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 Watson (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!
©2002 by Dustin Putman