“With great power comes great responsibility.” With these words from Uncle Ben, the friendly neighborhood Spider-man was officially introduced to his own cinematic story. This film from 2002 stars Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, an unassuming young man who is bitten by a radioactive spider and transformed into Spider-Man. Meanwhile, his friend Harry Osborne is dating his crush Mary Jane Watson, while Harry’s father Norman Osborne has made a rash scientific decision that has transformed him into the villainous Green Goblin. Now Spider-Man must stop the Green Goblin before Norman can terrorize all of New York City.
By 2002 standards, this film was groundbreaking. Some of the CGI still looks very good, while other parts of the CGI looks very dated. Still, the plot is easy to follow while still being fun. Is it predictable? By 2023 standards, following the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sure. But, at the time, it was cutting edge and the breakthrough Marvel needed, even if Sony was the one producing the film starring one of Marvel’s most popular characters.
While not obvious in 2002, there is a casting flaw in this film. Tobey Maguire is a good “Spider-Man,” but not really a good Peter Parker. Peter starts as a high school kid and then is a college kid looking to make money by selling pictures of Spider-Man to the Daily Bugle. Maguire looks too old to be a high school kid in the early scenes, as does James Franco as Harry Osborne. Kirsten Dunst pulls off the high school element better. When they are in college, it’s not as glaring of casting issue, but both Maguire and Franco still look older than your average college kid. It’s something that would be corrected in the reboots, but Tobey Maguire just looks too mature.
It’s crazy to think about in 2023, but there was a time when Marvel was struggling. The company nearly went bankrupt in the 1990s, and Stan Lee had to sell the rights to some of his most popular creations to make some money. That’s how Sony managed to get the rights to “Spider-Man,” and while Sony’s superhero outings can be hit or miss, the original “Spider-Man” was definitely a hit.
Is this greatest “Spider-Man” film of all time? Not even close. It’s not even the best of the three starring Tobey Maguire. But, in 2002, we had only had one or two good “Superman” films, a couple of good “Batman” films and one good “X-Men” film. Every other comic book film had ranged from average to bad. Nowadays, superhero films are a dime a dozen, but, at the time, this was a breakthrough and it’s still nice to revisit.