Moving into the finale of Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man. Watching the movie this closely, I realize just how many scenes in this movie make me cringe. I think I’ve said before that being a genre fan in my lifetime often meant managing your expectations. Genre films were always having to be graded on a curve, judged not as good or bad, but how much much better or worse than you expected. I loved Spider-Man when it came out because it did things no other film had done up to that time. Unlike the Batman/Superman films, it didn’t camp up or mock the characters it portrayed. And unlike Bryan Singer’s X-Men, it didn’t feel the need to vastly redefine the characters and their relationships (webshooters aside). While it had differences from the comic, it preserved the essence of the character and the cast faithfully, powers, costume and all.
But man, looking back now, there’s a lot of weak tea in this movie, just a lot of scenes that make me cringe.
We left off with the Green Goblin vowing to either win Spider-Man’s support or destroy him. Next thing you know, Peter’s getting chewed out by J. Jonah Jameson for not getting good pictures of Spider-Man’s fight with the Goblin in Times Square. As Peter is leaving the office, the Green Goblin attacks, looking for the photographer who takes the pictures of Spider-Man. To his credit, Jonah refuses to give Peter up, even though he’s standing right there. But moments later, Spider-Man appears. The Goblin knocks him out with sleep gas and carries him to a rooftop, where he makes an offer. Join forces with the Goblin, or play the hero and die.
While I can intellectually appreciate what screenwriter David Koepp was trying to do with this scene, it doesn’t work for me on a number of levels. I understand that this is a way to escalate the conflict between Spider-Man and the Goblin without having to resort to a repetitive fight scene, and I get how this appeal from the Goblin mirrors Norman Osborn’s attempts to mentor Peter Parker. But I don’t get why he thinks Spider-Man would join him right after they just fought. Nor why, if the Goblin’s sleep gas is so effective at putting Spider-Man out of commission, he doesn’t use it again in later confrontations. Nor why he leaves Spider-Man to contemplate his choice, rather than demanding a choice right then while Spider-Man is at his mercy.
Oh well… Meanwhile, back in the “all about the girl” plot, Peter tracks down Mary Jane and invites her out to dinner. She refuses, saying she has a date with Harry, but she flirts with him, obviously aware of his crush on her. It’s hard to tell if she’s honestly interested in Peter, or just trolling him for the attention that Harry’s not giving her. When she leaves, Peter sees a group of unsavory individuals following her, and it’s Spider-Man to the rescue! He beats up the thugs as a hard rain starts to fall.
Mary Jane and her pointy, rain-soaked nipples now start flirting with Spider-Man. She doesn’t seem to suspect that Spider-Man is Peter, even though they both use the same cheesy “I was in the neighborhood” line. She gives him a kiss that manages to be pretty hot, even though it was apparently torture to film, and holy crap, look at the veins standing out on Tobey Maguire’s neck (not so visible in this pic, but in the movie, wow)!
Spider-Man zips away and we move from rain to fire. Some time later, an apartment building is burning, and there’s a baby trapped inside. Spider-Man saves the kid, but then a cop tries to arrest him for no apparent reason. They’re interrupted by a scream from inside the building; someone else is trapped. Spider-Man says he’s going back in to rescue whoever, and the cop relents.
But the old lady Spidey tries to save turns out to be the Green Goblin, who apparently started the fire as an excuse to follow up on that joining-forces thing. There’s a brief fight where Spider-Man has to avoid flying blades with his agility and spider-sense.
Unfortunately, he’s not fast enough to avoid everything, and his arm gets cut. Spider-Man realizes the fight is futile and escapes.
Next thing you know, Norman Osborn is showing up at Pete and Harry’s apartment for Thanksgiving dinner with Aunt May and Mary Jane. Peter shows up with a cut on his forearm and… wait a second, you mean the Green Goblin set that building on fire on Thanksgiving? What an ass! Anyway, Norman sees the still-bleeding cut and realizes that Peter is Spider-Man. He leaves, but not before being an even bigger douche by telling Harry to dump Mary Jane, the gold-digging tramp (actually, he advises Harry to screw her and then dump her, keeping the class in class differences). Mary Jane, offended at Harry’s less-than-vigorous defense of her virtues, leaves as well. Peter and Harry are going to have a LOT of leftover turkey.
So the Goblin decides that, rather than simply kill Spider-Man, he will first destroy his will to fight by attacking those he loves. To that end, he blows a hole in Aunt May’s house while she’s praying and then badgers her into wailing “deliver us… FROM EEEEEEEEE-VILLLLL!” Cringe. In the hospital, Peter realizes the Goblin is on to him.
