Published at: May 7, 2002, 9:15 a.m. CST by headgeek
I’ve been terrified of SPIDER-MAN. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more afraid of a film in my entire life. The first geek thing that I latched on to was SPIDER-MAN. It was my nursemaid. It was my gateway to Hulk which took me to Gorgo which took me to Star Trek which took me to Bruce Lee which took me to Star Wars which took me the rest of the way.
But it all started with that SPIDER-MAN cartoon and The Electric Company. I danced in diapers to that theme. I drank my first 7-11 Slurpee from a plastic cup with Spidey on the side. I’ve read 40 years of Spider-Man comic books. I know that the real origin of the character was when Jack Kirby brought FLY-MAN to Stan Lee and Stan didn’t like FLY-MAN, which went to Atlas Comics (if memory serves… or maybe it was Charleston Comics), but it got Stan thinking… I know this, because that was the story as Stan Lee told it back in that big white collection of Greatest Marvel Stories that had a typewriter on the cover and a bunch of super-heroes leaping off the page atcha.
I was all excited about SPIDER-MAN with little to no fear till I heard a rumor that Kevin Smith didn’t like SPIDER-MAN… That terrified me.
Then Moriarty saw it, his love for the film didn’t still my panicky heartbeat. James G and I often don’t see eye to eye on films. Sometimes he gets carried away… and other times I get carried away. We see the films in different environments… There’s a vast gulf of difference between seeing movies in Los Angeles and Austin. The audiences or very different. His is usually more cynical and snide. Austin is usually more willing to embrace and cherish. We don’t really have an explanation for it, but we have both felt the difference in each others’ theaters.
I was raised in a Comic Book shop. I learned to read with Spider-Man and Forrest J Ackerman. Stan Lee’s voice is sometimes found in my internal monologues. I definitely hear his voice anytime I read the text in the blocks of my old Silver Age Marvel Comics.
Last night, I was talking to Quint, who was stunned that I still hadn’t seen SPIDER-MAN. Anybody that knows me has been stunned. It is simply way out of character that the weekend had passed and I hadn’t seen SPIDER-MAN.
I told him that my recent trip to New York to shoot a commercial for Apple was partly responsible. I did have an offer from a reader while I was up there to see the film in New York, but I wanted to see SPIDER-MAN with my father and my best movie-going buddy. I needed to see the film with those whom I love seeing movies with most. I wanted the insulation in case I hated it. In case the film just began unraveling.
I knew the problems going in. I know SPIDER-MAN chapter and verse. Mechanical Webshooters, that Goblin Costume, Mary Jane / Gwen Stacy, Aunt May wasn’t gaunt enough, CGI and no matter what… it wasn’t going to be one of the great SPIDER-MAN stories. Sure, the origin was there, but they were prepared to squash the whole history of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin/Peter Parker/Spider-Man into one feature and leave out Captain Stacy and Gwen ta boot. Also, Ben Parker wasn’t killed in a car jacking, it was a break in. As a result, I was just perturbed. But I knew I was perturbed, and I didn’t want to be perturbed, I wanted to love the film, but I could feel me wanting to lash out at Spider-Man, and that wasn’t right. I didn’t want to be a nitpicking asshole. I really didn’t. I didn’t want to be that fanboy that goes in with luggage to rip and shred and tear a beautiful thing apart. In any adaptation, there will be changes. Tom Bombadil won’t be there. And sure Flash Thompson won’t be a blondish-reddish haired jock, but more of a dark haired thug… and his sweater will be gone. I loved his sweater and that hair.
I was scared. Then I heard that rancid piece of shit Aerosmith song. And that horrible, "fly on the wings of a herooooooo" elevator crap. I read Roger Ebert’s review which scared me. Suddenly it was Friday and I didn’t want to see SPIDER-MAN so urgently. Suddenly, I was scared. Terrified. I wanted to believe in Raimi, and as I saw Talk Backs come in, I could see lots of people loving it, and some hating on it, and I really didn’t want to hate it. I really really didn’t want to hate it.
But I could feel myself getting ready to hate it. I felt… unstable.
I decided to see it today at 5pm at the Alamo Drafthouse North. Thank God for the Drafthouse. Never in my whole life have I loved a theater more. Father Geek, Patch and I march to our seats, I order some Hot Tea with Honey and Cream to put any tooth agony to rest. About twenty minutes before the showing, the video projector starts up and there was a theater sized version of Stan Lee… And Stan was telling us in the theater about the origin of the phrase, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility!" I smiled. Hearing Stan Lee speak is… just one of the great relaxing things in life. Like cool blades of grass and clouds crossing the sky… Stan Lee’s voice makes everything cool.
