Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Recap: "Spider-Man" Part 1: Great Power

When it comes down to it, I’d say Spider-Man is a happy little tale about an average, ordinary guy without a care in the world. So let's take a look at it and see why it stuck a chord with so many theatergoers.

It probably helped that the chord was composed by Danny Elfman.
And during the opening, before the film itself even begins… history is made.

Ladies and gentlemen, the now-famous flipping pages of the Marvel production credit first appeared right here at the beginning of Spider-Man.

No joke, when the logo was shown for the very first time, it got a standing ovation. In some ways, even apart from the flipping logos, this is truly the beginning of an era.

Sure, Blade and X-Men already had their movies. But those were filled with leather and grit. Spider-Man was the true beginning of the resurgence of the superhero film. Colorful costumes, hammy villains, a goody two-shoes hero. This was the first superhero movie since the nineties to flaunt its ridiculousness rather than hide it.

Well, that is, the flaunting began after the opening credits sequence. I mentioned in my Recap of Hulk that superhero movies tended to have symbolic opening credits sequences back in the early 00’s, and Spider-Man is no exception. Movies like X-Men, Hulk, and indeed Spider-Man would use their opening credits to add an air of sophistication to the proceedings.

That’s not meant as an insult to these movies; I’m not saying that these films were lowbrow fare for the hoi palloi hiding behind pretentious credits. It’s just that after the double-whammy of Batman and Robin and Steel killed the superhero movie, later examples of the genre would have to prove that they weren’t just a ninety-minute toy commercial. The trend of having heavily-stylized abstract symbolism-filled opening credits was mostly a Marvel thing, and it hasn’t been quite as common since 2008 gave us Iron Man. After that, more traditional opening sequences like action prologues and montages were used.

Again, I’m not saying that only Marvel had opening credits like this, or that no films did this beforehand. Heck, Batman and Robin itself kind of had an opening like this movie. But I bring all this up because I know at least some of my readers were born after this movie was made, so they might not remember a time when superhero movies were considered box-office poison. You dang kids these days.

Anyway, I may as well talk about the actual opening sequence itself. CG webs, CG blood vessels, and glimpses of the quite obviously CG versions of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. The CGI has not aged well, but the stylized shading goes a long way to keep it from looking absolutely terrible. But soon enough, the utterly bombastic orchestral stylings of Danny Elfman subside enough for us to transition into the movie proper.

Voiceover: “Who am I?”

Good question. We’re only a couple seconds into the actual movie.

Voiceover: “You sure you wanna know?”

I own the DVD, don't I?

Voiceover: “The story of my life is not for the faint of heart.”

What about women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant? Is this movie FDA approved?

Voiceover: “If somebody said it was a happy little tale… if somebody told you I was just your average, ordinary guy not a care in the world… somebody lied.”

So sue me.

Voiceover: “But let me assure you, this, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl.”

Hold on, I need to check something.

Well, it sure looks like the right movie.
Spider-Man is about a girl. Can’t say I expected that from the title.

As the narrator continues, the girl in question is the girl of his dreams as well as the girl next door: Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst. She’s the main character of the Spider-Man trilogy, apparently. Like how the Lord of the Rings trilogy is actually all about Sam.

The narrator telling us all this is revealed as Peter Parker, played by Tobey Maguire. He is currently chasing after the school bus. Surprisingly, he’s doing a pretty good job for an as-of-yet-powerless geek. Is he just a natural sprinter? No. The bus driver’s being an a**hole and going just slow enough to give him the false hope that he might catch up. In fact, he’s perfectly content to just keep letting Peter chase after the bus until Mary Jane (who, need I remind you, is a student) tells him to knock it off.

The bus stops, and Peter gets on, to the audible groan of the other students. All the shy, dorky Peter can do is suck it up and look for a seat. I’ve gotta say, this sequence really nails the school bus hierarchy. As anyone who ever rode the bus to school knows, you don’t just plop down next to anyone. You’ve got to know your place.

But poor Peter doesn’t have a place. The other students actually actively discourage him from sitting next to any of them. The cool kids, the fat kid….

Et tu, Moaning Myrtle?
And to really drive the point home, he gets tripped by one of the cool kids. But in all likelihood, that kid just peaked then and there.

Peter and his class eventually arrive at their field trip destination, the Columbia University Science Department. Or should I say, the SCIENCE Department. During the teacher’s talk about how they should all be on their best behavior, Mary Jane shoots a wave over in Peter’s direction. He waves back, but it soon become apparent that she was waving at her actual friends, not the creepy boy who lives next door.

