Plot: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a smart, but awkward young man, interested in science and cameras, as well as the beautiful Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). While she seems to have a soft spot for Peter, his clumsy attempts at pursuing her have been fruitless, especially with his hunky friend Harry (James Franco) always around. But when he is bitten by a experimental spider at a science exhibit, he awakens the next day a changed man, literally. When he wakes up, his body has developed intense strength, reflexes that defy logic, and some other spider related enhancements. No longer a weak, timid soul, Parker fights back against his bully and enjoys the cheers from the other students, though Mary Jane doesn’t like this new Peter. At the same time, his friend Harry’s father Norman (Willem Dafoe) is driven to extremes to polish his latest creations, a powerful glider and exosuit combination. But when things take dark turns for both Norman and Peter, pushing them together as enemies with immense power, what will become of them and their loved ones?
Entertainment Value: A solid superhero movie that proves you don’t need a universe of tie-ins to spin an effective narrative, Spider-Man has some fun action, good character development, and knows how to set the table to give the sequels the best possible chance at success. I dislike Tobey Maguire in the lead role, as I think he lacks the charm and sense of humor of the Peter Parker I know and love, but the rest of the movie more than compensates. Although saddled with an origin story, Spider-Man is able to get a lot of balls into motion here and build some interesting story threads. So while the movie has a solid villain and gets across Spider-Man’s start well, it also plants some seeds that bear fruit over the sequels, so good execution in this one. The pace is perhaps a little slow at times, especially in the Peter Parker segments, but I loved the Osborne thread and I think it is the highlight of the picture. The action scenes are fun and the webslinging delivers, even if the CGI hasn’t aged well in the least. But given how Marvel embraced low end CGI down the road, the visual effects here aren’t so bad by comparison. I don’t think this was the vision of Spider-Man I wanted to see, as I wanted a more roguish Parker, but this still a rock solid superhero flick.
As I said before, I am not a fan of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, or at least his emo, unlikable persona approach. I get that this Parker is more depressed and mindful of those around him, but I miss the fun, charismatic Peter from the comics. A little humor can work wonders, especially when it is an organic part of the character and not at the expense of other narrative elements. But it speaks to how good Spider-Man is that despite my dislike of how Peter Parker is played and portrayed, I still have fun with the movie overall. James Franco is solid as Harry, Kirsten Dunst is beyond cute as Mary Jane, and of course, J.K. Simmons is a natural for the abrasive Jameson. These roles aren’t given a lot of time to develop, but they’re established well and the foundation is built for the sequels to continue. But the best part of the cast here has to be Willem Dafoe, who makes the most of his role here and while he goes over the top at times, he also brings some solid gravitas to Norman Osborn. He provides us with an interesting villain, one that when compared to the dull, unlikable Peter Parker, is perhaps easier to root for than he should be.