Spider-Man might not have been the first comic book adaptation to hit the big screen but the film helped pave the way for the MCU.
The film’s 20th anniversary comes as Sam Raimi is opening up Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Because of licensing, Raimi’s Spider-Man films didn’t feature any characters unless the license was owned by Sony Pictures, of course. This why a fan like me was happy to see the MCU start up. If characters could team up together in the comics, why couldn’t they get to do so on the big screen?
For well over 20 years, so many people had tried and failed in getting Peter Parker on the big screen. Everything changed in 1999 when Columbia Pictures acquired the rights. The rest is history. Sam Raimi was hired as director in 2000 while David Koepp is credited with the screenplay. Three other writers voluntarily gave up their writing credit, certainly losing royalties in the process. For a few years after Batman and Robin, superhero films could have been a thing of the past. Imagine being a studio in the late 1990s: Batman and Robin‘s failure certainly gives one pause and makes them think twice. Enter Blade, Avi Arad and X-Men, and the rest is history This leads to X2: X-Men United, which remains one of the best X-Men films ever.
The gist of the film is simple: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bit by a radioactive spider on a field trip to Columbia University. Oscorp founder Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the father of Peter’s best friend Harry (James Franco), becomes the Green Goblin after experimenting on himself. Peter finds that he has new spider-like abilities and takes advantage of them. Unfortunately, his efforts are not enough to save Uncle Ben’s (Cliff Robertson) life. Peter take’s Ben’s advice to heart and becomes the superhero that New York City needs.
After their first fight, Norman ends up attacking May (Rosemary Harris) because he knows Spider-Man’s identity. It’s every villain’s idea to hurt the people that heroes love the most. This is especially why many heroes choose to keep their identities secret. Otherwise, it puts their loved ones in danger. But anyway, Harry is dating Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) but after he sees her holding Peter’s hand, he tells his father about what he saw. What happens next is that Peter must choose between saving MJ’s life or the Roosevelt Island Tram passengers. This ends up more or less becoming a Spider-Man trope that we see on screen for years to come. The results are never the same, which explains why Andrew Garfield’s Peter feels guilt over not saving Gwen Stacy.
We know how it ends: Norman impales himself by his own glider. At Norman’s funeral, Peter tells MJ that they can only be friends. Harry vows revenge against Spider-Man for Norman’s death.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. I love what Tobey Maguire does in the film but as we now know, he’s not the only Peter Parker on the big screen. You can put someone else in the role in different films but you can’t bring back Norman Osborn without bringing back Dafoe. One of the best things in the film is the casting of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. After watching his performance, you could not have anyone else playing the role, no matter who was starring in the title role. The performance by Simmons is absolute perfection. It’s why so many of us were thrilled by his cameo appearance at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Up until this point, most comic book movies went for practical effects over computer effects. With John Dykstra in charge of visual effects, the film would prove to be a game changer. When we’re talking about a character who swings from building to building, you almost have to do this on a computer. Technology is more advanced today but the film is still an achievement for its era. When you look at the VFX of this film, it gives us a better understanding of why Jon Favreau decided to show Tony Stark behind the mask six years later in Iron Man.
The 2002 Spider-Man film is crucial for how it changed both blockbusters and the superhero genre for generations to come. Without Spider-Man or the X-Men movies, it is fair to say that we would not have the MCU today.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
SCREENWRITER: David Koepp
CAST: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris
Sony released Spider-Man in theaters on May 4, 2002. Grade: 5/5
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