The First Spider-Man is Pretty Lousy

I had a rude awakening over the weekend. I rewatched a movie I’d seen in the not-so-distant past and enjoyed, and this time around, I pretty much yawned through the whole thing. It’s one thing to revisit a film I loved as a kid and find out it just isn’t any good. But this was Spider-Man, a movie I watched and loved in the theaters back when it came out in 2002. This is a movie that has a 73 on metacritic. It has an 89% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, for crying out loud!

bought the DVD.

And watching it, I was just sort of meh through the whole thing. Why is that?

There are a number of things at work, I believe:

  • Superhero movies have evolved a fair bit since Spider-Man burst onto the scene. Marvel has been doing wonders with the genre, and so the goal posts have been moved. The pacing has really picked up, the humor has gotten much quicker, and the inside nods to fans come fast and furious. Coming back to Spider-Man with today’s sensibilities means that the movie is already a few steps behind what you’re expecting to watch. Normally, I’d give the movie a pass on this, but there are other issues.
  • Special effects have come leaps and bounds from where they were in 2002. When I saw this movie in the theaters, I remember being amazed at how real the effects seemed. When I watched it now? It looked like a video game. I didn’t really feel any connection or concern to Peter Parker, because I didn’t honestly believe it was actually him slinging webs from building to building. It just wasn’t enough to get me to willingly suspend my disbelief. But again, there are movies out there with worse effects that I still buy into. So what’s different about this one?
  • The characters just plain stink. And this is where the problem really lies, I think. When I saw the movie the first time, there was a lot of pizzazz to distract me from the underlying problem. The razzle dazzle of the special effects and the newness of the superhero genre being revitalized was enough to carry the film all on its own. But once you take away those two points, then you’re left staring at a film that has major flaws in character development. Most people other than Peter’s direct relatives just feel empty. Mary Jane has lived next to Peter for her whole life, but she doesn’t know who he is? And yet a few months later, she’s having Thanksgiving dinner with him and his aunt? The Osborn father and son are hastily drawn caricatures. Green Goblin, at heart, is just a random crazy person with no real motivation for anything he does. (And his suit and glider both look pretty lame. Let’s face it.) Instead of having characters grow and change from the events of the movie, it feels more like watching someone play chess with pieces on a board. Mary Jane has to do X to have Y happen, and so she does X. End of story. Disappointing.
  • Because the characters are so poorly developed, there’s no way for the writing or the acting to really do much of anything. If you don’t care about a character, why should you care what he’s saying? There’s not enough time to really connect to them, so it’s not like great acting can save anything either. These aren’t bad actors doing a bad job. They’re just caught in a movie that still treated superheroes as a genre that didn’t need real development or the full treatment.

All of this is to explain why I think I should get a pass for telling my son that this movie was going to be good, and then having him question my judgement at the end of it. In my defense, I wanted to watch the Bourne Identity . . .

Anyone else rewatch this recently? What did you think? I gave it a 1/5.

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