The 5 Reasons I never liked Sam Raimi’s 1st Spider-Man
When it comes to Marvel Comics there are two series which I’ve actively read and followed from childhood which still hold my interest: Spider-Man and the X-Men. I’ve recently caught up with the mutant film saga and the thing that tells you all that needs to be said about my love for the series is that I’ve yet to have seen an X-Men movie I don’t like. However, what makes X-Men great is the team dynamic and its biting social commentary.
But if we’re looking for a hero for a hero’s sake, Spider-Man is Marvel’s equivalent to Batman: a highly relatable hero fighting for justice and blessed with easily the most recognisable villains galore of his respective company. Yes, Spider-Man is a more witty and maybe a less dark and brooding hero – but he is a hero whose actions and undertakings I get heavily invested in.
On the over-all, I really liked Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series and I’m genuinely sad that Spider-Man 4 never came to fruition. I loved the general, somewhat cartoony vibe of these instalments. I liked their interpretations of the characters. I liked the audio-visual style and I honestly adored the cast (especially Tobey Maguire). But even so, I recently gave the first film of the series another chance to wow be, but I still couldn’t fully get into it.
Spider-Man 2 features my favourite Spidey adversary and is generally an awesome movie, but for all its ridiculousness, Spider-Man 3 is still my favourite cinematic interpretation of the character. However, I’m optimistic about the new M.C.Ewe approved version of the character and I intend to also have a look at the second Amazing (not) Spider-Man instalment as well, but I decided to now recap (with a more fresh perspective) just why I never really liked Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man.
#1. No inner monologue for Spidey
This is something that a Spider-Man movie has yet to have gotten right and I know I’m not alone on this one. As someone who read the comics and watched the Spider-Man cartoon series in the mid-90s, I always feel incredibly cheated by the fact that none of the movies featuring Spidey have, to date, even attempted to translate Spidey’s extensive, plot-driving and, in many cases, hilarious inner musings onto the big screen.
Stan Lee has stated that Spidey had more thought than speech bubbles because Peter Parker’s loneliness as Spider-Man meant that he had no-one to talk to, so instead he would basically just talk to himself and, indirectly, to the reading audience. It’s a feature (in stark contrast to the Dark Knight) that made the character so lovable in the first place. The lack of the inner monologue is even more painfully evident when you take into account Mr. Raimi’s directorial style.
With all due respect for his eye on action-scenes, Raimi focuses on the dullest and most minute of details and expressions and drags out pedestrian scenes way longer than they should go on. If we at least had the web-slingers delightful inner thoughts accompanying them, the first half of the movie in particular wouldn’t feel so much like pulling teeth.
#2. Mary Jane suffers from the world’s most fierce case of Lois Lane syndrome
Let’s by-pass the whole Gwen Stacey thing because, frankly, I’ve never much cared for her. Yes, I thought it was neat how she was in the Amazing Spider-Man films – but I did not weep for having her just do a smelly cameo in the third film and have Spidey be a one-woman man from the start.
Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of Mary Jane was actually one of my favourite things in both of the Spidey sequels but it’s her portrayal in the first movie which is almost inexcusably bad. Her unhappy home life and struggles to become an actress are in fact quite endearing and good (and about the only good thing about her in this film). It’s her relationship with Peter/Spider-Man which really flops in my opinion.
The clincher for this is when she runs into Peter, talks about the photos of Spidey, then gets rescued by Spider-Man immediately afterwards where she doesn’t even raise an eyebrow that made me really dislike her in this film. She’s literally just a damsel-in-distress and that’s just painful to watch. Now yes, she also has a knack for getting into life-threatening situations in the sequels but she’s luckily grown so much as a character by then that it doesn’t bother me.
But yeah, MJ’s not so hot (or bright) in the first film.
#3. Lots of convenient writing
One thing which never stops bothering me is how conveniently things just happen in this movie. Yes, the sequels tend to use action-scenes as an easy way to introduce characters but I feel they still function on some decent amount of logic. There’s a lot of things in the first Spider-Man that just happen conveniently to move the plot along like Goblin disintegrating the Oscorp chair members into CG skeletons (yes, that happens) or New Yorkers on the bridge throwing crap at the Goblin to help Spider-Man.
And then Raimi just delves into cheesy melodrama with the Goblin smashing Aunt May’s house and the resulting “Those eyes, those horrible yellow eyes” -bit which honestly just feels like a horribly artificial way to move the story along (and let’s not forget about MJ’s bout with the muggers). Spider-Man is certainly not the only action-movie where stuff happens just for the sake of the story moving along but I feel the sequels did a far better job of weaving random incidental moments as well as action-scenes into the film’s narrative.
And the Green Goblin pretending to be a victim in the burning building in order to drug and talk to Spidey (but not take the chance to kill him) was just beyond stupid.
#4. The Green Goblin (is a terrible arch-nemesis)
If you ask me bluntly, the only arch-nemesis Spider-Man has had who was worth his salt was Doc Oc. I just love the idea of Spider-Man having a genius level adversary who can also easily take him on in a fight. Don’t get me wrong, Venom is fucking cool and all, but he just has Spidey’s powers and is immune to his spider-sense. He’s not nearly as interesting.
Much to my chagrin though, Green Goblin apparently seems to always take home the prize for Peter’s arch-nemesis (I’ve even seen him being compared to the Joker from Batman). Yes, I do think that the father of Peter’s best friend being a homicidal psychopath with a split-personality has some charm to it. The problem I’ve always seen with the Green Goblin is that he has no mileage. His goal in the Spider-lore has always been to die in battle with Spider-Man just so that Harry Osborne has a reason to hate Spidey and later Peter.
And let’s be real, The Green Goblin just looks fucking stupid. Yes, even the comic version. He is about the cartooniest fucking adversary that Spider-Man has and although he gleefully murders people, he just comes off as tacky. Plus, Norman Osborne is a complete idiot for using his super-soldier serum on himself in the first place. The Goblin is a dolt for believing Spider-Man has any interest in joining him. And lastly, the Goblin kills himself in the most ridiculous way imaginable.
#5. The First Half of the Movie is just Origin Story
Now, there have been movies dedicated almost solely to super hero origins which have worked well because the superhero’s character and motivations are in and of themselves worth exploring more deeply. This is why I do love movies like Hulk, Batman Begins and Captain America: The First Avenger (i.m.h.o. the only good Cap. America film).
And far be it from me to tell film-makers whose super-hero origins are and are not worthy of screen time. However, a good rule of thumb in my opinion is that unless the vastness of the film’s scale (Fantastic Four) or maybe the complexity of its story (Watchmen) requires such, the introduction of the hero’s origins should really not take longer than 15-20 minutes of screen time. This applies especially if the character’s back-story can be summarised in a single sentence: guilt-ridden orphaned teenager got bit by a radio-active spider.
Most superhero origin stories just aren’t inherently interesting and especially for a film series driven more by action-scenes than story, such as Spider-Man, I always feel the movie unnecessarily embellishes the character by extending the origin to cover more than one act of the story. Spidey learning how to swing from his webbing is kinda fun, but using excessively long scenes to demonstrate all his other powers (and the making of his costume) are things which I feel the audience really doesn’t need to see.