I recently finished working through Jenny Nicholson’s (hilarious) guest appearances on the Screen Junkies show Movie Fights, and her impassioned advocacy for Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie (2002) set me scouring the shops for a copy, so I could better understand her arguments. My shorthand review would be that some of the jokes and FX have aged badly, and the plotting seems a little rushed/clumsy (often the case with origin stories), but the performances and direction/editing are pretty faultless, and it’s got a lot more heart/soul/charm/humour than most of the recent MCU movies. I mean, they’ve all been very entertaining, but never particularly memorable or distinctive… whereas this was clearly the work of a quirky craftsman, with an “oddball” sensibility alongside a more poetic sentimental side. I certainly wouldn’t think any less of someone who listed this as their favourite film of all time, though if I’d been judging that particular episode of Movie Fights I’d probably have sided with Alicia Malone, who nominated Amélie for her pick in that category. Swoon!
Although I easily spotted Raimi-regulars Bruce Campbell (as the wrestling-match “Ring Announcer”) and Ted Raimi (as harried Daily Bugle staffer ‘Hoffman’), as well as future-Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (in a brief-but-amusing cameo as the wrestling-contest “Check-In Girl”), I completely failed to recognise two actresses I really ought to know by sight: Lucy Lawless (as the pervy “Punk Rock Girl” giving a vox-pop interview to camera), and Elizabeth Banks (as ‘Betty Brant’, the “Girl Friday” to irascible editor ‘J. Jonah Jameson’ (J.K. Simmons)). Shame on me… shame, shame, shame!
For his part, Raimi gives Spencer and Banks glowing references on the commentary track, praising their ability to shine in small, underwritten roles. He’s also very complimentary about his lead actress, Kirsten Dunst, of course, praising the layers and generosity in her performance as the troubled (and frequently imperilled) girl-next-door ‘Mary Jane’. In an accompanying featurette, co-star Tobey Maguire also describes her as soulful and fun to be around on set… which is lucky, because they were contracted to appear together for another couple sequels!
Meanwhile, on the commentary track, Dunst notes what a pain it was to spend so much time in the freezing fake-rain for their iconic upside-down-kiss scene, and how annoying she began to find the sound of her own screams, after multiple takes of her “damsel-in-distress” moments. She also claims that when she was first contacted about the movie, she assumed she’d be playing the character ‘Gwen Stacy’ since the two of them are both blonde… but I think it’s fair to say she makes an equally adorable red-head!