Sunday, July 13, 2014

19. Spider-Man (2002)

Code-name: MJ

Director: Sam Raimi

Composer: Danny Elfman


Peter Parker- Tobey Maguire
Mary Jane Watson- Kirsten Dunst
Harry Osborn- James Franco
Norman Osborn- Willem Dafoe
Uncle Ben- Cliff Robertson  (RIP, 2011)
Aunt Mae- Rosemary Harris
J. Jonah Jameson- JK Simmons

Notable mentions (actors who got big later on):

Elizabeth Banks as Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant
Joe Manganiello as Flash
Octavia Spencer as the check-in girl at the wrestling match
Bruce Campbell as the ring announcer at the wrestling match

Notable Nominations:

OSCAR- Best Sound

OSCAR- Best Visual Effects
(lost to "Chicago" and "Lord of the Rings: the two towers")

Grammy- Best Film Score- Danny Elfman

Grammy- Best Original Song- "Hero" by Chad Kroeger
(lost of "Lord of the Rings" and Randy Newman's obligatory Pixar cameo, "If I didn't have you" from "Monster's Inc.")
Musical Extras

I don't get where all the Nickelback hate comes from. Granted, I find their albums very uneven, but I love their songs on the radio, how we have this really rough voice does these beautiful melodies... but "Hero" is such a great song. A great way to end the credits.

As for Danny Elfman's score, he's up there for me with John Williams and Hans Zimmer. While he started his career as part of the band Oingo Boingo, he really has brought so much to movies. His work with Tim Burton is so iconic and perfectly canvases the eerie, spookiness of his work. For the "Spider-Man" movies, they wouldn't be anywhere near as impactful as they are without his score resonating in the background. So iconic and such a part of this trilogy's success story.



At best, I guess you could say I was a casual comic-book movie fan before "Spider-Man" turned all that around for me. I'd only seen a couple "Batman" movies (by that time, I think all but "Batman Returns"). Enjoyed the original Tim Burton film that turns 25 this year and "Batman Forever," #73 on my list in case you missed it:

Well, to be fair, "Spider-Man" made the genre more accessible for me, but I didn't become super fanatical about the Marvel universe until years later.

It led me to X-Men (which I really need to rewatch), Fantastic Four (which I didn't care for) and Daredevil (... I just can't, it was too horrible, one big reason I'm not a huge Ben Affleck fan, but after "Argo," I'm intrigued to see his take on Batman... just as long as he promises to leave the phony Christian Bale Batman voice out of it).

"Batman Forever" had its moments, which I went into great detail about, but "Spider-Man" really resonated with me. I guess because it was about an awkward teen in high school that got super powers. I was going on 16 at that time, so I could relate.

Definitely a great theatrical experience, especially with wide angle shots of Spider-Man flying through the city, although it did run a little long towards the end.

I don't remember much of the banter that resulted with my family after we all went to see it. My mom and I enjoyed it enough where we saw the sequels at the movies as well.

One thing I did remember, oddly enough, was that I actually left the theater for a bathroom break somewhere in the "running long" territory of the third act.

Maybe it's because we don't buy drinks and tubs of popcorn anymore (contraband candy on the other hand...), I hadn't gotten up during a movie since then... actually, I think that was the only time ever.
And I'd sat through the likes of "Avatar" (TWICE!), "Les Miserables," "The Hobbit" and the Lord of the Rings franchise without a break.

Yeah, it is a little TMI, but with my blog titled as it is, movie going experiences are all up for grabs.

The Story


Or should it be "stories"... there are multiple plot points and themes explored in this.

At the forefront we have Peter Parker's coming-of-age story.

During a school field trip, he gets bitten by one of the museums' "super-spiders" and gains powers. In addition to the biologically occurring silk in his wrists, he gains muscle mass, strength and improved senses (the 6th 'spidey sense' and vision allowing him to discard his glasses). As if it wasn't bad enough that he was coping with puberty and a school-girl crush.

Part of his character arc also involves his relationship with his Uncle Ben. He's the closest thing to a father figure he has and he doesn't appreciate that until after his tragic death. Much like in a lot of superhero origin stories [especially notable in "Batman"], the death of a family member is the activating incident that leads/solidifies to the assumption of a crime-fighting secret identity.

In other words, he takes Uncle Ben's now famous mantra to heart:

"with great power, comes great responsibility"
so Peter learns to use his newfound powers to fight crime in NYC in order to clear his conscience of the one misstep he made that led to his uncle's death.

