Casting is one of the great secrets of movie success (the other is music). When I heard that Willem Dafoe would be playing the villain in Spider-Man, I said, "It must be the Green Goblin." When I learned that Alfred Molina would be playing the villain in Spider-Man II, I said, "It's got to be Doctor Octopus." And when I found out that Thomas Haden Church would be a villain in Spider-Man III, I said, "That would be Sandman." Anyone familiar with the faces of the comic book characters and those of the actors involved would have said the same. All the Marvel actors playing Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Toby McGuire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland) are brilliant, in my opinion--all different and yet all have captured Peter Parker's innocent, nerdy heroism.
It's hard to overstate the importance of Spider-Man in the history of Marvel Comics and of the movies made of those stories. The character first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (which is why he is so often called The Amazing Spider-Man) written by Stan Lee and drawn by both Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. He was born with pretty much all off his accoutrements: the skinny awkward kid with glasses, the radioactive spider-bite, wall-crawling, Uncle Ben and Aunt May. I owned this issue for a few weeks in 1964, but put it back in the closet where I had found it when I moved out of my apartment. That was not the smartest move of my career, but I seriously doubt it would have survived the Sixties and Seventies in my possession. In that first issue, incidentally, Spidey was referred to as both Spiderman and Spider Man; Marvel now calls him Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi, having cut his teeth on the Evil Dead and Darkman movies, brings his horror-movie sensibilities, and Danny Elfman's driving music, to the Marvel Universe. High school science nerd Peter Parker (Tobey McGuire) is in love with school hottie Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She feels protective of him, but everybody else despises and picks on him, except his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of wealthy military industrialist Norman Osborn. Peter's parents are dead and he lives with Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson). On a science-trip he is bitten by a radioactive cross-bred spider and gradually develops all the creature's attributes; improved sight and hearing, great strength, lightning reflexes, the Spidey Sense, the ability to stick to walls and shoot webs of out his wrists. Who knew? In the comics, incidentally, web-shooting was not the result of the spider-bite, but of a device that science student Peter Parker invented. I guess the writers thought the former was too far-fetched, and the latter more plausible, but now the situation is the reverse; we used to think of technology as akin to magic, and now we think of genetics that way.
Meanwhile, Osborn is developing a flying machine (something like the one which we have seen recently on the News) with super-weapons, but the Military threatens to withdraw his funding unless he moves faster. Experimenting on himself, he becomes the murderously insane Green Goblin.
Peter decides to make money to buy a car to impress M.J. by becoming a costumed wrestler. whom the ring announcer (Bruce Campbell) calls Spider-Man. Angry at being short-changed by the promoter, Peter allows a robber to escape, who then kills Uncle Ben in a car-jacking. An hour earlier Ben had told him, "With great power comes great responsibility," which becomes the mantra of all Spiderman stories. So it begins.
Even as a superhero, Spidey can't catch a break. He is hounded by the police and newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) who is said to be based on Stan Lee himself. The police and half the public think he's a criminal. He's kind of a Muggle Harry Potter. Through half a dozen comic-book titles over half a century and in nearly a dozen movies he has remained the misunderstood and put-upon hero, hated by the authorities and loved by the people in the best tradition of The Shadow and Zorro and right back to The Scarlet Pimpernel. Marvel has largely abandoned the secret identity, but it remains powerful in what may be Stan Lee's best-loved character.
The movie garnered a number of nominations and awards, mostly for special effects, and won the MTV Movie Award of 2003 for Best Kiss, in which Spiderman was hanging upside-down in the pouring rain and Mary Jane's nipples were prominent under her soaking wet dress.