There are conflicting opinions as to where to pin point the exact moment when the modern comic book movie finally caught on. Some believe Blade, an R-rated, loose adaptation of a lesser know Marvel title, to be the genesis where others think that the release and success of X-Men in 2000 cemented the sub-genre.
While both theories hold a lot of water, neither of the films mentioned can be classed as examples of the CBM TRULY blowing up when compared to the towering achievements of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and the ungodly amount of cash it made.
It also established templates of many things we now take for granted, like for example the hiring of Raimi to helm such a massive project since what he was MOST famous for is the looney tunes, smash mouth Evil Dead trilogy. Sure, he’d done Darkman too – a heavily comic book influenced super hero character of his own design – but this Spidey; one of the most recognizable superheroes ever created. Thankfully his mischievous style proved to be something of a masterstroke as the wildly swinging web-head was perfect foil for the directors trademark, madcap visuals.
Another thing that was perfect was the casting. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, WILLEM FREAKIN’ DAFOE, anyone even reasonably familiar with the source material could recognize their flesh and blood counterparts instantly.
The script too, while tonally borrowing vastly from Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, contains a refreshing lack of cynicism and is somewhat of a masterclass in lean storytelling what with all the major characters introduced and the fateful spider bite all covered and contained within the first 20 minutes.
Raimi has an obvious love for the earlier versions of the character, who would have just as much personal, soap opera, problems than supervillain smackdowns during his 60’s/70’s period and it shows with geeky admiration virtually leaking from the screen. Speaking of leaking, the adolescence metaphor comes on pretty strong with Aunt May banging on the door after Peter Parker has “shot his webs everywhere”.
Not everything Raimi attempts is successful, however. As great an unhinged Willem Defoe puts in as the Green Goblin, it’s slightly negated by the odd, Power Ranger battle suit he’s forced to wear when all they really had to do was paint his face green; this is made doubly problematic when you have scenes of a fully masked Defoe having a conversation with a fully masked Maguire and no one has a single facial expression to relate to.
Plus the writing of Dunst’s Mary Jane plays her as a screaming nag who alternates in dumping boyfriends and getting kidnapped (a recurring problem throughout the franchise) when the character is actually far, far more complex than that.
There’s also a slight feeling that the Sam Raimi who made the magnificent A Simple Plan is straining to keep the Raimi who made Evil Dead 2 on a tight leash and is desperate to keep the whip pans, crash rooms, POV shots and slapstick under control. Thank christ for a cameoing Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi and – in the greatest casting in CBM history – J.K. Simmons as blustery publisher J. Jonah Jameson, who bring the director’s beloved clowning to the forefront despite the notoriously jokey Spidey being oddly straight laced.
Despite these minor wobbles, Raimi nails the action with only a handful of duff CGI shots sneaking through. A final reel dust up between the Wall Crawler the Goblin is startlingly brutal for it’s rating and some of the younger kiddies may be freaked out by Defoe’s frequent eyeball rolling but the movie makes full use of technology finally catching up with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s imagination to an exhilarating degree.
It’s also fairly nice to go back to a time when Sony wasn’t driving each and every franchise under their care into the ground and it’s recent turnaround with the magnificent Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse only highlights how good they used to be at banging these things out.
So pull up a seat and take the REAL start of the modern comic book movie out for an overdue spin.
You’ll be Green Goblin it up…