The superhero movie Marvel can’t match

Whole articles could be dedicated to the MTV Award-winning upside-down kiss between Maguire and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane, but in short, it’s both iconic and embodies the film’s old-school romanticism: it’s notable too that Parker’s narration is as much focused on Mary Jane as the life he leads as Spider-Man. In Raimi’s conception, this Mary Jane (stepping into the shoes of canonical first girlfriend Gwen Stacy, whom Dunst initially thought she was being cast for), is a simpler, more down-to-earth take on her character in the comic books: the archetypal girl next door, but also someone with insecurities, familial struggles and financial problems of her own unfolding on screen.

Mary Jane is also something like the Lois Lane to Spider-Man’s Superman – someone who as the result of constantly being in harm’s way, begins a romantic relationship with the mysterious symbol before the man himself, again furthering the estrangement Peter feels between these two parts of his life. That tension between his two selves, the timid geek and the Amazing Spider-Man, the lovelorn teenager and action hero, his growing pains and that oft-mentioned responsibility, all lead into one of the most impressively miserable blockbuster endings of its time – one where even when the hero saves the day, he loses still. For while Mary Jane declares her love for Parker, he feels forced to reject her in order to keep her safe from his perilous double-life, that she still doesn’t know about. It’s an ending that is quintessential Spider-Man, and also rounds off the film in a way that allows it, crucially, to stand on its own – something that feels particularly rare when nowadays seemingly every superhero flick requires homework, and has to have end-credit cameos from characters trailing other movies to come.

A heady mix of genres

Above all, it’s Raimi’s deft handling of various genres and tones that makes the film such a rich tapestry. Empire’s associate editor Amon Warmann agrees: “my favourite superhero movies are often the ones which have an excellent tonal balance, and Spider-Man achieves that masterfully,” he says. “There’s a lot of funny humour and purely entertaining heroics, but when the film gets serious, those moments hit hard too.”

Indeed, there are so many disparate elements to Spider-Man that shouldn’t make sense when blended together, but somehow work perfectly: Raimi’s aforementioned horror roots revealing themselves following Peter’s fateful radioactive spider-bite feels like a huge contrast to the absurd comedy of the appearance of wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage as “Bonesaw McGraw” in the formative cage-match that solidifies Spider-Man’s identity. As Hunt says: “Raimi was the one director who really understood that Spider-Man is simultaneously a romance, a comedy, a horror, a sci-fi and an action franchise, and he shot it like it was all of those things with a coherence we’ve not seen since”.

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