Overview: In Spider-Man’s big screen debut, a smart but shy high schooler is given great power and great responsibility when he is bitten by a radioactive spider. Columbia Pictures; 2002, Rated PG-13; 121 minutes
The Young and the Restless: Spider-Man is unique to the superhero genre primarily because of his youth. This film frequently reminds us that Peter Parker is really just a kid. Even though he’s graduating from high school, Parker’s adjustment to his spidey senses and web slinging abilities is reminiscent of struggling through puberty all over again. Sam Raimi excels in telling the story of Spider-Man’s origin when he explores how someone Parker’s age would realistically respond to gaining these abilities. Parker uses his powers to try and earn some cash, impress the girl, and have some fun, all selfish and reckless yet relatable reactions. The highlights of this movie are when we get to tag along with Spider-Man as he cleans up the city and still makes it home in time to take out the trash (and bashfully flirt with the girl next door). Sprinkle in a love triangle with his best friend (brought to you with likeable arrogance by James Franco) and you have all the ingredients for a teen rom-com.
The Cheese Factor: Raimi manages to (for the most part successfully) dance right on that fine line between camp and cheese throughout the film. The now iconic upside down kiss with Mary Jane leaves itself wide open for mockery, but it does succeed in being memorable. Although some of the scenes in the sequence following Spider-Man’s rise to celebrity status thanks to his own photography skills are borderline silly, it’s refreshing that the movie isn’t shying away from its silver age comic book origins. However, though Maguire perfects the youthful persona of Peter Parker, nerd turned superhero, the twinkle in his eye combined with that boyish grin make it difficult to take him seriously when it’s necessary.
Loss of Innocence: The most powerful scene in Spider-Man, as well as the turning point for the character itself, is the death of Uncle Ben. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but it’s perfectly executed. Uncle Ben’s token final words of advice to his nephew have the impact they should on the rest of the story thanks to Cliff Robertson’s stern yet compassionate portrayal. The way Parker lashes out is genuine, and the motivation of the loss combined with the guilt enhances his growth as a hero rather than consumes him.
Final Thoughts: The first attempt at bringing Spider-Man to life on the big screen, although not without its quirks, is a successful one (we’re just going to ignore that 1978 debacle). Raimi, Maguire, and crew provide us with a satisfactory origin story and play a significant role in setting a standard for comic book adaptations.