Mary Jane comes later and mentions that she and Harry are on the outs. She says that she is now in love with Spider-Man, which prompts Peter to give the most awkwardly worded declaration of love ever, under the guise of what he told Spider-Man when asked about her. Cringe again. But Mary Jane is required by the script to be touched by Peter’s words. She takes his hand and gazes lovingly into his eyes.
Which is when Harry walks in and sees them together. He runs home to Daddy to tell him that Peter and Mary Jane are now an item. Norman promises that Daddy will make everything all right.
Meanwhile, Aunt May and Peter have a conversation about his love for Mary Jane (she was pretending to be asleep when they had their awkward love moment). Aunt May talks about the first time Peter saw Mary Jane; he asked if she was an angel. CRINGE! Not only is this something no actual kid would ask, ever, but it just happens to be exactly the first thing young Anakin Skywalker said to Padme in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, and no good can ever come from cribbing character beats from the prequel trilogy. Ever. Anyway, the entire point of this nearly unbearable conversation is that Aunt May tells Peter that everyone knows he loves Mary Jane, which makes him realize she could be in danger. He calls her up to check on her, and the Goblin answers. Jeopardy!
Cut to the Queensborough Bridge, where the Green Goblin offers Peter a similar dilemma to the one that the Riddler offered Batman in Batman Forever: save the woman he loves, or save a cable car full of kids.
Wait, first you crib dialogue from The Phantom Menace and now you crib plot from Batman Forever? Seriously, Movie? Could you not find anything worth stealing from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace?
Peter of course manages to save them both, with a little help from a bunch of angry New Yorkers on the bridge (echoing the angry New Yorkers–I’m sorry, Metropolitans–who confront General Zod in Superman II when they think Superman has been killed, so yeah, the movie does crib from the Superman series as well). Once they’re safe, the Goblin drags Peter to a picturesquely decrepit building where they have their final showdown.
The final fight shifts tone rather severely, with Peter’s costume shredded by Goblin bombs, after which he takes a really brutal beatdown. It looks cool, but it feels like we’ve suddenly entered a different movie.
Peter tries to fight back, but the Goblin completely dominates him. But just as it becomes apparent that Spider-Man is beaten, the Goblin has to go and gloat about how he’s going to make sure Mary Jane dies slowly. And suddenly, not only does Peter find renewed strength, but the Goblin suddenly forgets how to fight, flailing around helplessly while Peter punches him repeatedly in the metal helmet for some reason. And suddenly, the Goblin cries for mercy and tears off his helmet to reveal the face of Norman Osborn. He tells Peter that he was in the grip of temporary insanity, but somehow Peter’s fists have brought him back to himself. He thanks Peter for beating him back to consciousness or something.
Of course, it’s all a ruse while he surreptitiously summons his Goblin Glider to stab Peter in the back. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know about Peter’s spider-sense, which warns him of the coming danger in time to dodge out of the way, just as in the comic book. The Goblin is hoist with his own petard.
With his dying breath, Norman says, “Don’t tell Harry.” So for some reason, Peter strips Norman out of his Goblin armor and carries him back to his townhouse. Harry walks into his father’s bedroom to find his father dead in his bed, with Spider-Man standing over the body.
And aaaggghhh! I want to love this climax, I really do. There’s a lot of cool stuff here, and I like the fact that the fight revolves around emotional beats rather than just being a bunch of punches. But between the plot elements distractingly stolen from other movies, and the surprising brutality of the final fight, and Raimi’s inability to restrain himself from inserting a final joke at the moment of the Goblin’s defeat (Norman tonelessly mumbles “oh” just before the glider impales him, which is another joke I think he stole from somewhere, but I can’t think of the movie right now), and the sequel-required silliness of Peter granting Norman’s final wish, I just cringe as I’m applauding. But at least it’s all over, right? No more cringing.
At Osborn’s funeral, Harry swears vengeance on Spider-Man, and oh crap, Mary Jane is now proclaiming her love for Peter in a scene that’s not only badly written, but also badly acted. And Peter, who has dreamed of this moment since he was six years old or something, decides he has to dump her in order to keep her safe. And I know I’m supposed to find this tragic, but I’m too busy cringing, which YOU WERE NOT SUPPOSED TO MAKE ME DO AGAIN THIS CLOSE TO THE END, MOVIE!!!
Screw it, let’s just finish with some random web-slinging to get this nasty taste out of my mouth. Dykstra’s computer animation crew really outdid themselves with all the iconic Spider-Man poses they managed to get him into in the last 90 seconds before the credits, and how pathetic is it that this is enough to make me forgive this emotionally abusive movie and come back for a sequel?
Don’t answer that. Just join us next time when we return with Spider-Man 2, although I can’t promise that it will be coming next week. I’m working overtime for at least the next two weeks, so updates may drag. Sorry.