Sony // 2002 // 121 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 21st, 2012
Get ready for the ultimate spin.
Just in time for a potentially unnecessary reboot hitting theaters just a decade after Sam Raimi's original movie was released, Spider-Man is getting re-released on Blu-ray. At least this time it has special features.
When shy, nerdy high school student Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, Pleasantville) is bit by a radioactive spider, he develops superpowers like climbing walls, shooting webs from his wrists, and catching thieves just like flies. He is Spider-Man. Forced to keep his costumed identity a secret from the world -- including Mary Jane Watson, the girl he loves (Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia) -- Peter finds himself going head-to-head with the supervillain known as The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe, John Carter).
In a recent review of Joss Whedon's The Avengers, the great writer Film Crit Hulk perfectly summarizes the movie's success: it works in all the ways it needs to work. The same could be said of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, the superhero blockbuster that's mostly responsible for a decade's worth of comic book adaptations ruling the box office. The movie is imperfect. At times, it's a complete mess. But it works in almost all the ways it needs to work -- namely, it gets the character of Peter Parker right.
It's the character work that makes the movie so special, and sets the bar for future successful superhero movies, focusing more on the characters at the center than on the plot or special effects. Everything best about Raimi's Spider-Man is found in the first half, as Peter Parker is established in detail and the would-be webcrawler's origins are explored. Tobey Maguire, a somewhat unconventional casting choice at the time, gets so much of what makes Peter great -- the sweetness, the nerdiness, the intellectual curiosity, the decency -- but also doesn't shy away from the stubbornness and spite that lead to the death of Uncle Ben. And though Kirsten Dunst has always felt miscast as love interest Mary Jane Watson -- she's bored and mopey when she should be a fireball -- Maguire works extra hard to sell us on his crush. So much of what's great about the Spider-Man comic books is the character's heart, and Raimi's movie (working from a script by David Koepp) really nails that. The movie also does a good job of filling in the Spider-Man universe with a strong supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge) as Betty Brant, and the scene-stealing J.K. Simmons (Juno) as Daily Bugle editor-in-chief J. Jonah Jameson.
Once Peter becomes Spider-Man, the movie takes a turn for the worse; an issue that would plague several more Marvel movies, including the first Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger. Much of the action plays out in a series of montages, and a bunch of narrative shortcuts are taken to get Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in the same place at the same time. There's a big parade setpiece that doesn't quite work. An apartment fire sequence is terrible. Even the final showdown between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin falls back on a lot of Sam Raimi style and camerawork, perhaps compensating for the fact that the audience, though deeply invested in Peter Parker, doesn't have much invested in this particular fight.
Several of the problems with Spider-Man are a result of it being the first in a wave of superhero movies (technically, X-Men was the first to test the waters, but Spider-Man was the blockbuster that every subsequent movie was chasing). The Green Goblin is never figured out, visually or as a character. The suit design remains terrible, as though some studio people were afraid audiences wouldn't accept a bad guy costume that wasn't rooted in something more realistic than how it appears in the comics (see also: the black suits in X-Men). Worse, though, is that the character doesn't make much sense. Willem Dafoe is good as Norman Osborne, and has one scene (in which he's talking to himself in the mirror) where he tries his damndest to make the Goblin work. But there's just no motivation to the character, beyond "He's crazy." His beef with Spider-Man makes no sense, so their conflict feels arbitrary, as if the movie needs a recognizable villain more than something born out of the characters or the story. Having said that, Dafoe's final line is the best thing in the entire movie; in that moment, he summarizes everything that's great about the Spidey-verse. Behind all the costumes and superpowers, these are regular people with regular worries. Again, it's flawed, but Spider-Man works in the ways it needs to work.
Spider-Man has been previously released on Blu-ray a handful of times, and this new version shouldn't be considered an upgrade. It's just coming out to cash in on the upcoming release of The Amazing Spider-Man, which is funny because that movie is a reboot which nullifies much of what we get here. At any rate, this Blu-ray boasts new cover art, two new bonus features (a trivia track and an interactive editing game; neither are worth upgrading for), and $10 in movie cash towards The Amazing Spider-Man. Since the movie cash will cover the price of this purchase, anyone debating whether or not to pick up Spider-Man (Blu-ray) for the first time should definitely go ahead and pull the trigger.
The HD transfer is the same as the previous Blu-ray releases; presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen (the two sequels would be shot in 2.40), it's a good transfer, but not perfect. Part of the problem is that the movie itself is kind of ugly -- the visuals are bright, harsh, and fairly flat, and the Blu-ray only emphasizes that fact. The contrast is uneven, with occasional softness creeping in and some of the darker scenes succumbing to crush. However, the detail is strong and colors are bold. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is solid, carrying the dialogue well and affording the larger-than-life comic book set pieces the right amount of kick. Again, the second two films improve on this (for all its faults, Spider-Man 3 makes for a near-impeccable Blu-ray), but most of the complaints about the treatment the first movie receives don't amount to much more than nitpicks.
Aside from the aforementioned trivia track and editing game, the remaining extras have all been ported over from previous DVD releases of the movie. That's actually good news, considering the earlier Blu-ray release lacked any bonus content whatsoever. So, while there's very little that's technically "new" here, most of it is new to Blu-ray. There are three commentaries included: one from director Sam Raimi and members of the cast and crew, one from actors Tobey Maguire and J.K. Simmons, and a third from members of the visual FX team. It can be a challenge to get through all three tracks, as they can be a bit dry and patchy, but together they do provide a good overview of just how much care and effort went into bringing Spider-Man to the big screen. Also included are several featurettes: "Spider-Man: Mythology of the 21st Century," "Behind the Scenes of Spider-Man," "HBO's Making of Spider-Man," "Spider-Mania: An E! Special," plus profiles on Sam Raimi and composer Danny Elfman, a gag/outtake reel, screen tests for Maguire and Simmons, some early visual effects and costume tests for Spider-Man, a collection of seven webisodes focusing on different aspects of the production, the music videos for "Hero" by Chad Kroeger and "What We're All About" by Sum 41, the original trailer (though not the WTC teaser trailer), and several TV spots.
Spider-Man is and always has been my favorite superhero, so it means a lot that Sam Raimi and company took such great care to take the character seriously and treat the material with respect. They tried to make the best possible Spider-Man movie they could, and when the movie falls short -- which it pains me to admit -- it's not for lack of effort. The good news is, with so much of the groundwork laid, Raimi was able to continue on with Spider-Man 2, a truly great Spider-Man movie and (for my money) the best superhero movie ever made. If the mistakes of Spider-Man were necessary to get the sequel just right, then so be it.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Trivia Track
* Gag/Outtake Reel
* Cutting Room
* Ultraviolet Download