It’s odd when you watch a film once, then give it 9 years before watching it a second time. It’s a weird experience only made weirder when you have almost the exact same feeling coming out of it as you did back then. Of course, in that time, you’ll have matured and will notice different things about the way the film was made, and why you had the experience you did with it, but the point still stands.
This is what I’m feeling with Sam Raimi’s version of Spider-Man. I’m taking just about the same thing I’m taking from it now, but I now understand the reason for this. To give a short opinion on what I thought of the film: I enjoyed it quite a lot, particularly the first half, where Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is still a high school student, and hasn’t yet fully transitioned into the web-slinging action here that fans of the series have grown to love over the years.
There’s a very simple reason as to why I enjoyed the first half better than the second. It’s due to the fact that, in the first hour of the film, we actually get some good characterization and acting. With Spider-Man being an origin story, the setup for the rest of the plot is given a large amount of focus. We need to have a reason to care about Parker, and we are given it. He’s a social loser, continuously wishing he had the confidence to woo his high school classmate, (and neighbor), Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
One day, while on a field trip to a laboratory, Peter is bitten by an escaped, genetically engineered spider. Overnight, he undergoes changes. He no longer needs glasses, he gained a large amount of muscle mass and, oh yeah, he also gained “spider powers”. He can shoot webs from his wrists, predict the near future and climb on walls. He’s got everything that’s needed to start up his own superhero business. He also gets a lot less interesting as a character.
See, once you put on a mask, acting ends up getting far less of a focus. You don’t get to see Maguire’s facial features any more, which means that you don’t get much emotion from him. Or at least, you don’t get to see it. Sure, there are still times when he takes off the mask and becomes Peter Parker once more, but unlike the first half, this only occurs for part of the time, instead of the whole time.
What I’m trying to get at is this: The parts of the film where Peter Parker puts on the costume end up being the least entertaining moments. They’re not boring, and they’re usually filled with some fun action, but they lack gravity in two regards. Spider-Man himself doesn’t seem to operate within the laws of gravity, bouncing around from rooftop to rooftop or person to person with little regard for the laws of Newton. It also lacks much dramatic depth, with Spider-Man rarely having any trouble dispatching his foes, meaning that there is little tension to any fights that he ends up getting into.
There’s a secondary story that ends up becoming intertwined with Peter’s at one point in the film. Peter’s best friend is Harry Osbourne (James Franco), the spoiled, rich kid that you wish you were friends with in high school. Harry’s father is named Norman (Willem Dafoe), and he runs a company known as Oscorp. They are developing a substance that increases the strength of a person by over 400%. Norman has a human trial, which results in him killing his partner. Oscorp isn’t going well though, as someone has stolen a glider, power suit and all the technical gizmos that would allow someone to become a villain.
At the half way point, the Green Goblin shows up with Oscorp’s stolen goods. He ends up driving the second half of the story, and I think that is part of the reason why I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first. Prior to his arrival, the story primarily dealt with Parker’s adaptation to his new-found superpowers. Once the Green Goblin appears, Spider-Man seems to have complete grips with his abilities, only struggling with the one villain that has now appeared in New York City.
Even though the second half of the film is somewhat less enjoyable, I still had fun with it, and the film as a whole. Spider-Man does have a lot of action–its first half is the origin story of the character, without much action–and the second half ends up dealing a lot with Spider-Man as a full-fledged superhero. The main villain wasn’t all that interesting though, while Spider-Man as a character is less entertaining than Peter Parker is. I still had fun with the film, and when it comes to superhero-action films, that’s the main goal. I consider that goal achieved with this film.