Among fans of superhero movies, few films garner as much adoration as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Even in a decade where theaters and box-offices alike have been dominated by a rejuvenated interest in superhero stories, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t hold the original Spider-Man movies in the highest esteem, often regarded as second only to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). With Coral Gables Art Cinema holding a one night only after-hours screening of Spider-Man (2002) later this month, I had to ask: how does Sam Raimi’s foray through the world of superheroes hold up nearly twenty years later?
Spider-Man focuses on Peter Parker (Toby Maguire), a shy and nerdy outcast whose chance encounter with a radioactive spider gives him superpowers. When Parker’s best friend’s dad, billionaire industrialist Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), engineers himself into a drugged-out psychopath wearing an armored Halloween costume, it’s up to Parker to defeat the Green Goblin and become Spider-Man. Among fan discussion, many proclaim Toby Maguire’s portrayal as Spider-Man to be the most faithful adaptation of the character. While I admit that Maguire does an excellent job of playing the part of the social outcast in Peter Parker, Parker’s social ineptitude seeps into his persona of Spider-Man in a noticeable way. Where Spider-Man should feel like Parker freed from his fears of social ridicule, his inflections and dialogue under the mask feel too similar to the dork outside the mask for me to call this performance definitive.
Perhaps the most mystifying aspect of this film’s production is the entirety of the Green Goblin’s character. Dafoe’s performance is beyond cartoonish, and he rarely failed to leave me rolling in laughter. Though production originally intended to outfit Dafoe with a truly ghoulish animatronic mask for his performance, a last-minute change left us with the stilted costume used in the final film, which makes the already cartoonish Green Goblin look like a giant action figure. Though I’ll forever long to see the villain that never was, I can’t help but be tickled by the sheer ridiculousness of the Green Goblin delivered by this film.
The story itself is pretty standard fare for a superhero film, and with good reason. With Spider-Man, the story delivers the basic good vs evil framework that nearly every superhero film since has built its narrative up from. There’s neither a grand message about the nature of society nor stakes that put the conflict on a world-ending scale, it’s simply two strong goofs in costumes getting into chaotic fights across New York City. While this makes Sam Raimi’s film feel dwarfed in scale by modern comparison, its attempt at crafting one of the first blockbuster superhero stories is admirable, and ultimately paved the way for the many superhero films that flood modern theaters. Otherwise, the abundance of CGI in the movie has made many action scenes age poorly, but this is a fate few films are able to avoid.
Though Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is undeniably flawed, having the creator of Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) helm this film gave it the cheesy nature and personality that’s far more memorable than that of its contemporaries. To take this story as seriously as a film like The Dark Knight is to deny yourself a goofy romp that, despite its shortcomings and poor aging, can be enjoyed under the proper mindset.
Coral Gables Art Cinema will be screening Spider-Man on Saturday, April 21st, at 11:00 pm. You can purchase your tickets for this screening here.
George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a minor in Sociology, along with Certificates in Exile Studies and Film Studies.