USA, 2002, 121 MINS
DIRECTOR: SAM RAIMI
STARRING: TOBEY MAGUIRE, KIRSTEN DUNST, WILLEM DAFOE, JAMES FRANCO, CLIFF ROBERTSON, ROSEMARY HARRIS, J.K. SIMMONS
Time has actually been kind to Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film, especially compared to many of its' contemporaries. It's as good a filmed, modernised version of the webslinger's famed origin as you're likely to get complete with a nice smooth flow into the Green Goblin. At a fraction over two hours (minus credits) it's not a bad length, with about the right amount of establishing characters before we get into the nitty-gritty. The origin story alone wouldn't support a whole film, with the Goblin plot getting a decent amount of time even if Norman's problems are a case of coincidence when perhaps some sort of cause and effect would have made more sense cinematically.
The effects are... variable. Lots of the bluescreening doesn't hold up but whether that's worse than endless CGI I'm not sure. The costumes still look very good and solid, I've always like the Goblin's armoured suit. Generally it's a film that knows its' limits, relying more heavily on physical stunt work, pyrotechnics and clever framing for most of the action sequences. The tone actually captures the overall spirit of the comic and character; it's funny but not a comedy with just the right dose of teenage angst (often a key component of the comics) and enough spectacle to avoid feeling short-changed.
It's fair to say Tobey Maguire is a better Peter Parker than he is Spider-Man. His odd looks and awkward manner are excellent for Parker, who's a bit creepy in places here even if it is just due to a lack of social skills. It doesn't come off quite as well when he's speaking from inside the Spider-Man costume but there are plenty of areas where his flippancy helps. Kirsten Dunst is a bit of a square peg in a round hole as Mary-Jane, her obvious dye job indicating that she just happened to be a hot young actress available at the time; she's not bad exactly, it's just hard not to spend most of her scenes wishing someone else had the role.
The ever-dependable Willem Dafoe is crucial to the success of Norman; while the character's a thumbnail compared to his extensive comics backstory a good job is done of giving him some sort of arc and Dafoe's reliable method of never looking down on any material adds layers. Of the rest things are laid on a bit thick with Uncle Ben but J.K. Simmons' nicely cartoonish performance as J Jonah Jameson is spot-on.
While it can't compete with either the explosion quotient or fan-friendliness of later offerings this film, important within the superhero genre for showing the audience really was there, still stands up as good origin story for Spider-Man, something Marvel would do well to take note of for Homecoming and not make the same mistake as Sony of showing it again when we can pick it up on ebay for 50p.