Here Comes A Spider-man: The Perfect OriginPosted: April 28, 2014
With Amazing Spider-man 2 coming out this week, I thought I might reflect back on the wall-crawler’s history in film and how this franchise as much as any other reflects the highs and lows of superhero blockbusters.
Considering that Spider-man was there at the beginning of Marvel Comics (and the massive turning point in the superhero-comic industry that followed), it makes sense that he be at the forefront of the Marvel invasion of Hollywood. And Sam Raimi’s first Spider-man (moreso than Bryan Singer’s X-men or the Blade movies) was the tipping point, the realization that superheroes have incredible potential in film without having to be live-action cartoons. It’s also fitting that, being based on one of the great comic-book origins, Spider-man is a perfect introduction to its hero and his world.
In my mind, Spider-man is one of the all-time great origin films, that set the standard for how to establish a new superhero. Sam Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp handle the classic setup with perfect pacing and energy, in a way that is both efficient and also patient. We don’t get much in the way of action at all until the end of the first act, when Peter takes his powers to the wrestling ring, and sometimes that’s the way it should be; the action should come naturally from the story and the characters, not based on some preordained schedule for action beats, something that Raimi understood very well.
The key here is the economy and simplicity of the narrative. No scene feels extraneous and everything ties back to the emotional/thematic arc of Peter’s story. By not cluttering the film with extra villains (just Green Goblin, played with perfect B-movie aplomb by Willem Dafoe) the movie is able to keep the characters and their emotional stakes at the forefront, which then allows the story to remain in focus and on track. It’s also still one of the better superhero romances on film, with Mary Jane’s growing love for Peter feeling very natural, and thankfully not tied to him being Spider-man. It’s a summer tentpole where you almost don’t want them to go back to the Spidey stuff, because the character stuff is so relatable and well-handled. While plenty of people didn’t like the cast of these movies, I think Tobey Maguire had the right kind of earnestness needed for Peter Parker, and Kirsten Dunst does a good job playing the grounded popular girl, and the two work well together, helping to build that relatable core for the audience.
And unlike many of its contemporaries (or immediate successors), Spider-man still feels as colorful and comic-booky as one would hope for. There are very few instances of Raimi shying away from the comic-book roots and tone, with the most obvious being the Green Goblin’s armored costume. While I don’t find the change as egregious as others do, it does certainly feellike an active avoidance of his classic look. Other than that though, it nails the tone just right, with just enough B-movie touches to keep it from seeming too serious or real (in the best possible way).
Perhaps the best thing is that, for a movie being made at a time where Hollywood wasn’t sure what to make of superheroes, Spider-man is an incredibly assured and confident depiction of a superhero, in a way that really captures the essence of the comic books. I feel that it’s aged well since the initial release, and it’s still a very fun and engaging story about a young man growing up… and swinging around New York in spandex.