Sometime around April 30, 2002, I saw the future. Clearly.
That was over 15 years ago now. And I believe my psychic abilities peak at somewhere near 0%. Nevertheless, I accurately predicted the future on that day (or perhaps a few days later).
That was the day the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, came out in the movie theaters. I know I saw this movie with Sharon, who was already the great love of my life but not my wife yet. And I know we saw it in Memphis, Tennessee, where we were living at the time in a gated apartment community with streets named after golfing terms (we lived on Niblick, as I recall, which is a club with a heavy, lofted head such as a nine-iron. But, I digress—).
The plot of the movie was nothing new, even then. It was the Spider-Man origin story, familiar to nearly anyone who ever picked up a Marvel comic book or watched the 1960s cartoon with that catchy theme song. Willem Dafoe was a great Norman Osborn, but his Green Goblin wasn’t quite right. Maybe a decent villain, but not the Green Goblin from the comic books. But, aside from that minor fact, this was the first movie I ever saw that managed to genuinely capture the look and feel of the comic books on film.
There were other superhero movies before this one. I liked the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, at least the first two, and even the Tim Burton Batman movies had some merit. The movie Spawn was okay, but didn’t quite capture the Todd MacFarlane/Image Comics version of the character. There were other movies based on comic book properties, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tank Girl, Judge Dredd, and The Crow, that were also just okay to me; I had never read the comics they were based on , I might add, but they didn’t really feel like comic books to me.
The first X-Men movie came out a couple of years before Spider-Man. While it was a great movie in its own right, it wasn’t quite like the comic book version of the X-Men. Patrick Stewart was the perfect Charles Xavier, and Hugh Jackman won me over, even though he was much too tall for the role. The special effects in the movie blew me away, as well, giving me a glimpse of what was possible and would become commonplace over the next decade-and-a-half. But, it still wasn’t the Claremont-Byrne X-Men that I devoured in the 1980s.
Two movies that did have a lot of that comic book feeling were Robocop and Darkman, but they were original ideas that never had comic books until after the movies. Robocop has the Frank Miller connection, of course. And, Darkman? Directed by Sam Raimi. And that’s the Spider-Man connection.
Sam Raimi grew up on comic books. That’s obvious in his visual storytelling style. Darkman was a perfect celluloid comic book. And, when Raimi helmed Spider-Man he demonstrated a respect for the source material. To me, his Spider-Man looked and moved the way that Spider-Man should. I even liked Maguire’s Peter Parker.
Until the Raimi film came out, our live-action experience with Spider-Man had been on PBS’s The Electric Company or CBS’s short-lived television program starring Nicholas Hammond. Neither version was like the comic book. Just as Bill Bixby’s version of The Hulk was nothing like his comic. It was the best we could get at the time, though, and we ate it up. I recall TV versions of Thor and Captain America as well.
Spider-Man kicked off a new era in superhero movies. It’s not the official start of the MCU, which wouldn’t launch until six years later with the release of Iron Man. But, for me, it was a watershed moment in the history of comic book films. It was the movie that helped make the MCU possible.
And on that day, on or around April 30, 2002, I knew that I would one day see The Avengers and Iron Man and Doctor Strange up on the big screen, looking the way they always looked in my mind when I read the comics. Special effects had finally caught up with our imaginations.