Release Date: May 3, 2002
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Despite having become something of a Marvel Cinematic Universe completionist, it was not that long ago that I was someone who was “not interested in all those superhero movies.” The turning point was watching The Avengers with my kids in 2015. Anyhow, since Spider-Man: No Way Home featured enjoyable performances by earlier actors who played Spider-Man, I figured it was worth checking out the older films.
This iteration of Spider-Man features the origin story that’s familiar even if you haven’t read any of the comics. On a school trip to the Oscorp labs, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically-modified spider giving him spider-like abilities. Maguire’s Peter is perhaps overloaded with nerdy signifiers, but I also appreciate that he can be kind of a selfish jerk. It feels realistic to a teenager who suddenly has “great power” and the responsibility that goes with it.
The villain in this film is scientist/businessman Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), the head of Oscorp, whose experiment with a performance-enhancing chemical drives him insane. He turns into the giggling Green Goblin riding a hoverboard. In one of the many coincidences of this movie, Peter is best friends with Osborne’s son Harry (James Franco). Peter and Harry are also vying for the attention of their classmate Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
Overall this is an entertaining film with a good balance of action, character development, and heart. I felt Maguire and Dafoe were the standouts, but the other actors aren’t given much to do. This is especially true for Dunst whose Mary Jane just seems to need to be rescued over and over in way that was old-fashioned even in 2002. Although probably true to their depictions in the comics, Peter’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) seem comically way too old. J. K. Simmons is great though as the comically obnoxious and corrupt newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.