Rating: 4 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Peter Parker is a lonely nerd, barely surviving high school, when he’s bit by a mysterious super-spider on a class field trip. Suddenly he finds himself with incredible spider powers, which he tries to use to finally make some space for himself in the world. After Peter callously allows a thief to run past him, he’s shocked when his beloved Uncle Ben is murdered by this same thief. Blaming himself for what happened, he takes one of his Uncle’s speeches (“With great power comes great responsibility”) to heart and becomes Spider-Man.
Spider-Man is one of the first big comic book movies that didn’t seem like it was ashamed to be a comic book. It comes through as a genuine attempt to capture the spirit of the source material, and embrace all that comes with it. Growing up, Spider-Man was my favorite comic book character, and even though it’s not a straight adaptation (and I can understand why they changed the webbing to organic, even if it’s not the choice I would’ve made), this movie evokes those same feelings, from the little touches—like Peter not being able to explain why he’s so unreliable, after losing his job with Dr. Connors—to the big moments—like Spider-Man desperately holding on to the cable car full of kids while the Green Goblin flies back and forth pummeling him.
Tobey Maguire is a great Peter Parker. Willem Dafoe was a good choice for Norman Osborn, and though his histrionics may come off a little goofy sometimes, I think that works for the Green Goblin. J.K. Simmons is of course a terrific J. Jonah Jameson, and I loved the moment he had to show the humanity underneath his brash shell, when he refuses to name Peter Parker even as the Goblin was choking him.
I think Harry Osborn’s arc was well-handled. All the necessary beats were in place and felt like they came at the right moments. You see his jealousy when Norman praises Peter’s intelligence, and the way that pushes him to go after Mary Jane. And despite it all he’s still in awe of his abusive father, who finally shows him some affection right before he’s apparently killed by Spider-Man. It feels completely organic when they hint that Harry will be an antagonist in the future.
“Spider-Man wasn’t trying to attack the city, he was trying to save it. That’s slander.”
“It is not. I resent that. Slander is spoken. In print, it’s libel.”
Tobey Maguire isn’t a great Spider-Man. The few attempts they make to give him quips don’t really sound right. Kirsten Dunst isn’t a bad choice for Mary Jane, but they don’t give her much to do besides date and/or fall in love with every male character and be almost killed three times. I don’t think James Franco’s performance as Harry is very strong. He never seems to naturally inhabit the character.
It was the wrong choice to have Peter take his mask off and yell at the burglar that he killed Peter’s uncle. Once the burglar knows his secret identity, of course he has no choice but to fall out of the building and die. As angry and emotional as Peter would be in this moment, it feels wrong for his first true action as Spider-Man to end with somebody dead.
The Green Goblin’s mask is very silly. I don’t know how you’d make it better since the comic character’s design is so over the top, but I have to think there’s a better way. Also, why do all of his pumpkin bombs explode except for the one that turns the board members into skeletons?
A big deal is made of Norman’s ruthlessness when he’s the Goblin, and he kills several people, but when he attacks Aunt May he only blows up her wall and yells at her. I’m not saying I wanted him to kill her, but I didn’t understand the point of this whole sequence of events.
How the heck does Peter make the final Spider-Man outfit by himself?
“Finish it … Finish it!!”
“… from evil!!”