Seriously, that is the smile of somebody planing to wear your skin.
Then a Rolls-Royce pulls up. Inside is a baby-faced James Franco. Mr. Franco is playing Harry Osborn, with Willem Dafoe playing his father, and the film’s obvious villain, Norman Osborn. How can you tell he’s the villain? He’s played by Willem Dafoe. End of story.

There’s a bit of tension between Harry and his dad, because Harry wants to try and fit in at school. Taking a Rolls-Royce to go on a field trip isn’t exactly doing the trick, surprisingly enough. But Norman sees this situation in a different light.

Norman Osborn: “Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are.”

But do be ashamed of The Interview. All controversy aside, that movie sucked.

Harry gets out and meets up with his best bud, Peter. Norman follows after his son with his backpack, which gives Norman and Harry an excuse to meet before they start throwing punches at each other. Norman and Peter, both being geniuses, hit it off immediately. Peter’s quite the fan of ol’ Norman, having read Norm’s research on nanotechnology.

Norman Osborn: “And you understood it?”

What, did you write it backwards like Leonardo, or something?

Norman Osborn: “You parents must be very proud.”
Peter: “I live with my Aunt and Uncle; they are proud.”

And along with giving an excuse for our hero and villain to meet, we also get an excuse to establish Peter’s home life through dialogue.

Peter and Harry get called over to the rest of the students, and they all go see what those crazy scientists have been working on. The answer: Spiders. The class’s guide takes them into a room with what Peter identifies as “the most advanced electron microscope on the Eastern Seaboard” while Mary Jane’s boyfriend, Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello) tries and fails to get his mack on during the tour. After she teaches him that “no” means “no,” the guide brings them to one of their prized spiders, which is famed for its jumping abilities. Peter attempts to get a picture for the school paper, but is foiled by Flash bumping him from behind. The next spider the guide shows off is one with a super-duper strong web. Peter has the same problem while trying to get this picture, and Harry tells the jocks to leave him alone.

Jock: “Or what?”
Flash: “Or his father’ll fire your father.”

This put-down was apparently so witty that the unnamed jock high fives another unnamed jock instead of the big dick who actually made the put-down. The teacher finally shows up to threaten them with automatic failures should they keep being jerks, and the tour continues with a look at a spider that… well, don’t take my word for it.

Guide: “…reflexes with nerve conduction velocities so fast that some researchers believe it almost borders on precognition. An early awareness of danger. A… ‘spider-sense.’”

Would these be the researchers that say we only use 10% of our brain?
And yeah, you’ve probably already guessed why they’re showing us all these spiders with their nifty little quirks. Harry, however, is interested in one of the lab spiders that seems to have no quirks, for some reason. So Peter lays down a factoid.

Peter: “Some spiders change color to blend into their environment. It’s a defense mechanism.”

A defense mechanism, like how Peter tries to go unnoticed to stay out of trouble. Of course, that means that Peter also gets ignored by his crush. Harry tries to get Peter to finally make some moves, but he won’t. Harry, however, has no such qualms and goes over to try and flirt with her as she looks at an array of spiders.

Mary Jane: “Disgusting.”
Harry: “Yeah. Hateful little things.”
Mary Jane: “I love ‘em.”

Then why don’t you marry one? Oh, because your husband sold that marriage to the devil. Never mind.

With his own repertoire of flirtery failing him, Harry decides to get all Cyrano de Bergerac up in this joint and starts using Peter’s own lines.

Harry: “You know, spiders can change their color… to… blend into their environment.”
Mary Jane: “Really?”
Harry: “Yeah, it’s a… defense mechanism.”
Mary Jane: “Cool.”
Harry: “Yeah.”

"You think this is impressive? Give me a pan and some eggs and you'll see magic happen."
But as all this has been going on, the guide has been continuing her spiel. The gist of it is that they’ve taken DNA from all those earlier spiders and spliced them together to create fifteen super-spiders.

Mary Jane: “There’s fourteen.”

As the guide can only assume the researchers are still working on one of them, the camera pans up to show us that number fifteen has made a nice little home for itself in a corner of the ceiling. Harry, meanwhile, is still using Peter’s discarded thoughts and statements to try and woo Mary Jane, which catches the eye of the teacher. He takes Harry away to teach him how to listen, giving Peter a chance to finally talk to Mary Jane.

