The apparent joint brain child of Stan lee and Steve Ditko (more about that later), Spider-man first appeared back in August 1962 in Amazing Fantasy number 15. A mint copy of that issue will be worth in the region of $45,000 today!! Coming in at substantially more than that is comic fan Sam Raimi's big screen vision of what happened on those immortal pages.
During this first screen outing, we're introduced to Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, Uncle Ben and of course ol' web head himself and his nemesis in this movie, the Green Goblin. During a school outing to the University Of Columbia, young egghead science wizard Peter Parker (played by Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a spider that has been genetically enhanced. The origin itself is quite close to what happened in the first comic but has been given a smattering of “bring up to date ness” - in this case, not a bad thing. We all know that Pete was in fact bitten by a radioactive spider and not an enhanced one. But it works.
Later that evening, Peter is feeling unwell and falls asleep on his bed. He wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror to see a complete transformation of his body. What was once puny is now mighty. And to cap it all, he no longer needs his glasses.
Whilst running for the bus that morning, he finds that his hand sticks to the side of it - and his finger have grown just like a spider! He ducks into an alley and tries out his spider skills and finds that he can do whatever a spider can - including firing a web like substance from his wrists.
To take advantage of his new found powers, Pete enters a wrestling competition to stay in the ring with Bone Saw (played up nicely by Macho Man Randy Savage). The Human Spider tries to enter the ring but it's The Amazing Spider-man that wins the day!
The wrestling promoter rips Peter off for the money - but at the same time, the joint is robbed. Parker has the chance of a lifetime to make something of himself but blows it by letting the robber go...
He returns to his arranged meeting with his Uncle Ben to find a crowd gathering and the police in tow. Uncle Ben has been shot and is dead...Peter dons his wrestling costume and tracks the killer down to an old warehouse on the river. I'll not go into to much detail about what happens in the warehouse - but needless to say, it forces Peter to vow to fight for truth, justice and the...err sorry...wrong movie.
Meanwhile, Norman Osbornes (played by Willem Dafoe) defence equipment corporation has been threatened with closure. Norman uses himself as a human guinea pig and ends up turning himself into a schizophrenic psychopath. Hated by the board of his company, he decides to get his revenge on them at a big city open day, which is also attended by his son Harry (played by James Franco) and his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). In a scene reminiscent of the showdown between Batman and The Joker in Batman (1989), Spider-man has his first confrontation with an enemy in public.
The film goes on to explore Peters emotions over losing his Uncle Ben and at the same time, falling in love with Mary Jane Watson. At the time of Spideys first appearance back in 1962, Marvel made a big deal of the fact that Peter Parker could in fact be any teenage kid - so they gave him every teenage kids problems.
What's most impressive about the big screen version of Spider-man is the attention to detail - in particular, the casting. OK - the Goblins costume had fans up in arms on it's release. Gone are the purple boots, shorts and pointy hat and in comes a green suit of armour. My arms were well and truly raised at the time - but I ate humble pie when I saw the film because it worked. Everything else is there. The glider, the exploding pumpkins and the loud evil cackling laugh. Willem Dafoe does an admirable job of playing two parts and is utterly believable. The casting of Toby Maguire as Peter Parker and Spider-man is still up for debate. He plays a very good webhead, but his Parker is a little bit to non volatile for my liking.
Kirsten Dunst gets to grips with the part of M.J from the off - though I always envisaged the real Mary Jane Watson as being a bit more “tartish” than the Kirsten Dunst version - or was that a schoolboy fantasy...?
I couldn't leave the casting side of things without mentioning J.K Simmons role as J. Jonah Jameson, editor of The Daily Bugle. It can only be described as spot on! He's crude, rude and under the thumb. Surely Simmons was put on this planet for this part?
Having spoken to a few true believers over the past few years, credit also has to go to the casting agents for the role of Scrubs' Dr. Kim Briggs, Elizabeth Banks as Betty Brant, secretary at The Daily Bugle. In the very early editions of Spider-man, Parker was romancing Betty for some time while he was still at school. In the movie, there appears to be a spark there, but it's only on Betty's side. I would have loved to have seen a romance between the two, but I suppose for the younger audience, the film had to reflect the somewhat later comics.
Sam Raimi is a self confessed Spidey-holic and to be honest, it's his vision of the Marvel world that makes this film tick over nicely. His respect for the creation is obvious from the start. As I said earlier, his attention to detail is immense and I can only thank him for that. He did well to keep the cast together for another two movies...which leads me nicely into...
