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Spider-Man revisited

January 1, 2015

Since Sam Raimi decided to tell everyone that Spider-Man 3 was his fault, I’ve been feeling itchier than usual to rewatch his Spider-Man movies.  I’ve had a low-level “you should watch them” feeling for a while, since it’s been quite a few years.  But since Marvel’s been knocking it out of the park I think I’ve been hesitant in case they’re not as good as I remember (and that 3 is even worse).  Add in the fact that they came out before I acquired a more critical eye in college, and you have a pretty pathetic but maybe understandable reason for avoidance. Tonight, I sat down with my husband and watched the first one.

There are so many good things about this movie.  For one, the cast: Tobey Maguire is an amazing Peter Parker.  He’s the perfect shy, bullied geek, with an odd little face that isn’t unattractive but it certainly wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.  When he’s awkward, he is AWKWARD; you cringe for the poor guy, but ultimately he feels very real.

Me, when he’s still talking to Mary Jane as she’s walking away from her new job at the diner: NOOOO, YOU NERD!

My husband: Not knowing when a conversation is over?  That’s something that happens in real life all the time.

Me: (goes super quiet, because it happens to me about once a day still)

And Maguire makes Peter clumsily charming.  I never felt like Peter was a stalker or felt he had any sense of entitlement toward Mary Jane.  He’s well aware that so much of what isn’t happening between him and MJ is due to his lack of action.  However…

Kirsten Dunst is both a good and a bad MJ.  She’s beautiful but not too beautiful.  She smiles and everything feels very lit up.  I enjoyed her in the movies the first go-around.  But this time around, I thought she was missing something.  See, when I saw the movie in the theater, I said afterward, “Some of her lines are ridiculously overdramatic.”  What I didn’t pick up on is how they’re supposed to be.

Dunst’s wholesomeness overshadows what is actually written as a very damaged character.  Mary Jane comes from an abusive household, makes incredibly poor relationship decisions, doesn’t own them at all, and talks like she thinks soap opera actresses sound.  Note that she doesn’t break up with Flash until graduation, so she doesn’t have to deal with the fallout.  She loves the attention Peter gives and eats it up with a spoon.  But she dates the very next guy who asks her out, even though she doesn’t actually seem that interested in him.  She bristles at Harry’s nervousness about her meeting his dad, which is fine because he was unintentionally being a jerk about it, but instead of calling him out, she gives him the cold shoulder when he goes to kiss her.  “It’s very teenager-y,” my husband said about her treatment of Harry.  While I agree, there’s a odd time jump in the middle of the film that moves them from graduation to at least some amount of time in Manhattan, where I think we’re supposed to see them as much more adult.  And yet…

Speaking of Manhattan, do kids from the other boroughs call it “the city” the way they do in this movie?

Anyway, when MJ gives her impassioned “I choose you, Parkerchu” speech at the end, it’s overdramatic because she’s overdramatic, and it works really well with everything that’s come before.  Harry’s let her down, and his father’s just awful.  Spider-Man may have saved her, but that was horrifying, so why would she want to be a part of it?  (Although her not acknowledging that the crazy guy said Spider-Man was in love with her was a bit odd.)  Parker is safe, and he adores her.  It just doesn’t quite work in the mouth of that actress, who didn’t seem to see the damage in her character.  And hey, I missed it, so she gets a pass.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re great, especially Dafoe as the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn, James Franco being so young and adorably damaged himself, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and of course J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, a part he was born to play.  He’s so comfortable in the role that Jameson’s comic booky bigger-than-life personality works fine: here’s a man that we can immediately peg as someone who wanted to be that quick-talking old-fashioned news guy, and he owns the paper so he can, no matter how ridiculous he is.  Once again, I have to bring my husband’s opinion in here: “He’s not actually a very GOOD newspaperman.”  But that makes sense, because his personality isn’t modern.  He’s working in an industry that’s about to collapse, and he’s still playing at a role.  Even if Simmons doesn’t see that, he plays it to be read like that, and I love it.

The movie does a great job with Peter’s origin story.  It’s fun to watch him interact with his wonderful family, and it makes his loss greater in our eyes.  You can’t fault him for letting the crook go.  It’s a very human mistake, such a well-acted scene.  It also does a lot of other great things too, but this time some of the weaker things stood out to me.  Like: everyone hates Mr. Osborn, but we’re never shown a version of him that’s worth hating until he’s the Goblin.  His board of directors dislikes him, the general dislikes him.  Why?  “He’s obviously a cowboy scientist; maybe he’s a cowboy CEO too?” my husband guessed.  But that’s not good enough.  We see why he’s a bad dad, but we don’t really get to see why everyone else wants to stop associating with him.  Although I must say I appreciate how we see how much power a board of directors can have.  There’s definitely been a shift to powerful heads of companies in media, putting one face to the “evil” that is a corporation.  Eh.

Also: THAT SUIT.  It’s so awful.  I mean, I knew it was awful before, but it’s even more awful this go-around.  Defined pecs?  That’s ridiculous.  The thing is, if we’d gotten maybe one thing with him making that mask–actually making it, not just his love of masks we see in his home, possibly later–I would’ve been happier, because I love that damn thing.  But there can’t be a making because the movie doesn’t allow Osborn to know he’s the Goblin.  When he’s speaking from the mask, and you can’t see his mouth behind it, that’s scary.  But when you see two set of teeth, that’s TERRIFYING.  But the suit itself is so awful, awful, awful that it takes away from that gorgeous, scary-ass mask.

Finally, I’ll say it before and I’ll say it one more time: kissing someone upside down is not the same as kissing them right-side up.  We were talking over the movie at that point, debating then and at the funeral scene what kind of Chapstick Peter must use to be so easily recognized in the midst of two very difficult kisses.  It’s a pretty hot kiss, though, the upside-down one, I have to say.

(My husband will probably want me to point out that the added scene of the New Yorkers throwing trash at the Goblin is really annoying.  I disagree with him, but get where he’s coming from.  Although it’s realistic that people were coming together and feeling a sense of unity right after 9/11, the movie doesn’t specify that there’s been a 9/11 at all, so the scene gives the impression that they’re working hard to make New Yorkers out to be the opposite of the stereotype.)

All in all, it’s a good movie with a few flaws, and I still enjoy it, especially the performances.  I’m going to try to talk him into walking Spidey 2 tomorrow.  I’d like to do a full month of superhero movies, but his work schedule doesn’t permit it.  I may still try to do it anyway, maybe even watch the ones I never have, like Catwoman and Ghost Ride and Elektra.  I’d like to hunt down the director’s cut of Daredevil, because I actually liked the movie despite its flaws and people say the director’s cut is quite good.

I made a list.  We’ll see how many of them I can get to.

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