scientist who founded Oscorp industries. On a field trip, Peter gets bitten by a test subject spider. He eventually discovers he has improved vision, quick reflexes, an ability to jump higher, an ability to sense trouble (spider sense), a wall climbing ability and an ability to shoot webs. To protect his identity, Peter wears a full body suit and calls himself Spider-Man when fighting crime.
Unfortunately, there are parts of the plot of “Spider-Man” that do not make sense. The first scene Peter is in shows him getting bullied for no apparent reason. The scene does serve a purpose, but there is no background info as to why he is getting bullied. Shortly after Peter gets his powers, he is shown accidentally using one without a mask. Several students see him, and yet later on in the story, no one makes the connection when a masked, suited man with web slinging abilities fights crime. Instead of having one big battle, Spider-Man and the villain meet multiple times, and so the story has to find reasons for the villain to let Spider-Man live. Some characters look too old due to the actors who play them. The way Peter’s classmates act is inconsistent. The way the public treats Spider-Man is inconsistent.
“Spider-Man” has its share of clichés as well. “The girl next door” is an all too familiar term; a scene where Peter prepares to talk to Mary Jane has been seen before in different forms. Multiple lines of dialogue from the villain paraphrase or directly quote already existing material.
Often when the film is original, it is hurt by its cheesiness. Much of the action is cheesy, and much of that cheesiness is due to slow motion. Much of the dialogue is cheesy. One bit of conversation goes on for far too long. There are multiple overlays of shots. Many if not all look silly. One looks like something from a kids’ show, (one that isn’t suitable for anyone above seven,) and the entire scene looks like something meant only for children. Such silly fade overs reoccur multiple times. Mind you, I have nothing against cheesiness, but when a product doesn’t go all out by making everything cheesy, the cheese feels out of place.
There are some other issues worth pointing out: though the CGI may have looked top notch when “Spider-Man” was released, it’s blatantly animated today. Though some of the CGI is probably too photorealistic to notice, edits between live action or photorealistic imagery that is clearly animated don’t look right. Speaking of edits, some felt unnecessary or improperly executed.
That said, “Spider-Man” has its positives. Tobey Maguire is good at putting on a sad face and crying, and even if he looks a bit old for the role, his look fits with his character. William Dafoe also does a good job facially acting, and when he says his lines, he successfully communicates whatever emotion his character feels. Danny Elfman’s score is a good one, emotional when it needs to be, energetic when it needs to be. Uncle Ben and Aunt May are both wise, admirable characters. The film has tension at points, and one chase scene provides blood-pumping adrenaline.
As for the rest of the action, the first confrontation between Spider-Man and the villain felt most like an action scene should. Another less so, and a later scene in a burning building doesn’t work at all. The final duel is alright, though the first half of it ranges on emotion rather than action and the second half feels stilted, lacking the action a final fight in a superhero movie should have. Still, the final exchange between the two characters is an emotional one and leaves interesting consequences.
Though I recognize some of its positives, “Spider-Man” isn’t for me. If none of the above problems bother you, though, or you think you can enjoy the movie anyway, feel free to give it a watch.