Director Sam Raimi (2000's "The Gift"), an avid fan of the Marvel
comic book, "Spider-Man," has been attempting to get a big-screen
adaptation off the ground for quite some time. The fact that he loves
the comic so much shines through for every second of the finished
product. A dazzling show-stopper that is not only thrilling on a visceral
level, but also never loses sight of its affectionately written characters,
"Spider-Man," for my money, is better than any of the "Batman" movies ever were.
The feature film stays mostly truthful to its source material, all
the while staging the origins of how Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire),
an unpopular high school senior, came to become a crime-fighting superhero.
While on a class field trip to a lab at Columbia University, Peter
is bitten by a genetically altered spider. When he awakens the next
day, he is shocked to discover that he not only doesn't need his glasses
any more, but has grown muscles and a strong physique. He also has
slits in both of his wrists that shoot webs from them.
Making a decision to use his new strength and spider senses to help
humanity, he starts donning his trademark blue and red suit and setting
out into New York City to help fight crime. With the tabloid papers
all abuzz over the mysterious Spider-Man, he is exploitatively labeled
either a "hero" or a "menace." While Peter starts a friendship with
his secret life-long love, Mary Jane Parker (Kirsten Dunst), she in
turn starts falling for Spider-Man, who has come to her rescue twice.
Meanwhile, wealthy, hot-shot scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe),
the father of Peter's best friend, Harry (James Franco), sets up a
scientific experiment that leaves him both physically powerful and
mentally unstable. Flying around on a jet-propelled glider and wearing
a metallic goblin costume, Norman starts wreaking havoc on the city,
and is named The Green Goblin. He becomes Spider-Man biggest arch-nemesis,
unbeknownst to either party who the other man behind the suit really is.
As the motion picture to start off the summer movie season, one couldn't
ask for a better jumping-off point than "Spider-Man." Simply put,
the film has everything one could hope for in a big-budget extravaganza,
from edge-of-your-seat action set-pieces, to memorable characters,
to heartfelt romance, to thoroughly convincing special effects, to
an entertaining storyline.
The first hour of "Spider-Man" at first paints a realistic portrait
of a teenager who is either ignored or bullied by his classmates,
and then, in great detail, presents Peter's discovery of his newfound
abilities. That Peter is likably developed as a character and we witness
from the beginning his gradual metamorphosis into Spider-Man aids
significantly in establishing what will undoubtedly become a hugely
popular feature film franchise.
The second half, in which Peter puts Spider-Man into motion, is an
action-packed spectacle with a series of remarkably executed and suspenseful
sequences, particularly one set in Times Square, and the other atop
a bridge. The battle that arises between Spider-Man and The Green
Goblin is all the more cleverly involving because neither Peter nor
Norman realizes whom the other's true identity really is.
Any premature trepidation concerning whether Tobey Maguire (2000's
"Wonder Boys") is the right person to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man
is dispelled from the moment he shows up onscreen. Maguire is fabulous,
portraying his role as someone who can easily be identified with,
and who is an inherently good person worth rooting for. Every ounce
of his heart and soul has obviously been put into "Spider-Man," and
Maguire should be applauded for his noteworthy performance.
As the troubled, beautiful object of Peter's affection, Mary Jane
Watson, the wholly talented Kirsten Dunst (2001's "crazy/beautiful")
is perfectly cast. Dunst refuses to just be "the love interest," getting
the chance to develop Mary Jane beyond one-dimensionality. The bond
that slowly forms between herself and Peter is, perhaps, the strongest
aspect of a tightly wound screenplay, written by David Koepp (2002's "Panic Room").
As the arrogant Norman Osborn and maniacal Green Goblin, Willem Dafoe
(2000's "Shadow of the Vampire") makes for the most indelible comic
book villain to grace the silver screen since Michelle Pfeiffer's
Catwoman in 1992's "Batman Returns." Dafoe avoids predictable overacting,
yet is vibrant and threatening enough that he manages to still stand
out. As Peter's friend, Harry, James Franco (2000's "Whatever It Takes")
gets the job done, but never reaches the lofty heights of his co-stars.
With yet another atmospheric music score from composer Danny Elfman
(2001's "Planet of the Apes") and a sparkling opening credits sequences
that sets the page for what is to come, "Spider-Man" does not disappoint.
Exciting, fast-paced, and even emotionally rewarding without wading
in sappiness, the film is an achievement likely to give "Star Wars:
Episode II--Attack of the Clones" a run for its money. The powerful
last scene, set in a cemetery between Peter and Mary Jane, is the
type of subtle, open-ended finale that sets up the inevitable sequel,
all the while leaving you craving for more. At the risk of sounding
trite, "Spider-Man" truly rocks!
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman