With Spider-Man: Homecoming opening this weekend and earning $117 million in theaters, the friendly neighborhood web-slinger is once again the blockbuster box office hero that Sony and Marvel dreamed he could be. The quality and success of the film has led to some discussion as to whether or not it’s the best Spider-Man movie ever made, even better than Sam Raimi’s original Spidey films in 2002 and 2004.
So it’s natural to go back and revisit those films, make comparisons and put together your own personal Spider-Man movie rankings. But while rewatching the earlier Spider-Man movies, it might also be instinctual to highlight what didn’t work in those previous attempts and would surely be improved with better special effects, digital imagery, and a greater acceptance from the audience of comic book superhero storylines and tropes.
One thing about the original Spider-Man movie that most people never really liked was the costume design for the Green Goblin, Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis. Not only was the Goblin’s outfit colored a monochromatic green that didn’t really pop on screen (though the story explained that it was a prototype flight suit), but actor Willem Dafoe was stuck behind a hard mask that didn’t move.
There was no opportunity for Dafoe’s expressions to be shown, other than through eye holes that opened when the mask’s lenses raised. Most of Dafoe’s acting had to be done through his body movements and the angle of his head when he was speaking. (The eyes helped with that at times.) For a performer as talented and expressive as Dafoe, being stuck behind that mask seemed like a missed opportunity for Spider-Man and an unfortunate departure from the comic book source material.
(Granted, Tobey Maguire’s expressions couldn’t be seen behind Spider-Man’s full face mask either, but that’s how the character’s mask has always been. Interestingly, Marvel solved that problem for Homecoming by putting shutter-like lenses in the mask that could emulate various expressions like surprise, determination, suspicion, etc. To be fair, the CGI used to animate that effect wasn’t as advanced in 2002, and the stationary lenses were used in the subsequent four Spider-Man films.)
But the original Spider-Man production did flirt with the idea of the Green Goblin wearing an expressive skin-like mask that looked much closer to the comic book version of the character. Animatronics would have created most of the movement in the face, especially for the eyebrows and cheekbones, while the actor under the mask could apparently have provided most of the movement for the mouth.
The screen test videos for the unused Goblin mask have been available online for a few years now, thanks to Amalgamated Dynamics, the company that created the animatronic face piece. The Hollywood Reporter revisited the videos in accordance with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming to remind readers and fans of what could have been in Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie.
Based on the test videos, that Goblin mask looks spectacular and it’s a big surprise that Raimi opted not to use it in his film. As one of the crew says at the end of the video, the movements of the mask and the expressions it can make look truly creepy. Green Goblin could have been a truly scary villain, rather than a somewhat cartoonish adversary, in the first Spider-Man. Maybe too much so, which could have been a consideration for the filmmakers.
The animatronic mask undoubtedly looked impressive and scary, and surely would have added a great deal to the scenes involving the Goblin — especially when he’s interacting with Spider-Man. However, as THR‘s Ryan Parker points out in his article, all of those moving pieces in the mask required a heavy shoulder rig that would have been uncomfortable for an actor to wear, in addition to taking quite some time to put on. That may have been more trouble than Raimi wanted to deal with on set, not just for the sake of his actor, but for the amount of time the crew would have to wait while the rig and costuming was set up.
As it turns out, Raimi decided not to use the animatronic mask even before Dafoe was cast as the Green Goblin. But this test footage shows what could have been, and it’s a bit disappointing we didn’t get to see it on screen.
We’ve seen the Green Goblin twice in the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-Man movies now. The Dane DeHaan version in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was absolutely worse, with no mask at all, just some questionable make-up and hair. (Well, maybe there have been three Goblins if you count whatever James Franco was supposed to be in Spider-Man 3.) He’s been a difficult character to portray in love action, likely because of that mask.
There doesn’t appear to be any interest from Marvel in revisiting the villain yet again. Not when there are so many great bad guys to choose from among Spider-Man’s comic book foes. Plus, the Goblin and alter ego Norman Osborn might take the story down a darker path than Marvel might be interested in with Tom Holland’s version of Spidey. But it would be fun to see Marvel’s take on the character. With advances in digital effects, the mask likely wouldn’t be a problem anymore either. Just as we’ve now seen the best portrayal of Spider-Man on screen. maybe we’ll someday get the best Green Goblin the movies can offer.