Then of course is the love triangle:

Peter's had a crush on Mary Jane since the day she moved in next door to him. But while he goes through his changes and assumes his crime-fighting role, his best friend Harry swoops in and asks her out.

This is, of course, after she dumps her jerk of a boyfriend, Flash, upon high school graduation.

One way or another, Peter does manage to sweep MJ off her feet, but some of it is helped by the complicated dynamic Harry's dad brings to the equation.

Norman Osborn is developing something at his company, OSCORP, to maintain their military contract and it goes terribly wrong. If that wasn't enough, he gets fired from his own company when they get an offer to sell to their chief competitor. Therefore, he assays the role of the villain. First to get his revenge on them and second to take down Spider-Man.

His motivation for this... I'm not sure... he offers Spider-Man the option to ally with him and turns against him when he refuses...

Come to think of it, that's a really flimsy explanation.
[after rewatching the film... a painstaking undertaking because my little used, glitch-free DVD chose tonight to give me a hard time... apparently he decides to go after Spider-Man because at the World Unity fair where he destroys the OSCORP board members, he realizes he's the only person able to stop him]

As I'd gone into a few times before (again, I swear that him popping up in my movies is pure coincidence), Willem Dafoe knows how to play a heck of a villain. In addition to the super strength and improved reaction time (his transformation oddly mirrors that of Peter Parker after he gets bitten by the spider... okay, the writing was done on purpose and cleverly done so), the "performance enhancers" he experimented with also gives Norman Osborn a psychotic dual personality.

I hadn't seen more than 5 minutes of the movie, but this scenario really does have Jack Nicholson ala "The Shining" written all over it.The psychosis appears in the form of the Green Goblin, but on numerous occasions, it leads to angry outbursts that result in rocky situations. Most notably on Thanksgiving. On top of learning Peter Parker's secret identity, he yells to Harry off-screen that MJ is only after him for his money.

...Jerk move. And it kills me when Harry defends him:

"That is a great man. If I'm lucky I'll be half of what he is"...

Looking at all the facets of his character arc throughout the trilogy, I really do not like Harry Osborn... the only time this wasn't true was when he learns Peter's identity towards the end of the second movie.... more on all that later.

The only other storyline left is the second most notable 'antagonist' in Spider-Man's life:

J. Jonah Jameson, Editor in Chief of the Daily Bugle, who seems to be hell-bent on smearing his image, proclaiming that he's a villainous vigilant. All this despite Peter's efforts to convince him otherwise.
Yeah, I find this annoying, but as we see in "Spider-Man 2," there'd be an ingredient missing in these films without Mr. Jameson's explosive derogatory outbursts :P

Actors and Character Development

So many great memorable characters throughout this movie and the trilogy...

Easily, Tobey Maguire is my favorite part of this. He owns the socially awkward nerd archetype that he begins this movie with. He's the underdog you want to see finally catch a break and even with superpowers, it's always a struggle.
Batman has his struggles as well, but I find that I gravitate more towards Marvel superheroes because they're more real. They're real, relatable people that have power thrust upon them or (in the case of Iron-Man), have to adapt to overcome difficult, sometimes, life-threatening situations. And they all have something to overcome, demons to fight.

Tobey brings such great vulnerability to this role, I couldn't help but follow him to some other movies. I remember one of them being "SeaBiscuit."
I'd mentioned with Ralph Macchio and Emma Stone that I fell in love with their acting after one role that led me to other movies, but their other work didn't carry the same weight for me. Didn't have as big an impact.
I still have hope for Emma Stone, though.

With Tobey, I thought he did really well in two other movies.
I'd already mentioned in my Gatsby review where I thought he was a perfect Nick Carraway.

I have a vague recollection that I'd wanted to see "Wonder Boys" years ago because he was in it. When I was binging on all the RDJ movies I could find (granted, I did my research beforehand), I did get around to it.
Ironically, Terry Crabtree ranks among my least favorite characters that he played, but everyone else was amazing. A really well made movie. Parker goes through so much throughout this movie as I'd already said. He grows into this role, gains a sense of responsibility and finds his niche, his place in the world and it comes from a very honest place. Wanting to do right by Uncle Ben and protecting those he loves.
And getting with MJ is also part of his motivation. Also my second favorite Kirsten Dunst role (the first being "Bring it On")

I hadn't really seen her in much since then, although I'm still considering seeing "Melancholia" since it'd been her first movie in YEARS.

MJ's characterization does have its critics, but I just find her so pleasant to watch on screen. Even with the incessant screaming in times of peril.

