And that is what Peter Parker / Spider-Man is all about.
To be that one person who stands up when no one sees the hope to do so, even if that means coming out beaten and battered.
Way back in 2002, before Marvel’s Iron-Man fully realised what a Superhero movie could be, Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. It came out during a time when the culture of Geekdom was still frowned upon and Superhero shows were treated as a dead end for actors and actresses.
The two leads, who were pretty darn notable at the time, took a chance with a movie genre that was shunned by the industry. Raimi too deserves plaudits for helming the beloved character’s big screen adaptation so passionately, and made it freaking work. Notably, it was Raimi who streamlined the script by removing Doc. Ock’s origin story from the Spider-Man as he thought it would make the film too complex. (THANK THE GODS OF GEEKDOM.)
But to fully understand the greatness that is the 2002 Spider-Man, it is essential to grasp the awkward state that the Geekdom was in.
Having a hobby such as reading comics, collecting figurines, and playing video games and board games were deemed unwanted. To be a Geek or a Nerd in society was to be a loser. Kids didn’t want to be seen reading a comic because it was lame to everyone who didn’t. Adults left and sold their Geeky stuff because society told them it’s children’s entertainment.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the entire Geek landscape looked pretty dull back with nothing worthwhile being produced by the big guns (Marvel and DC).
The comic industry was faltering, struggling to build a new fanbase with the younger generation. Its storylines too convoluted, even for the most hardcore readers. Its characters’ developments and story arcs a far cry to what the society and cultures of the 21st century needed to relate to. They were desperate for revenue.
Imagine that being a Geek was treated like a bad idea. And if you were, there was nothing to shout about because the Gods of Geekdom were just not producing. It was dire.
Then came Spider-Man in 2002.
(Yea, the first X-Men was released in 2000, but it didn’t share with the world the imagination and relativity of Superheroes. It was really just an action blockbuster starring big names.)
Let’s just quickly talk about the Spider-Man trilogy.
Spider-Man is simply the quintessential origins film of all origins film we watch these days. It is the source material which every other origin Superhero show has taken inspiration from.
The ordinary person given an extraordinary gift. The decisive moment when the main character chooses what to do with the gift. The costume creation/rationalisation. The villain, who is also gifted, but strays from the path of righteousness because of losing to an internal demon. Most critically and often overlooked, the final showdown which the hero wins with wit and not sheer brawn. (I’m looking at you DC films.)
WOW! Just frakking wow. This is easily in my top 3 Superhero movies. Spider-Man 2 oozes heroism, hope, and sacrifice. Everything Raimi had built in the first one is amplified here. All that Peter Parker had learnt is brought to question again, but with tougher terms and more demanding choices / consequences.
The villain, Doc. Ock, was perfectly casted and is one of THE MOST well scripted villains ever. His battle with Spider-Man wasn’t about explosions; it was about the heart and mind. So much so that Peter Parker, not Spider-Man, saved the day at the end of a thrilling sequence. (Even the CGI is commendable, looking only a little out of date if you watch it on now.)
As for the third installment, let’s just ignore it. Raimi, for unknown reasons after fighting for this in the first film, allowed not 2, but 3 villains to appear, making the film needlessly complex.
It was also when Sony began its corporate rule over its creatives – choosing Venom to appear to appeal to the fanbase instead of what’s right for the script. Sony probably thought that comic fans just wanted more bad guys to make things cooler… heh… I’ll pretend that Raimi was forced into it. The movie unfortunately sucked. A fourth was supposed to happen but didn’t, probably due to the poor response.
Now, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man.
Yea he was awkwardly dorky, but that was who Peter Parker would be in 2002.
This was the nerd the world laughed at. The awkward unconfident dude who people pointed and chuckled at in public spaces. Maguire embodied what the Geeks and Nerds felt like before Superheroes blew up. His stoic expressions the perfect representation of obscure individuals.
He showed us that even if we don’t look like it, a hero could still be in us. That it’s alright to be out of the norm, to be an outsider. That doing what is right, when no one is looking, matters. That with great power comes great responsibility. (I had to.)
Sure, he wasn’t as agile as Spidey should be, but it was understandable as it was one of the industry’s first ventures into Superhero action. There’re complains that he didn’t fit the ‘Spidey physique’, but seriously, there weren’t much choices back then.
Speaking of Superhero action, the train sequence in Spider-Man 2 is STILL forged into my inner geek. It was the best of Spidey – saving the day with pure heart and will. I even dare say that none of Marvel’s recent attempts can match it.
Essentially, Maguire’s Spider-Man / Peter Parker made us think, ‘Hey, maybe it’s alright for us to be like that if someone on the big screens is also like that.’
And that was what was so great about the films and Maguire’s time as the web-slinger. It dared when no one did.
Before this wraps us, the villains too deserve the spotlight.
Osborn wasn’t too difficult to understand, which is great for the first film, allowing more time to explore Spidey’s origins.
Things got real here. With Spidey’s origin concrete in the audience’s minds, Molina was sublime with the expanded screen time he had to cerebrally terrorise Spidey’s life.
I truly loved Andrew Garfield in the Amazing Spider-Man reboot. Physically, he was born to be Spidey, lean and lanky. He also perfected Spidey’s chatterbox mouth in and out of costume. The production team captured the costume and fight choreography impeccably. But the story and soundtrack, sighs, flopped so badly it borderlined into the realms of DC bad.
I know I’m going to love Tom Holland in Homecoming with what I saw in Civil War. (Also because Marvel is a monster in churning enjoyable Superhero films.) Let’s just hope it pushes boundaries and not remain idle.
But Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man stood up for the Geek in me when the world still frowned at the thought of Superheroes.
His Spider-Man made me believe.