Peter: “Hey, uh… Can I take your picture?”

And he chooses the creepiest thing possible to open with. Smooth, Pete.

Peter: “I need one with a student in it.”

For your creepy shrine, right?

She gets a little giggly and steps next to the spider array, getting her hair ready while Peter steps back against a pillar.

Mary Jane: “Don’t make me look ugly.”
Peter: “That’s impossible.”

Here’s a free tip from the NewtCave to Peter Parker and all you people chasing after a certain someone. Perpetually complimenting and worshiping your crush is not how you go about getting them to like you. All things considered, it’s pretty darn creepy if you overdo it. And it can still be creepy when you don’t overdo it.

Honestly, Harry was right. Peter should just walk up to MJ and treat her like a human being by talking about their common interest in spiders. Because lasting relationships are built on mutual respect, not a single person deciding that they must treat their subject of affection like some kind of Babylonian goddess who must be appeased with flattery and sacrifice.

Relationship advice from a comic blog. Who'd have thought?
But speaking of higher powers, it is at this point that the super-spider descends from the ceiling onto Peter’s hand, done with a technique called “dropping an actual spider onto Tobey Maguire’s hand.” As MJ exits the completed photo shoot to catch up to her friends, the little arachnid makes his move.

I made this picture extra large just for you people with arachnophobia. You're welcome.
Peter reacts as you might expect, watching the big ol’ spider crawl away before expressing his mild annoyance at his new injury. The teacher calls Peter over to the rest of the group, and the screen behind him shows a flashy image of the genetic manipulation they’ve been doing in this lab, giving us a final rundown of Peter’s eventual abilities. Of course, the effect is somewhat lessened by two small boogers on the Mona Lisa, as it were.

First of all, I'm pretty sure you can kind of see the camera in the lower left corner. Second of all, “speed” is listed as an attribute twice while “spider-sense” and “pre-cognition” are listed separately, despite being the same thing.

Also, "pre-cognition" isn't supposed to be hyphenated.
We then cut to Norman Osborn’s very own company, Oscorp, where some bald guy is testing some experimental technology.

I'm sure this experiment won't become important.
The glider is being shown off to some military brass as well as a few members of the Oscorp Board of Directors. Norman comes out to greet them, and they get down to brass tacks. Basically, Dubya wants him some super-soldiers running around, and Oscorp hasn’t yet delivered on those experimental performance-enhancing drugs. Norman insists that the rodent trials are incredibly promising, but Dr. Mendel Stromm (Ron Perkins) feels it necessary to bring up the test that went horribly wrong.

Dr. Stromm: “Violence, aggression… and insanity.”

Tell me, doctor. How do you know when a lab rat goes insane?

Question withdrawn.
Norman is confident that they can proceed with human testing, but Dr. Stromm convinces the top General that they need to start from scratch.

General Slocum: “I’m going to be frank with you. I never supported your program.”

A rival company, Quest Aerospace, has been working on an exoskeleton prototype that’s due to be tested in two weeks. Unless Norman can deliver the goods before then, the military will cut Oscorp’s funding and hand it over to the competitors.

Over in Queens, Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson) is working to replace a lightbulb as his wife, May (Rosemary Harris) stands by.

Uncle Ben: “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be Light.’ And voila! There is light.”

Of course, the Lord followed up that verse with “Excelsior,” but he always does that.

Aunt May: “God’ll be thrilled. Just don’t fall on your ass.”

But Ben insists that he is on his ass. He just lost his job, thanks to someone in management deciding it’d be better to lay off as many people as possible and keep the profits. Ben checks the newspaper to see what’s available for him, but it doesn’t go well.

Uncle Ben: “Computer… computer salesman, computer engineer, computer analyst- My Lord, even the computers need analysts these days.”

Hey, don’t make fun. Dr. Susan Calvin does very good work.

Ben insists that he’s too old for computers, and May insists that they’ll get through these tough times together as a family. Speaking of family, Peter comes home. He’s not feeling too well, so he goes straight upstairs to take a nap. When he gets there, he’s doing even worse. He takes off his shirt to show off his digitally-skinnified body and goes to lay down. He completely misses his bed, so he grabs the blanket and curls up with it on the ground as the tour guide’s words about their super-spiders echo through his head.

Pretty much the only Spider-Man meme picture that wasn't ridiculously inappropriate.
Now, there are many ways this movie could have conveyed the idea that Mr. Parker here was becoming some kind of horrible bastardization of science. So they chose to show spiders crawling around on what appear to be Peter’s neurons.

