Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man, released in 2002, changed not just the superhero film genre but blockbuster cinema in general. It was the first full-fledged superhero film, with no compromises in terms of visual effects and the faithful way the character was adapted from the comic-books to the screen.
Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire in the lead role, was also the harbinger for current times in cinema, when the superhero genre has become so utterly dominant. Spider-Man was the springboard that launched future Marvel films, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Spider-Man, also starring Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, and Rosemary Harris, was loved by critics and audiences alike and broke several box office records.
Directed by Sam Raimi, then known for the Evil Dead films, Spider-Man told the origin story of one of the most popular comic-book characters in the world. Headline by an earnest Maguire, the film had its titular character being bitten by a genetically engineered spider that gives him superpowers like superhuman strength, the ability to shoot webs, that, unlike in comics, came from his own wrist and not from a gadget, and swing.
The film felt sincere and innocent. It also had the perfect balance of humour and darkness. It is not a coincidence that MCU’s Spider-Man, starring Tom Holland, skipped the character’s origin story altogether. It was because Spider-Man had done it so well. It would have felt redundant.
The development of Spider-Man relates to the first-ever modern superhero film: Richard Donner’s Superman released in 1978. After the film’s success, the franchise had devolved by the time 1983’s Superman III released. Thus, the studios were less keen to shell out millions of dollars on a project that might bomb.
It was in 1985 that the idea of a Spider-Man movie originated. The film rights of the character changed hands several times and the project remained stuck in development hell. Columbia Pictures (Sony’s film production studio arm) ended up with the rights in 2000. Directors like James Cameron, Roland Emmerich, Tony Scott, Chris Columbus, Ang Lee, David Fincher, Jan de Bont and M Night Shyamalan were considered.
Finally, Sam Raimi became involved. The filmmaker had been a fan of the character when he was young and it was his passion that earned him the job.
The biggest challenge with the film was replicating the swing — the way Spidey manoeuvres between buildings using his web. Visual effects supervisor John Dykstra convinced Raimi, a firm proponent of traditional visual effects, to employ the use of computer-generated visual effects. Raimi described the motion as “ballet in the sky”. The difficulties in these scenes inflated the budget from 70 million dollars to 100 million dollars. Complicating things was the different colours of Spidey and Green Goblin. Spidey scenes were shot in greenscreen and Green Goblin had to be shot in bluescreen.
Since Spider-Man’s whole body was covered in a tight suit, including eyes and mouth, there had to be a lot of body language to evoke emotion and character. Raimi had envisioned the character as being “the transition that occurs between him being a young man going through puberty and being a superhero.”
Spider-Man received highly positive reviews, scoring 90 per cent at Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus read, “A breezily unpredictable blend of teen romance and superhero action, Spider-Man: Far from Home stylishly sets the stage for the next era of the MCU.”
On a 139 million dollar budget, it grossed 821.70 million dollars. It became the highest-grossing superhero film of all time at the time of its release, both domestically and globally.
But more than its earnings, it changed the superhero cinema landscape. It gave the studios courage to greenlight ambitious scripts and visual effect-driven sequences and the execs began to put more trust into the genre seeing that the audiences’ favourable reaction. Spider-Man may not be the sole reason for the resurgence of the superhero genre, it is certainly a big one.
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