Next, the opening titles of the old 1960’s SPIDER-MAN cartoon came on… I was beginning to get jazzed up. Next was some of Nicholas Hammond’s Spider-Man movies. Many might have hated these, but for me… I saw them at the same age that I saw those Doug McClure Edgar Rice Burroughs movies and folks… I loved em then, and they bring back fond memories when just seeing a guy in a Spider-Man costume was enough. Next came the opening titles and an action sequence from the Japanese SPIDER-MAN show. I watched in gleeful joy as Spider-Man and his trusty singing Cowboy sidekick rescued a little Japanese partner from an evil queen bitch and her foot clan. Suddenly she unleashes her 300 ft tall monster, and Spider-Man gets into his flying ship which transforms into a 300 ft tall Spider-Man Shogun Warrior Style Robot and I suddenly realized… I had let go of my nitpicks.
I was ready to see a SPIDER-MAN movie.
I was suddenly giddy. I was at my happy place. I had forgotten all those problems I had listed above and I was just ready to see Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN. I mean, I’d seen badly animated Spider-Man cartoons that I loved. I’d seen Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man movies that I loved. Not to mention the Japanese SPIDER-MAN, which nothing on this planet could ever top… but I was willing to let Raimi try. But I really didn’t think that Raimi was going to release a 300 ft tall Robot piloted by Spider-Man… But maybe that was kept under wraps.
The opening titles were a tad underwhelming, but I liked the little glimpses of things under the webbing… from Spidey’s costume to the Goblin to New York itself.
When we finally start on Mary Jane hearing Puny Parker’s narration, I was smiling. Every geek everywhere has that girl, that girl that they love, but can’t admit to the world, to the girl and to themselves that this IS that girl. Making Mary Jane that girl for Peter. Changing her character to being the girl next door, instead of the girl that Aunt May was trying to set him up with was… Ok. I could stand that change because as it was introduced in the film, I bought it. Suddenly, Mary Jane was a childhood crush, an unrequited love, the grass that was always greener.
Right from the start, this is just the comic book come to life. Some of the details were obscured, some of the characters and situations might have wound up different from where they started in comics, but this ain’t comics, this is a new medium. From Peter’s goofy misinterpretation of her smile and wave outside the Field Trip… To his horror at Harry Osborn using his information to make time on M.J. It was working for me.
Watching Willem first hand Franco his backpack, talking to him in the Rolls about not being ashamed about being who he is. All good stuff. I liked that. I like the Good Guy meeting the Bad Guy in the first few minutes of the movie. I like that both characters hadn’t been re-orchestrated as being responsible for each others’ creation. I love that Osborn wasn’t turned into a fucking joke like Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. Or Timothy Dalton’s bad guy in Rocketeer. Two movies that almost got as close to perfection as this for me. However, their complete lack of understanding for how to handle a supervillain ruined it for me.
Peter getting bit by the spider… his sleep… his self-discovery… his first experience with Spider-Sense… "Go Web!" His first swing and not understanding the geometry of it… His fight at school, while still not the perfection of the boxing match fight with Flash Thompson from the old books… it still served the same point, and the Spencer Tracy Father Flannigan days are over and this is a modern re-telling.
The scene where Peter is attempting to design his superhero/wrestling costume… GLORIOUS. Now this is the moment where the tears started forming out of my face. I was just so ecstatic and happy about Peter designing his costume…. Marker and pencil and colors and whatnot. JOY. Elation. Never saw Batman do that. Never saw Superman do that. Hell… Never saw Rocketeer or the X-Men or Blade or any of the other heroes do that. This boy had to make his own costume. PERFECT. YES! YES YES YES YES YES!
That ride to the ‘downtown library’ with Uncle Ben… Brutal, I knew what was coming. BONESAW McGRAW!!! Holy sweet Jesus on a pogo stick, Randy MACHO MAN Savage should just change his wrestling name to BONESAW McGRAW and become the most famous wrestler ever. "BONE SAW IS REAAAADDDYYYY" His lawnmower on gravel voice just felt like the best drug ever. I literally started hopping up n down in my seat. Bruce Campbell’s Ring Announcer… Ahhhhhhh YESSSS! Bruce ruled!
Not stopping the thief. The addition of the thief saying, Thanks… Knowing what was coming. Having the Death of Ben happen immediately outside, Peter having to learn web-swinging to pursue the killer. Peter leaving Ben as he draws his last breath while over hearing the Police man detail the pursuit of the perp responsible. BRUTAL, I was literally in tears. I think the amount of tears that I was unleashing with this film came with the baggage I brought with me. The baggage of screaming at Studios to just get it fucking right for 6 and a half years… The baggage of 40 years of Spider-Man comics, media, toys and whatnot… The baggage of being afraid of hating it, and those fears being completely fucking unfounded. The baggage of knowing how much Uncle Ben meant to Peter… How Ben was his father figure. Sitting next to my father watching that sequence, looking at him and imagining the worst. Bricks hitting me. Hard.
Watching Spidey terrified, angry, fear filled pursuit of a high speed car chase dazzled me. It was erratic, it was everything but graceful, it was a frantic pursuit by a hurt teenager trying desperately to come to grips with his powers. It was perfect. More dramatic than I could ever of believed.
