Going back to watch Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man twelve years after it hit, excuse me, swung into theaters is a strange exercise, like opening a film time capsule. Sure, most capsules aren’t supposed to be opened this soon after being sealed but in the film world ten years can completely change a genre, making the exercise is worthwhile.
Raimi’s Spider-Man stands against the current roster of film superheroes. Just a few years older than Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man, the two feel generationally divided. And they are divided but not so much by time, sure a dozen years is a gap but not much of one. Rather, they are divided by the dozens of comic book movies released in their gap. Tobey Maguire’s version of the Web-Slinger is awkward and nerdy to the core. Not nearly as charming or charismatic as Andy Garfield’s take, Maguire reminds us that even nerds get to be superheroes, which is a familiar Spider-Man schtick.
Maguire’s high school awkwardness is palpable as is the pain felt by Uncle Ben in the film’s opening sequence. The film takes its time to develop its characters and their relationships early. Even James Franco gets time to show us the whiney side of Harry Osborne. Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn has aged better than more recent villains, even those in the now-better-handled Marvel world. His insanity and Gollum-esque self-debating reverberates longer than the explosion fueled characters to coming to theaters in the next few years. Watching Norman slip into insanity and Parker develop his webslinging gives us a joy only delivered by well crafted origin flicks.
Of course, Spider-Man has flaws. Sometimes it gives into campiness and occasionally hits the awkward hammer a few times more than the nail needs but the movie is fun first and everything else second. The action balances with humor and doesn’t overuse CGI, a remarkable feat for the times. Overall the entire movie comes out of the capsule unaged and looking just as good as it did waaaay back in 2002.
Goofy and fun, Spider-Man paved the way for the next generation of comic book films by paying attention to character development, (mostly) good casting, and scripting a believable and creepy villain.