Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons
MPAA Rating: (for stylized violence and action)
Running Time: 2:01
Release Date: 5/3/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
What could possibly drive someone to want to dress up in a costume and run around New York City fighting crime? Someone should write a book about the psychology of grown men in latex, but until then, Spider-Man does an effective job of developing its central character, the famous web-slinger of the Marvel comic book universe. The movie is straightforward without a hint of irony but also manages to never take itself too seriously by having some mildly campy fun in process. Itís the right approach for this comic book adaptation, and director Sam Raimi joins the likes of Tim Burton and Alex Proyas by finding the perfect tone and style to capture the spirit of the material. But unlike the first two Batman movies and The Crow, Spider-Man isnít about dark, gothic cityscapes or revenge fantasies; itís about an insecure young man who finds himself gifted with abilities beyond imagination and through forces of fate learns a lesson in responsibility and justice.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is the typical high school nerd. Heís into science and photography, is teased and pushed around by bullies, and has loved Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) from afar since the day she moved in next door to him. He lives with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and has only one friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), the privileged son of corporate president Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). One day on a field trip to a science museum, Parker is bitten by a mutated spider. He passes out when he comes home that day and, when he wakes up in the morning, discovers many interesting changes. His vision is corrected. He has developed actual muscle tone. Even stranger, he can detect danger, climb walls, and shoot webbing from his wrists. As he discovers these skills, he decides that they can be useful for fulfilling his own needs, but after a tragedy hits his family, he becomes determined to use them to fight crime and protect the innocent.
The first act is the most effective section of the movie. In this segment, Raimi and writer David Koepp take their time in establishing Peter and his relationships with his family and friends. Once Peter is bitten and begins transforming, the scenes where he discovers his abilities have a sense of wonderment (such as a scene where he leaps across a series of buildings) and humor (such as the payoff to this scene in which he first tries to swing with his web). Maguire is wholly effective in the role, mixing his quiet, subdued screen persona with a newfound physicality. An entire film could be made of the Spider-Manís origins, but as soon as Peter makes the decision to fight crime, the super villain of the movie comes into play. At this point, Peter seems to have made an incredibly fast advancement in his skills, and heís essentially mastered all of the techniques he will ever need in a relatively short period of time. From here on out, the movie feels rushed. Perhaps itís to quell the need for a big conflict, but the introduction of Osbornís alter ego the Green Goblin is cut too short, which is a shame since Dafoe does such a good job with the little material he is given. The conflict is lessened as a result.
The action sequences use CGI effects to great success, but they also have an odd reverse effect on the scenes deprived of computer enhancement. Spider-Manís gravity-defying abilities are displayed to their full extent with impressive and, for the most part, seamless effects. A few scenes indulge in having the camera fly along with our hero as he makes his way through skyscrapers, and they are remarkable to watch. These sequences work because of the computer animation, which allows for the freedom of motion, however, it is used so often, we get used to the computer-generated Spider-Man. When Maguire or stuntman appears in the costume, something is actually lost. Some dialogue scenes between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are awkward because of the costuming. For once, special effects are the best way to capture a character, and when theyíre absent, theyíre missed.
Even with its flaws, Spider-Man is well made and entertaining. I appreciated the extent to which these characters and their relationships are developed. You can tell the movie was made by people who enjoy the source material and have no fear of making it known. There will most definitely be future installments, and hopefully, having covered the main introduction here, they will allow for more growth in their respective characters and stories. Either way, this is a solid starting point.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.