After a dozen or so years of fantastically bitter legal wrangling, Spider-Man has finally crawled to the big screen. For the uninitiated (and even for those of us who grew up with the comics but can't remember all the details), Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is the whipping boy of his New York high school. He's got a crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and his best friend Harry (James Franco) is the son of the local millionaire/scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe).
But Parker turns from geek to freak when he is bitten by a genetically-engineered (no longer "radioactive") spider and soon develops super powers -- the ability to climb sheer walls, superhuman strength, incredible speed, a kind of sixth sense, and those famous webs that spring from his wrists.
What follows is typical of the superhero genre film, as Dafoe's Osborn turns villainous by experimenting on himself with some kind of superhuman concoction. He dons a plastic suit and climbs aboard a strange one-man jet-glider, then is nicknamed the Green Goblin as he kills off his enemies and disturbs the peace. Will Spider-Man vanquish the villain? Will he get the girl?
Directed by Sam Raimi, of such films as The Evil Dead and A Simple Plan, Spider-Man is an inventive and fun action flick. It's somewhat mindless, but it has a certain wry, Raimi sensibility that fans of his will recognize and enjoy. Then again, I was surprised by the number of walkouts during our screening; maybe Raimi's sense of humor doesn't translate to everyone.
The best moments of the film are at the beginning, when Peter Parker gets his famous spider bite, as he comes to terms with his newfound powers, and as he decides to "use his powers for good." The scenes where he tries to figure out how his new webs work and the debut of his spider costume (in an amateur wrestling ring) are priceless -- and are fabulously appropriate updates to what has become a pretty dated superhero story.
The photography is astounding (even though most of the effects are CGI, they're really good CGI). We get to ride along on Spidey's web rides, and it feels like we too are perched on the side of the Empire State Building. And I only caught one goof, when Dunst's hair blows into the wind as she and Spidey are swinging through the streets.
Also of note: Considering Raimi's past work, it's not surprising how funny Spider-Man can be. With mildly naughty (yet still PG-13) lines, even the most mundane moments are made a little bit comedic. Frankly it's the best comedy I've seen all year, and it's way better than the straightforward and pedantic X-Men.
The only downside is the bad guy. The Green Goblin is one of the lamest villains ever to appear in the movies. His green suit is ridiculous and comical, and Dafoe's many monologues, delivered through a black piece of fabric that covers his gaping mouth, are hard to listen to because his character is just so stupid. (Unfortunately, pretty much all of Spider-Man's foes are lame, including such characters as "Lizard" and "Beetle.")
What's the upshot? My Spidey sense says that Raimi will finally hit the A-list, Maguire will get some new respect, and this film is gonna make a whole lot of money.
Of course, it's gonna make even more money on DVD, an extremely impressive two-disc set. Disc one has two commentaries and a pop-up Spidey feature filled with fun facts. Disc two has even more fun stuff, including selected covers and storylines from the comic books, tons of background info on the comic -- including a villain and love interest gallery, plus outtakes and screen tests. There's even a freakin' video game for your PC. This DVD rocks!
Spider-Man, I love you!!!
Run time: 121 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd May 2002
Box Office Worldwide: $806M
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures, Marvel Entertainment, LLC, Laura Ziskin Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriter: David Koepp
Starring: Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man / Peter Parker, Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin / Norman Osborn, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, James Franco as Harry Osborn, Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Joe Manganiello as Flash Thompson, Gerry Becker as Maximilian Fargas, Rosemary Harris as May Parker, Bill Nunn as Joseph 'Robbie' Robertson, Bruce Campbell as Ring Announcer, Stanley Anderson as General Slocum, Ron Perkins as Dr. Mendell Stromm, Michael Papajohn as Carjacker, K. K. Dodds as Simkins, Jack Betts as Henry Balkan, Elizabeth Banks as Miss Brant, Shan Omar Huey as Teacher, Lucy Lawless as Punk Rock Girl, Robert Kerman as Tugboat Captain, Ted Raimi as Hoffman, John Paxton as Houseman, Octavia Spencer as Check-In Girl, Randy Savage as Bone Saw McGraw, Jayce Bartok as Subway Guitarist, Sara Ramirez as Cop at Carjacking, Una Damon as Lab Tour Guide, Stan Lee as Man in Fair
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