Sunday, July 23, 2017

20/20: #7 Rewatch: Spider-Man (2002)

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) this month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days.  My backlog is vast and 7 articles in,  my memory is about as bad as I expected.  Back to some older superheroes]

2002, d. Sam Raimi

The notorious original teaser poster, which
was recalled after 9-11 because of the reflection
of the twin towers in Spidey's mask.

After watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, my 8-year-old daughter expressed her interest in seeing all the previous Spider-Man movies.  While I'm not the biggest Spider-Man fan (as established, repeatedly), she spends a lot of time watching the various Spider-Man cartoons, from the most recent Ultimate Spider-Man, stretching back to Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends from my early childhood.  I used to watch the vintage 60's Spider-Man cartoons (which famed animation director Ralph Bakshi had a hand in) when my daughter was a baby, screaming for whatever reason in the middle of the night.  I would lay on the couch with her on my chest, cradling her, singing lowly along with the theme, or humming along with the monotonous, soothing, ominous soundtrack.  Maybe Spidey got kind of imprinted upon her that way?

Anyway, memories of the Sam Raimi Spidey films haven't been kind. The last time I watched this first one was about five or six years ago when I came across it on a midday television airing.  It was during the 4th of July sequence (is that what they were celebrating?  I think so) just after the Macy Gray concert, where there's big parade balloons and a massive crowd gathering, and Spider-Man has to square off against the Green Goblin.  Everything looked so fake.  The crumbling balcony was so obviously a staged set, the CGI of Spider-Man swinging and the Goblin Glider flying was so hyperanimated, and the on-the-ground fighting exposed the garishness of both that era's Spider-Man costume (with raised silver webs, for some reason) and the Green Goblin's shimmering shamrock-coloured suit.  It didn't look good, and I've held that against it for years.

What I realized upon re-watch is that it is garish, and fakey, but where out of context it seems like flaws in the production and design of the movie, taken in context with the rest of the film, it plays rather well.  The whole production is vintage Raimi, it is the product of his influences.  He wasn't interested in making a Spider-Man movie for the children of the year 2000.  No, instead Raimi was making a Spider-Man movie for the little Sam Raimi who would have read Spider-Man comics in the late 1960's and early 70's and seen the old Grantray-Lawrence Animation Spider-Man cartoons.  In that regard it's a fairly faithful recreation.

Raimi loves pulp, he likes things broad and large.  He's earnest enough to avoid camp, but never too serious as to get too heavy.  His style, especially for Spider-Man is what people would have then referred to as "comic booky".  Melodramatic to the Nth degree, chock-a-block full of hoary old tropes, and playing with practical physical effects, wherever possible, no matter how corny they may look.  In fact, at times, Raimi just fully embraces that corniness, using his vast arsenal of camera techniques to mask pr distract from any major flaws.

What I marveled (no pun intended) most about Spider-Man this time around was how unique it felt, even compared to Homecoming.  It's Raimi's skilled tracking lens, his penchant for following a character from behind or in front and swooping the camera, twisting and turning the lens along with the figure as it moves... he used this to tremendous effect in the Evil Dead  franchise, but he finds a natural home for it here, creating a dynamic visual style for Spider-Man's nimble movement, both swinging and wall-crawling, that honestly is 10 times more exciting than anything in a comic book movie since (strictly speaking about camera work here...the action sequences are decent, but very pulpy and have definitely been surpassed).

Overall, there's just a retro cinematic tone to Raimi's Spider-Man, one which I never clued into before, almost as if it were for a 1940's nickelodeon matinee.  Now that we have the note-perfect Marvel Universe Spidey, and we've had the overstuffed, overserious Andrew Garfield Spidey, I'm able to move past what I normally want out of a comic book movie and to see just how well crafted this one actually is.

And that upside down kissing scene in the rain...still so damn sexy.  Still not a favourite movie, but I definitely appreciate it more now than ever before.