Worth A Look: 21.77%
Just Average: 12.62%
Pretty Crappy: 7.26%
8 reviews, 269 user ratings
by MP Bartley
Ah, the age old debate about translating superheroes to screen. Do you go for the dark, gothic transformation of Burton's Batman or camp it up like Schumacher's Batman? Do you aim it squarely at the fanboys or make it accessible to everyone at the risk of alienating the hardcore fanbase?...well if 'Spider-Man' can be be related to any other superhero flick, its Bryan Singers 'X-Men' which remained faithful to the source, kept it open for the general Joe Public to get into, and more importantly actually developed the story and characters for sequels instead of throwing everything into the pot at once.
"A Good Start"
It's the way that Sam Raimi has taken with his adaption of Marvel Comics wallcrawler, delivering a cracking slice of summer entertainment to satsify the fans and anyone with just a passing interest in men who have the abilities of insects. And you know who you are.
Being as this will probably be about,ooh, at least the hundreth review of 'Spider-Man' I'll skip the plot details. Suffice to say that Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops superpowers roundabout the same time that scientist Norman Osbourne overdoses on a military enhancing gas, unleashing the dark side of his personality, The Green Goblin, on an unsuspecting New York.
If anything, 'Spider-Man' feels like the first part of a franchise more than anything else. The duels he has with The Goblin come off as being almost incidental compared to Peters reactions to his new found powers. Raimi, and scriptwriter David Koepp, never over-egg the film by giving the Goblin a masterplan to destroy the city. He's evil, he wants to wreak havoc, and more importantly he wants to destroy Spider-Man by attacking those close to him. It's a simple premise fluidly used to bring up the tension of Parker struggling to develop his powers just at the time he needs them most.
I'm always cynical when directors claim they want to really tell a characters story in superhero, when they blantantly want to fill the screen up with as many special effects as possible, but for once they're right. We're not talking a glimpse into the dark morbidity of the soul, but we are talking about characters and realistic (well as realistic as possible in a film about a spider-man) emotions and reactions.
For instance, Parker doesn't immediately decide to use his powers to fight crime. He does what anyone of us would do and have fun with them, be it swinging gleefully through the city or making money at a wrestling tournament (great Bruce Campbell cameo by the way). It's only when Parker's bad judgement results in personal tragedy that he actually decides to take on crime, even if half the city are still convinced he's a menace.
Tobey Maguire proves to be an inspired choice as the hero. Maguire's a great actor, so when the script calls for emotional depth and sincerity he shows it and gets the audience onto his side. Just watch his face when he first sets out for vengeance and then realises his bad judgement has cost him dearly. It's more than convincing, and helps ground the concept effortlessly. The idea of Spider-man having to struggle between his identities of gawky teenager and superhero is a difficult one, but Maguire pulls it off effortlessly. There's a lack of Spideys trademark one liners, but I have a feeling they're being saved up.
Willem Dafoe also has enormous fun as the Green Goblin spitting out his lines with relish. It's a shame therefore that he's stuck behind a mask that looks like it came out of a cracker at Christmas. Anyone ever wonder what's happened to the Power Rangers? Well, they stuck a pair of horns on them and gave their headpiece to Dafoe. Aside from this, Dafoe is a strong villain and works well against Maguires naivety, particularly in their last bruising encounter.
Unfortunately, because the film is more concerned with setting Spider-man up, everyone else gets relegated to the background. Save for a few scenes, Kirsten Dunst has a largely thankless role. The few scenes she does share with Maguire are hugely effective however.
But the one over-riding impression you'll take away is of Raimi's dazzling direction. Some of the swoops and glides through the city leave you breathless and giddy with their pace. Some of the CG is horribly obvious in places, but cut the guy some slack. Intelligence, characters and story which are usually the poor relations at summer blockbusters are all well served here. Raimi gives us both excitement and sets everything up neatly for at least one good sequel where I'm guessing Spider-Man can really take off.
Raimi also harks back to some of his favourite directorial tics with a telling and chilling scene of a conversation between Defoe as Osbourne and as the Goblin held in a mirror. And the potentially silly way of Parker designing his costume is excellently realised through a great use of montage. Raimi is in full control here, and never lets the background material over-run his story.
'Spider-Man' is that rare breed of summer blockbuster. It has a sense of maturity mixed in with it's commitment to fun, and if it does lack a particularly huge climax (and it does. As I said earlier there's no major plot to destroy the city, and the final showdown is relatively low-key for a superhero film) the time taken to make the audience invest in the characters more than makes up for it.'Spider-Man' feels like a franchise about to stretch its legs. It'll be a crying shame if it doesn't run and run.
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originally posted: 06/13/02 11:02:46
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