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Why I Defend Raimi’s Spidey As the Greatest

Let’s get this out of the way. Tom Holland is a fitting Peter Parker and athletically perfect for the one-piece suit. Jon Watts’ Homecoming and Far From Home are slick, technologically sound and youthfully vibrant, which lands them top tier in the behemoth MCU. While I appreciate the spectacle of these films, there are some unique factors missing, like the warm glow of nostalgia, spandex and Tobey Maguire pretending to be a high school student. It’s a movie that technically shouldn’t age well, but remains a joy to revisit and respectively create on the nose memes out of. It’s an adventure for the socially unaccepted, the dreamers, the trapped who crave escapism; an adaptation that carries the morals that Stan Lee integrated in his artistic legacy.

The Suit

Superficially speaking – from the ‘geeking out’ side of my brain – the suit is probably my most favoured component in this feature and I will always defend it as the best suit of the Spidey franchise. Aside from how pleasing the 1994 animated suit looks in Sony’s Spider-Man game – a 2-D experience of pure pleasure against a 3-D backdrop – James Acheson’s design and Tom Woodruff Jr.’s StudioADI creation is a marvel to observe. Where Tom Holland’s suit is now lighter and breathable, Woodruff Jr’s build of foam latex and spandex was a heavier and more physically demanding affair, especially for a claustrophobic Tobey Maguire. While it’s practicality may have been torturous to work with, visually it was the good shit. The raised webbing and chrome lenses against the bold and recognised red and blue carried an exciting texture with great Spidey appeal.

Character

I’m confident that even when Maguire was in high school, he didn’t look the age of a student. Nevertheless, the actor’s timidness brought an enhanced awkwardness to Peter Parker’s pre-drawn dorkiness. He portrayed the stereotypical school ‘loser’ vibe tenfold against Holland’s cooler rendition, folding this emotional and physical clumsiness into his newly-acquired “great power”, unsure of what to do with his immediate confidence boost. Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane emitted the radiant girl next door vibe (who I’m not ashamed to say was one of my first character crushes), and portrayed the typical damsel in distress; a cliché that is fading out in the industry and being replaced with the likes of Zendaya’s more headstrong and reserved take. The highlight for most is J.K. Simmons’ theatrical J. Jonah. Jameson, who still stands as one of the most comical comic-book character adaptations. This film forgettably housed Elizabeth Banks’ big screen debut, propelled James Franco’s career and confirmed that Willem Dafoe’s face is designed to be villainous.

Special (or not so special) Effects

No-one is under the illusion that the parade fiasco or the Manhattan web-swinging looks great, especially next to 2018’s conclusive Spidey Vs. Vulture showdown. Pastime CGI looks shit compared with our current standard of tech, but in its own, cringy way, it assists Raimi’s satirical manner and acts as a marker in film tech history. The canteen scene between Parker and Mary Jane required 156 takes for him to nail the tray trick, relying on zero CGI to stick the landing, however some of the bigger set pieces had no choice but to wear the green screen. The effects were satisfactory for any child fan of that year, but some of Raimi’s more static shots were just a trick of the eye. Take the scene where Parker flees from school and hides down an alley to test and scale a brick wall with sticky fingers. Maguire is actually just crawling along a brick wall surface horizontally. Perhaps, these special effects don’t satisfy us now, especially if wire harnesses can be detected, but they certainly don’t take anything away from Raimi’s splendour.

The Humour

The infamous sequence in Spider-Man 3 – where Peter Parker’s symbiote encourages him to Dad dance down the sidewalk and give ‘the look’ to every woman within a five mile radius – exhibits the full extent of Raimi’s camp funny bone. The first film is more subdued, which it had to be for audiences to accept it as a serious, Superhero contender. The scene where Parker attempts to command his next web-sling features a melodramatic close-up of his wrist, quickly broken by his motivating catchphrases like “Shazam!” and “Up, up and away, web” (all references to the DC universe) that accomplish nothing. The real gumption comes from J.K. Simmons’ flawless portrayal of the no-nonsense editor. His timing and mannerisms crown him the loveable asshole and a highlight of the entire film. Spider-Man features should always have a playfulness and it’s this light-heartedness that merges well with Raimi’s bold style.

Signature Score

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.” should not be the first tune that your mind web-grapples. Instead, Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott’s, Hero, is the life and soul of the upside down party that repeatedly gives the gift of the early noughties when music videos for film was in abundance. But similar to Danny Elfman’s Batman theme, the same whistling strings can be heard in his Spider-Man score too. The timing of the percussion and strings, in particular, are rapid and rhythmic, imitating the brisk movement of a creature with eight legs and of course the brass and choral cresendo’s to give web-slinging through the city those extra, epic feels. The softer notes of Elfman’s score are gentle and quizzical, reflecting Parker’s curiosity towards his powers, strengths and limitations; inquisitive to discover his full potential. Elfman’s talents once again became an instantly recognisable Superhero theme that floods our reminiscent core.

These subjective opinions are reflective of the wonder I experienced during the decade that my childhood and Raimi’s blockbuster met. It’s vastly different from present day Spidey, but nevertheless paved the way for the MCU to build its empire, despite it occuring during “The Tobey Maguire Age of Sony’s Spider-Man” (let’s not open that can of worms) dubbed by Cinema Blend’s, Mike Reyes. Millennial Spidey practically sits as its own cult classic, not surprisingly in the hands of Sam Raimi. His handling of female leads or the flurry of questionable humour (“If we can get a picture of Julia Roberts in a thong, we can certainly get a picture of this weirdo.”) is a dated example of what production companies and even what our culture accepted almost twenty years ago. Perhaps a few of these points will flutter your nostalgic strings and resonate, or even encourage kids of this generation to go back seventeen years and create their very first Spidey club for friends and family, as my eleven year-old self once did.

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