She does come to realize her love for Peter Parker, but watching the two of them struggle through the second movie was hard. Will they/won't they... the fact they did get together in the end was one of many reasons why I felt the third movie kinda ruined the franchise.

It's easy to root for them through the first couple movies, but with all the ups and downs in the third... however much of it I remember (only saw it once in its entirety and that was in theaters in 2007)... was it really worth it?

As for Norman Osborn, watching the movie again... he was really quite fascinating to watch. I don't know if it's because of all this time I'd been spending with Willem Dafoe these past several months, between the movies on my list and "The Grand Budapest Hotel." To me, it doesn't appear that he's all bad. It appears that he still does have a conscience and outside of the office, he seems like a really nice guy. He's very supportive of Peter, treating him almost like a son. But by the finale, it's clear that he's gone too far in the wrong direction to receive any type of redemption.

Thoughts across the trilogy

Shortly after coming up with this list, I got "Spider-Man 2" on DVD. Watching it again got me thinking that maybe I should have picked it in place of the original in my list.

I'm obligated to stand by my rankings, but to be fair, even though I enjoy the sequel more than the original and felt it outdid the original in a number of ways, the original "Spider-Man" is on my list for nostalgic purposes. And also because I consider it as the superhero movie that officially turned me onto the genre to the point I love going to theaters for the cinematic experience they provide.

It's rare that a sequel is better than the original movie.

Firstly, I loved the character of Doc Oc. I'm not sure if it's the way the original comics were written, but I thought his character was really well written.
He was an intelligent likeable guy, a brilliant scientist who became a villain when an experiment goes totally wrong. Then by the finale, he realizes the error of his ways and redeems himself before his unfortunate demise. I also liked how they tied up all the loose ends, what with Harry learning that Peter is Spider-Man and that his father was a nutjob and Peter and MJ end up together in the end.

Then the third movie happened.

The reason I'd been unable and unwilling to see it a third time is that the movie is just too damn long. When it's on TV, it's always cable and it runs for 3 hours.
And it just seemed to be one horrible decision after another.

Like Harry becoming Green Goblin 2.0. WTF? You'd think after he learned the truth about his father he wouldn't do the exact same thing and turn to evil.

And maybe it's these movies, but James Franco just annoys me in general. I can never take him seriously.Then MJ and Peter's relationship had too many peaks and valleys. It was exhausting.
As for Peter's "emo phase," what all the fanboys proclaimed as the worst part of the movie (aside from the treatment of Venom, obviously), I thought it was a freaking riot. Loved every minute of it.
It also made the same mistake that "The Dark Knight" made a full year later: they introduced a villain (in the case of Venom, a highly anticipated one) in the last half hour of the movie and he gets snuffed as soon as he's created.

One thing that really had me throwing a fit was how they ruined part of the original movie for me. Not to the same degree as "Karate Kid part III" mind you, but they totally manipulated a key part of the movie to say "that's not the whole story."

I hated how they went on to say that the guy Peter pursued after Uncle Ben was shot wasn't the guy that killed him... it was other guy... way to toy with our emotions, guys.

...and for the record, I hadn't seen the reboot series yet.

When I heard they were remaking the movies not even a decade after the original, I was about as pissed as I was over them remaking the Karate Kid. In a "it ain't broke for the love of God don't fix it"
After hearing some arguments in favor of it, I'm starting to reconsider. James Garfield is a positive in that direction (but again, I hate that you've got this great looking British guy but he's given roles that don't allow for his equally hot accent). But hearing that Emma Stone dies in the sequel... why subject myself to loving her as Gwen Stacy only to lose her in the end of it all?

Which reminds me, I hated that Gwen Stacy (ala Bryce Dallas Howard, another actor I can't get myself to like with the types of characters she plays) got Spider-Man to give her the upside down kiss in "Spider-Man III"... that was something special he had between him and MJ and they just spat on the memory of it.

Coming Soon

Brad Pitt posters were on practically every teen girl's bedroom walls in the 90's except for me. I didn't get the attraction until I saw him in the next movie on my list.

While I'm not a Bradgelina fan by any means, I'd come to enjoy him in a couple other movies since then. One is further down my countdown and another that lost its place to "Sweeny Todd"... a) because I couldn't do my favorite movies without "Sweeny Todd" and b) while this Brad Pitt film was a well conceived, well acted picture that I believed deserved a number of Oscars, I only saw it once and it's been 5 years...And I could say this is a movie with a great ensemble cast, but that'd just give it away, wouldn't it?

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