This is not how any of the things work.
The dream sequence is actually mostly recycled footage thanks to the budget. Some of the effects are recycled from the opening titles, some are actually reused from Sam Raimi’s earlier film Darkman, and there’s even a shot from an Italian horror film, of all things.

Back at Oscorp, science of another sort is about to begin. See, Norman Osborn is a comic book scientist on the verge of a major breakthrough who’s about to lose his funding and then the company. Naturally, the only option he deems viable is to test the performance enhancement drugs on himself. Now, you might think that this is an incredibly stupid thing to do. And you would be absolutely right. But there’s actually a surprising number of scientific breakthroughs that were brought into the world through self-experimentation.

Jonas Salk tested the polio vaccine on himself. Werner Forßman sedated the nurse who volunteered to test cardiac catheterization and proceeded to stick his own heart with the catheter and x-ray himself. (Even kicking somebody trying to stop him in the chest.) David Banner developed functional immortality. Barry Marshall infected his stomach to prove that ulcers weren’t caused by stress.

There’s actually an official set of ethical principles for human experimentation called the Declaration of Helsinki. (Which, to be honest, I used to think was the term for when you’ve been a bit of an idiot and gotten your syndromes mixed up.) Generally speaking, you need a buttload of approval for anything before you can experiment on humans. Except for yourself, that’s a bit of a grey area. You can’t unfry things, so once you’ve experimented on yourself, what’s done is done and you can submit the results for peer review.

And as Norman Osborn starts setting up the machinery and chemicals after hours, he completely ignores Dr. Stromm’s protests. Instead, he takes his shirt off and gives some instructions.

Norman Osborn: “Get me the promachloraperazine.”
Mendel Stromm: “For what?”

Seems to me like Dr. Stromm should really know what that is, seeing as how he’s supposed to be one of the guys working on this project.

Norman Osborn: “It begins catalyzation when the vapor hits the bloodstream.”

The closest real-life equivalent Google could get me for “promachloraperazine” is “prochlorperazine,” which may be able to treat schizophrenia and psychosis. Oh, the irony.

Norman says some words for the history books and downs the promachloraperazine like a shot of whiskey before throwing the bottle onto the ground.

"This promachloraperazine. I like it!"
Stromm straps him into the machine and he rides the device into the gas chamber. Norman gives Stromm the signal, and he begins the sequence to flood the chamber with the green vapors of the experimental drug. A bit of trivia for you all, the FX guys couldn’t find any green gasses that wouldn't kill Willem Dafoe, so they used standard mist effects and colored the mist green in post-production. I think about that every time I see green smoke in movies.

As Norman’s heart races, his muscles grow. But with great muscles apparently comes great seizures, and Norman starts violently flailing in his bonds. Stromm shuts off the chamber and rushes in when Norman finally flatlines. He starts trying chest compressions in the wrong rhythm, but Norman comes back to life anyway. He throws Stromm through the glass wall of the gas chamber in retaliation for his earlier comments about starting from scratch and leaps out after him, grinning like a lunatic.

The next day, Peter wakes up on his bedroom floor. He puts his glasses on, but he doesn’t seem to need them anymore. More amazing than that, Peter’s grown muscles overnight. And he didn’t even have to breathe in green smoke to do it. Aunt May knocks on his door and asks if there’s been any change.

Peter: “Change? Yep. Big change.”

I'm not entirely sure I'm comfortable with where he's looking when he says "big change"....
He gets ready for school, taking some time to look through his bedroom window into Mary Jane’s room next door. She’s fully clothed, before you ask. Peter leaps down the stairs, scaring his Uncle Ben half to death, and gets ready to leave without breakfast. Uncle Ben reminds Peter that he promised to help paint the kitchen after school, and Peter promises to be there. He leaves the house at the same time Mary Jane does. The main difference is that Peter isn’t being called trash by MJ’s abusive dad.

She walks to the bus stop, and Peter stands off in the distance, pretending to hold a conversation with her. Before he can stop being creepy and have a real conversation with her, she gets in her friend’s car and rides off. With no Mary Jane at the bus stop, the school bus just keeps right on going as Peter finds himself in the familiar position of having to chase after it. This time, with no MJ to have pity on him, it pulls away, leaving Peter behind with the bus’s school spirit banner stuck to his hand.

