Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man was the first film that I saw in theaters back in 2002. I still remember that awe-inspiring moment as a 6 year old kid enamored by one of the greatest superheroes of all time. Little did I know how much of an influence this film would have on me as I grew up. Spider-Man is my favorite superhero of all time and the films that he has been in have spanned from truly amazing to downright cringe worthy. The web-head’s first feature film is one that hasn’t aged particularly well through the decades of comic book movies that have after it, but the core of who Spider-Man is remains the same. Sam Raimi’s first film, despite its effects and cheesy dialogue not holding up, still remains a solid comic book film. One that remains true to its comic roots, tells a traditional origin story, and contains mesmerizing and iconic performances that fans clamor for these days.
I don’t need to rehash the plot of this film for you, but the story follows the schematics of a typical superhero discovering their powers, realizing their purpose, and fighting a villain that threatens the city they protect. Given that this is one of, if not the first, comic book origin films of the 21st century, a lot of films take inspiration from this one because it works so well. Peter Parker’s journey to becoming Spider-Man is a particularly nuanced adventure, but it contains the emotional and instrumental beats that make him who he is. Uncle Ben’s death, played excellently by Cliff Robertson, is a staple in his hero’s journey. Seeing Peter wrestle with the consequences of the powers he has been given and living with the “With great power, comes great responsibility” speech still remains poignant to this day. We see him constantly trying to live the best of both worlds, a theme consistent throughout the trilogy, and succeed and fail in numerous ways. It’s what keeps the character fresh.
Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of the character is my favorite for nostalgia sake. He imbues the nerdy, socially awkward, and irresponsibility of Peter Parker exceptionally well allowing you to feel he is still just a kid with a weighty responsibility on him. He has trouble talking to Mary Jane, having the confidence in making a move in his career, and is humble in the face of adversity. In terms of a Peter Parker, he gets everything right. His portrayal of Spider-Man is still solid, but lacks the humorous, quippy, and intelligent aspect of the character that I felt was better portrayed in future films in other actors. I love him as Spider-Man still and will still stand up and cheer if he is in No Way Home, but this film more so rounds out the duality of Peter Parker and Spider-Man as opposed to having Spider-Man being an extension of Peter’s personality.
Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin is damn near perfect casting, and portrays a menacing and crazed villain with just the right amount of cheese and fear for an early 2000’s film. Dafoe easily switches from sympathetic father to crazed lunatic in just a snap making him truly entertaining to watch on screen. While the costume and dialogue does edge a little on cringey at times, his portrayal still remains the gold standard for the Green Goblin. This character also sets up a fantastic arc that is carried throughout the Raimi trilogy and sets up stakes that future films handled marvelously. His relationship with Peter Parker/Spider-Man is paired nicely, serving as a surrogate father in the absence of Uncle Ben while also trying to destroy the hope he stands for. While he doesn’t necessarily have the sympathy and understanding that modern villains have, it was still nice to go back to a traditional villain who is just pure evil and reveling in it.
Responsibility is a big theme throughout the film, and it is handled well enough to make for an entertaining adventure. The death of Uncle Ben is monumental event for Peter, and it’s nice to see this film approach it with sincerity while also setting up who Peter is called to be. As the Green Goblin consistently teases and mocks Spider-Man about his responsibility to the city and how he will be hated, it’s coupled with Peter trying to balance his affection for Mary Jane and hold down a job with J Jonah Jameson. The responsibility of being a hero while also maintaining your personal life as a kid is something that can be quite relatable to many individuals now a days. It culminates in Peter’s choice to fight for good and forego his love for Mary Jane, something that completes his hero’s journey and solidifies him as a developed hero by the end of the film. It works for what it was back then, and it makes me yearn for more simpler themes than the ones we have now a days.
The action certainly has not aged well, with special effects and costume design feeling a little bland in comparison to some of the incredible sequences we have seen later. The final fight between Green Goblin and Spider-Man, on the other hand, is actually quite entertaining as it foregoes the outdated CGI and effects for a more brutal hand to hand combat. While its not as violent as say Logan, it still is pretty dynamic for what it was back in the day. Thankfully, these action scenes and effects would be improved with future films especially when it comes to the sequels. For this film though, there’s a little left to be desired.
But for what the film was and what it could reasonably accomplish in the early 2000’s, Spider-Man is an entertaining superhero journey that changed the face of comic book films forever. It has great character work, iconic performances, and memorable themes that still hold up to this day. While its action and effects can leave a little more to be desired in the year 2021, I will take a more nuance character journey over big CGI set pieces any day. Sam Raimi laid a great foundation for his sequels to follow and its to no one’s surprise why fans are demanding his work again.