The argument over who actually created Spider-man still goes on today. Stan Lee certainly was the first with the idea of a school kid bitten by a radio active spider, gets the spiders powers and goes on to become a super hero. It's claimed, however, that Lee handed Marvel artist Steve Ditko a blank piece of paper, from which arose the first images of The Amazing Spider-Man. Ditko left Marvel under a cloud after 38 issues and artist Johnny Romita took over. True believers will claim that Spidey was never the same after Ditko left - and they do have a point. However, Lee and Romita are responsible for one of the best Spider-man stories of all time.
Spider-Man no more was the title of Spider-Man number 50. It featured the brilliant cover drawn by Romita showing Peter Parker walking away from Spider-Man, having decided to relinquish the responsibility because it was bringing to much pain into his life. Spider-Man 2 is loosely based on that comic book, but also feature events that happened in Spider-Man number 3, which featured the origin of Doctor Octopus. Incidentally, this issue was drawn by Steve Ditko...
Doctor Otto Octavia is a brilliant physicist that has come up with a formula for transferring the power from tritium and using it for domestic purposes. To enable him to handle the tritium, Octavia has developed a set of four mechanical arms that become temporarily infused with his spine. However, during a public test, the tritium gets more and more powerful and there's a massive explosion. The arms become permanantly attached to his spine and seem to take over his mind.
Hell-bent on completing his first experiment, Doc Ock goes on the rampage through New York to raise the cash, with a bank being his first port of call - a bank that is being visited by Peter and his Aunt May. A battle breaks out once Parker his alter ego 'guise and in the midst of, Aunt May is taken prisoner by the villain and rescued by our friendly neighbourhood hero - in turn, forcing Aunt May to start to believe in our man. But our man has stopped believing in himself - the more he doesn't want them anymore, the more his powers diminish - to the point of disappearing altogether.
Peter starts enjoying life once again. His grades go up and his romance with Mary Jane starts to blossom...what could go wrong?
In the meantime, the terrible Doc Ock has visited Harry Osborne to try and procure some more tritium - Harry agrees as long as the Octopus brings him Spider-man first so he can avenge the death of his father. How better to get at the arachnid than to go through Peter Parker, the photographer who is always around to take ol' webheads picture. And what better way to get at Parker than through his girlfriend...? See where this is going true believer?
Invisibly intertwined like a piece of Spider-mans web, we have the original theatrical release and the 2.1 version that was released on SD DVD just before the cinema release of Spider-man 3.
Having been out for a few years now, there probably isn't a reader here that hasn't seen this movie, particularly with the target audience we have. Spider-man 2 falls into the rare category of actually being a better movie than the original. The actors have gotten to know their characters better and let go a little more. The casting agents have come up trumps again with bringing in Alfred Molina as Otto Octavia and Doctor Octopus. He really is spot on.
And director Sam Raimi continues to respect Spidey fans worldwide by staying true to Stan Lee's and Steve Ditkos vision - in this case, even including a shot that is taken from a panel in the aforementioned Spider-man #50.
Stan Lee himself makes his usual personal appearance in a Marvel orientated movie - saving the day as usual - and it really wouldn't be a Marvel without him making an appearance. We also get a glimpse of a possible potential villain in a future movie in the way of Dr Curt Connors, Peter's science teacher who all fans will know is...we'll save that for another day...
Bigger and bolder after the reception that the first movie got, the movie has some incredible fight scenes, not least the scene where Spidey stands at the front of a train and brings it to a halt using his web. Those of you that read the comics will know that the web slinger never loses his mask that easily - but I believe it was done to show Tobey Maguire in the Spider suit to show off his physique. Ending the scene still masked up would have been a much better option for me - and made it a little more believable. Other than that though, Spider-man 2 is about as perfect as a movie can get these days in my opinion. Though it will lose a mark for the silly un-masking...It would have got 11 but for that!
The argument about who actually created Spider-man rages on across cyber space and was brought to life recently in a documentary on BBC4 with Jonathan Ross entitled “In search Of Steve Ditko”. In it, Ross tried to track down the elusive artist and obtain an interview with him. He succeeded but the interview was never filmed. He did, however, film an interview with the editor of Marvel comics at the time, “Smilin' Stan “The Man” Lee. In the interview, Lee acknowledged Ditko as the co-creator of Spider-man, but kept on insisting it was he that had had the original idea. Ditko feels so badly about it, it seems that he produced a magazine called “Who created Spider-man?”. It consisted of one page and 2 panels. The left panel just had a question mark in it with the words “the guy who had the idea?” and the right panel had a picture of Spidey in all his swinging glory with the words “or the guy who drew it?” above it. It all seems a bit messy to me - and, to be honest, I lost a little respect for Smilin' Stan after watching the interview with Ross.
One thing's for sure - we all know who put that vision up on the big screen. Step forward Mr Sam Raimi, Hollywood director supreme. By the time Spidey 3 came out in May 2007, some three years after number two, Raimi had already given us what every wall crawling fan craved - stories and characters that were true to the comics - more importantly, true to the original comics written some forty years previously by Mr's Lee and Ditko...
