After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gains incredible abilities. As the costumed crimefighter Spider-Man, he learns that with great power comes great responsibility – especially when a certain Green Goblin appears on the scene.
After numerous attempts to put the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man on the big screen, he finally arrived courtesy of Sam Raimi, cult director of The Evil Dead and its two sequels. Perhaps not the most obvious choice, Raimi was a fan and had a stylistic approach that works in the bizarre world of his protagonist. Much was riding on the success of this film – after all X-Men had been very well received and had set the bar high. Marvel’s flagship character had to work to ensure that the comic book publishing giant continued their master plan to dominate superhero cinema. What they got was the highest grossing film of the year (indeed at the time it was one of the top ten films of all time), and a sound critical success that they could only have dreamed of.
Tobey Maguire, star of such indie hits as Wonder Boys and The Cider House Rules, may not have been the first actor most people had in mind for the star role, but he brought out the innocence and fragility of the character brilliantly and even piled on the muscle for the part. His Spider-Man was an everyman that all could relate to. As the arch villain, Willem Dafoe seemed a safer bet. He clearly has a hoot grandstanding as Green Goblin in a role it seems he was destined to play. But for comic buffs, the best realisation of a character from page to screen had to be J. Jonah Jameson, the irascible editor of The Daily Bugle. He was brilliantly portrayed by character actor J. K. Simmons and virtually steals the show.
Spider-Man wasn’t perfect. The Goblin costume was poorly realised and had the fan boys in uproar. The CGI work was great at the time but looks dated now. More importantly, it did not translate the humour of the character enough; Maguire’s Parker looks like he will burst into tears at any moment. But, those quibbles aside, Spider-Man was a triumph. It spawned two sequels and set in motion the superhero bandwagon that we have now. Those that have followed have mainly failed to live up to their hype, but Spider-Man soared above it. You’ll believe a man can swing!
Best performance: J. K. Simmons. He exceeded all expectations and forever made the character his own.
Mentioned but not seen is Dr. Connors, Peter’s teacher and future Lizard, villan of The Amazing Spider-Man!