Just to be clear: this is a Blu-ray review of the 2002 Sam Raimi-directed film starring Tobey Maguire and not the new rebooted film opening this week in cinemas.
Confession time: I’ve never been a huge fan of Spider-Man, even though he seems to be everyone else’s favourite friendly neighbourhood superhero. I’d take Batman or even Daredevil anytime, or else one of the superhero teams like the Fantastic Four, the Justice League, the Avengers or the X-Men any day.
Perhaps that was why I was less than wild about seeing the big motion picture production that came out in 2002 starring Tobey Maguire as Spidey. I did eventually see it in the cinema – it was a case of football avoidance, diving into a near-empty cinema one afternoon when England were playing a crucial match in that year’s World Cup tournament in South Korea. I don’t think I’ve seen the movie again since, but perhaps that connection with football was what made me turn to it this weekend as a way of getting out of having to watch the Euro 2012 tournament final showing on both BBC and ITV on Sunday evening.
I recall being very tepid in my feelings toward the first film: the second went down better largely thanks to Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, while I’ve yet to see the widely panned third film on the trilogy. And yet watching the film again this weekend for the first time in ten years after happening across a cheap boxset of all three on Blu-ray for £12, I wondered why on earth I’d ever had such a downer on it.
It has much to admire: in particular Maguire is fantastic as Peter Parker, capturing his nerdy teen neuroses in an accurate, appealing and funny way. I also liked Willem Dafoe’s nutty Norman Osborn way more than I remembered doing, and it’s interesting to see the likes of James Franco and True Blood’s Joe Manganiello so early in their careers given what we now know of their subsequent trajectories (Franco hosting the Oscars? Really? Still boggles belief.) And I continue to admire how much JK Simmons captures the very essence of the comic book’s newspaper editor J Jonah Jameson.
I seem to recall that when I first saw the film, I found the film’s storyline and script rather fragmented – a sort of “highlights of the comic book by the numbers” package. I had a very different reaction this time around, actually marvelling (no pun intended) at how it manages to deftly blend the requirements of origin story, action, relationships and characters into one fairly seamless whole. It might not be the very best of the genre (surely Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are?) but Sam Raimi puts a lot of inspired work into conveying crucial plot points across in a quick, unobtrusive visual manner, and handles the action sequences with aplomb.
I also recall being underwhelmed by the FX at the time, which seemed to me to be rather weak examples of early CGI especially when it came to the unrealistically weightless animated Spider-Man. Oddly that seemed far less of a problem here on Blu-ray – maybe the size of the screen or the sharp, contrasty image helped – but the film as a whole looked fantastic, even those tricky CGI shots and the scenes at night.
The thing is, the film still feels perfectly modern to me especially when viewed in high definition, even though it was one of the first wave of comic book superhero films that kicked off the subsequent flood of them that we’ve seen in the 21st century – leading to the heights of the recent Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and ultimately Avengers run of films. Which leaves me wondering why, just ten years after this first Spidey motion picture (and just five since the last outing in the franchise), do we need a brand new ‘reboot’ – surely it’s too soon to start retreading the origins story all over again?
No disrespect to new Spidey Andrew Garfield who I’m sure is fantastic in the 2012 Peter Parker role, it’s just that I’m feeling curmudgeonly about the whole reboot fad going on at the moment. Movies shouldn’t be a perpetual “do-overs”, surely they should primarily be freshly creative endeavours? It’ll probably mean I don’t get around to watching the new Spider-Man film for a few years, and maybe in a decade I’ll come round and be giving it a positive, upbeat review just like I’m finally learning to do for the 2002 version.
In the meantime, when’s the next overwhelming football festival on the calendar? That’ll surely put me in the right avoidance frame of mind to settle down to the second film of the Spider-Man trilogy!