His pursuit into the building. The fight with the criminal. Great. The look on Peter’s face when he realizes… crushing, but the worst… the sucker punch that took the air out of me… Him returning home to Aunt May, Aunt May not knowing how to react and just weeping into his arms. I remember that scene. It was when my mother died, it was my reaction to my father. Moments that change things forever.
Peter crying in his room after his Graduation ceremony… missing Uncle Ben badly that day. We were driving back from the Woody Allen screening last week, I said, "God Mom would’ve loved that!" I looked out the window and two tears just rolled. Those moments where you miss the ones you love most are the moment you know they would wish to most be a part of. Again, perfect.
The montage of Spidey’s career… God, the whole Green Goblin testing center bit…. Anytime Willem Dafoe was on screen for the rest of the film. Let’s just take a stop to this review to examine why in fact, Willem Dafoe is just an upper echelon God in the history of Comic Book to Film Adaptations. First off, while now having a split personality, he still wants to live a normal life. He still wants to run a happy company, but the world just keeps spitting on him, facilitating the need to Goblin out. The mirror scene has been mentioned by anyone with a brain as being genius, and I will add my praise for that, but the scene between he and Harry talking about M.J. is perhaps the most violating discussion between a father and a son about a girlfriend I’ve ever seen, and I thought I had lived a few of these pretty badly, but at least my father was right and I was just stupid at the time. Here… Here, my God… I was actually taken aback… and as a killer to Thanksgiving? OUCH!
Ok, no more plot talk… I loved the film. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. I’ve been waiting 30 years and 5 months for this movie and I have to say, I don’t want to wait this long to the next one. TREMENDOUS!
The effects? I agree, absolutely none of the CG Spider-Man stuff looked human. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it actually looked SUPER-HUMAN… Almost even like the motions of a man that had been genetically altered by a super-spider bio-engineered and radiated to super levels. Yup, if I didn’t know better, I would think all that web-slinging couldn’t be done. Kinda like that Kryptonian flying… or a Death Star run… or Warp Speed… or a Bong Saber… or the Emerald City… or all that other fakey looking shit I’ve seen in the past 100 plus years of cinema. You FX pricks… to quote Cameron… YOU HAVE TO LOOK WITH BETTER EYES THAN THAT!
Roger Ebert… Ok, why doesn’t Peter Parker just drop Mary Jane on the Cemetery grounds and fuck her? Why can he not be her boyfriend. NO, it isn’t that he’s impotent, Mr Sensitivity. But I’d be wagering a guess, that Harry Osborn, whose father Parker had just killed and whose funeral they were all at btw, had just told him he was the only family he had left, and the idea of hooking up with Harry’s girlfriend (ex or otherwise) at his Father’s funeral would be… Inappropriate. OH… And then there is the knowledge that every superhero has, that anyone close to them, will be used against them, so you can’t allow anyone close, because you would be putting them in danger.
Ok, this isn’t the best comic book story of Spider-Man. However, it is the best Superhero move bar none. And one helluva starting place for a franchise I hope stays going as long as Tobey Maguire can play young… Hell, I figure he’s got a good 20 years of playing Peter Parker as he becomes a Man… The Man Ben Parker would’ve loved to see him become.
Most of my short-comings on this film come from the script, but given Raimi will be over-seeing from the get go the creation of the next story. Given this film was a fricking great as it was with such a weak script by Koepp as a blueprint… Well, hoo-fucking-ray!
When the cartoon theme of SPIDER-MAN finished playing and the house lights at the Drafthouse came up, I had to pee fiercely. As I stood there in the stall, I just smiled with tears rolling down my face. This has been the superhero film I’ve been dreaming of for years. My whole life. This is the first one that even approached my dreams of what the comic felt like in my brain. I mean, when Spidey hurled the web at the brilliant J.K. Simmons’ JJJ mouth and said, "Hush kiddo, Mommy and Daddy have to talk now!" or whatever that line was… OHMYGOD, I cheered. That’s Spider-Man. In a way that nobody has ever captured a comic hero to perfection. I was in LOVE. LOVE.
Sam Raimi! Bless you. Tobey Maguire… Long Life, take care of yourself. Willem Dafoe… You sir Win! Kirsten Dunst… Um, 512-467-8747. Avi Arad… We may line up on opposite sides of the fence from time to time. But I’m telling you, if you manage to get Mark the latitude from those brats at Fox to make DAREDEVIL the way he wanted to. If you protect the character of THE HULK and get that to screen right. If you can force Fox to go back to the 1st Draft by Michael France of THE FANTASTIC FOUR and get those squareheads to budget it properly with a real director like Robert Zemeckis… And I get to still see my second Spider-Man movie in two years… Well then, all is forgiven. Hehehe… Good work though my man. Good work.
Last but not least. To Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and all the others that have done so much for Spider-Man over so many years. Thank you. Thank you from a beating heart of a fan that loves this character like no other. Thank you and all those that made this movie work so perfectly for me. Thank you.