Meanwhile, in the Osborn penthouse, Harry finds his dad on the floor with no memory of the previous night. A woman, presumably one who works for Norman, comes in to inform him that they found Dr. Stromm’s dead body this morning in the lab. Not only that, but somebody stole the flight suit and the glider, leaving Oscorp entirely dependent on the human performance enhancement drug to win back their funding.

Later that day, Peter Parker finds himself alone at the lunch table once again. And once again, he eyes Mary Jane from afar. She walks behind him, but Peter somehow senses that things are wrong. Suddenly, she slips on apple juice and falls into Peter’s arms. Her lunch tray went flying in the air, but he manages to catch it and use it to catch each of her falling lunch items one by one.

This was done using a filmmaking technique called "doing it over and over until he finally caught them."
Mary Jane: “Wow! Great reflexes.”

I’d imagine that amazement in her voice is just relief that she doesn’t have to do this shot again.

She takes this moment to remark that she never noticed his blue eyes, and Peter responds with his trademark serial killer stare. Her question as to whether or not he got contacts goes unanswered.

"Um... you okay there?"
"Welp. This is certainly happening."
"Yeah, I'm definitely done with this."
"...She'll make such a lovely suit."
Yeah, it’s about time to mention Tobey Maguire’s acting, isn’t it? I won’t fully critique it until I get to the Review portion, but I will say that his cartoonishly shy, socially hopeless portrayal reminds me less of Peter Parker and more of…

A reference the right people will get.
Peter sits back down, grumpy at himself for not taking the opportunity to actually talk to Mary Jane, and soon notices that his fork is stuck to his wrist. He pulls it off, but a trail of web connects his wrist and his fork. And when he finally gets the fork off, more web shoots from his wrist and snags a tray of food from another table.

Yes, this is the debut of the controversial biological web-shooters. Sam Raimi kept them in the film because he reasoned that Peter Parker logically wouldn't have been able to whip up such a miraculous adhesive so easily. The comics would give Peter biological web-shooters in a second mutation, until they were undone at the end of One More Day alongside Peter's marriage. Was the return of the mechanical web-shooters worth it, people?

In an attempt to get his hand free, he accidentally launches the tray at Flash Thompson. Flash turns around, but Peter’s already fleeing the scene, web, tray, and all. It’s a bit embarrassing for our hero, but not as embarrassing as it would be if his webs came from the same body part as on a spider….

He puts a Band-Aid on his hand to stop any more incidents and heads for his locker. Suddenly, time seems to slow down for him as he becomes incredibly aware of his surroundings. A fly buzzing, a spitball whooshing, and Flash’s fist heading his way with enough force to dent Peter’s locker. Flash tries to break Peter’s face, but Peter instinctively dodges every blow. Finally, he grabs Flash’s hand and knocks him across the hallway into a teacher’s food tray with a single punch.

Jock: “Jesus, Parker, you are a freak.”

Yeah, what kind of monster punches people?

In confusion, embarrassment, and shame, Peter runs out of the school and across town until he ends up in an alleyway. He pieces together what must have happened when he sees a spider building a web in some razor wire. Suddenly, he grows hair on his palms, just like Aunt May probably told him would happen. Well, not “hair” exactly, but tiny barbs that I’d imagine are retractable so he doesn’t make anyone he ever touches start bleeding.

These barbs are the film’s explanation for how Peter can stick to walls. Funnily enough, it was already used in the comics as the explanation for how the Spider-Man of the year 2099 could wall crawl, but not Peter Parker.

Getting an idea, Peter starts trying to climb up the wall. And it works. In his excitement, he rushes to the top of the building and starts leaping across the rooftops until he gets to a gap he knows he can’t cross. Remembering that web he made, he aims his wrist at a crane… and nothing happens. Despite his verbal encouragement.

Peter: “Up, up, and away, web! …Shazam!”

Wrong comic, Peter.

"How do I shot web?"
But he manages to figure out the famous Spider-Man gesture and leaps off the building face first into the one across the street.

Coming up in Part 2! Peter uses his powers for a higher calling. To make money by beating people up.


  1. That line about spiders changing colors actually kinda confused me. Peter never shows that power, so whats even the point of bringing it up?

    1. If I HAD to guess, I'd say maybe it was supposed to be a metaphor to how Peter tries to go unnoticed to escape bullies. Or maybe it was just thrown in there to establish that Peter's a nerd who knows a lot about spiders already.

  2. Am I the only one wondering how Peter shoots web through his glove, especially with organic web-shooters?