Three years is a long time for fans of any films to wait for the next instalment. For true believers everywhere, those three years seemed like a lifetime. The rumours in between the films were rife. Surely the next villain would be The Lizard right? The Sinister Six - six foes all at the same time...wow!
Spider-man 3 actually picks up where the second one left off. Pete and MJ are an item and Harry knows a little to much for Peters comfort. Harry has sworn revenge on Peter and blames him for his fathers death at the hands of Spider-man. He has also discovered that his father had a bit of a pumpkin and snow board fetish. Harry utilises his find at the mansion and the first fight is between The New Goblin and Peter Parker...now, I always associated goblins with Halloween, pointy hats and shoes? The new incarnation resembles a samurai more than a goblin - the Snowboarding Samurai would have been a more appropriate title in my opinion. In the ensuring fight, Harry conveniently loses his short term memory, wiping out all traces of his fathers memory and forgetting Peters secret.
Peter, in the meantime, is riding the wave of euphoria that New York is on about Spider-man and gets totally wrapped up in his own life - at the same time, completely forgetting about everyone else around him. He loses interest in MJ - who finds comfort in Harry. Meanwhile, the new girl on the block, Gwen Stacey, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, catches Peters eye.
In the meantime, a meteorite hits the ground and splits open. Inside is a black gooey substance that appears to be able to attach itself to whatever it pleases and take it's form. It hops onto the back of Peters scooter and ends up in his bedroom...
While all this is happening, Peter discovers that his Uncle Ben wasn't murdered by the thief from the wrestling match - he was in fact killed by a man called Flint Marco - and, by sheer coincidence, Marco has just escaped from prison...on the run from the police, Marco falls into a pit full of sand. This pit is the subject of a scientific experiment and the sand becomes infused with Marco's body. He discovers that he can change shape and pour himself into small crevices - and The Sandman is born...
In amongst this complex plot, Peter finds a rival at The Daily Bugle. A new photographer by the name of Eddie Brock Jr., played by Topher Grace He is tasked to get a new photo of Spider-man - much to the annoyance of the resident snapper.
Meanwhile, back in Peters room, an uninvited alien decides to take residence in a blue and red suit it finds there. After donning it, Spidey finds his suit turning black and his personality changing. The Peter we see here is something that I can't remember seeing in the early comics and the dance scene that takes place where Pete uses Gwen to make MJ jealous is just downright silly in my opinion. But it helps the story tick along nicely - and, as you've probably guessed by now, Spider-man turns into The Symbiote that eventually infects Eddie Brock who turns into Venom. Throw The New Goblin back into the mix and we have a trio of nasties all gunning for the Spiders head.
I mentioned before that the plot was complex. There are plenty of triangles thrown in there to mix things up for starters - the love triangle between Pete, MJ and Harry and the other love triangle between Pete, Gwen and Eddie. Then there's the complex relationship between Peter again and Harry. If you take your eyes off screen for a minute, you might miss something. The idea to make Flint Marco Uncle Bens killer isn't a good one in my opinion. The Sandman first appeared in Spider-man #4 and wasn't really popular amongst early readers. He did team up with Venom in the comics however, in the reformed Sinister Six, of which both villains were members.
The casting agents have weaved their magic once again here as we are introduced to Flint Marko for the first time. As Thomas Hayden Church dons the stripy t-shirt, we are taken back to 1964 as the likeness is once again uncanny. Bryce Dallas Howard passes as a respectable Gwen Stacey with the help of a bottle of peroxide and shares it with Topher Grace for his role as Eddie Brock.
No review of this movie would be complete without a mention for the special effects. They are superb and this reviewer is certainly expecting a nod for this film come awards time in the New Year. The Sandman in particular is pretty spectacular and totally believable. Venom is also very good, especially towards the end of the film when he goes haywire!
As a Spider-man film, 3 is the weakest of the trio. The story is a little complex and it appears that Sam Raimi tries to bring a bit to much to the table. The Sandman was never a popular villain with the fans, yet Venom is Spideys most popular foe ever. So why turn most of the villain time over to The Sandman? And Harry as the New Goblin just doesn't work for me...I know it happened in the comics, but at least make him Goblin like.
I just hope that the cool reception that this movie received on its release doesn't detract the team from making more. At the time of writing, there's nothing in the pipeline. There's plenty more villains in the pot. Personally, I would love to see The Rhino, Kraven The Hunter and The Lizard try to squash the spider - but over three movies and not crammed into one. Only time will tell. Until then, we're left with the weakest film of the set so far to tide us over.
Spider-man - 9/10
Spider-man 2 - 10/10
Spider-man 3 - 7/10