Worth A Look: 21.77%
Just Average: 12.62%
Pretty Crappy: 7.26%
8 reviews, 269 user ratings
by Scott Weinberg
Forget the hype, as no amount of heavy saturation TV ads and billboards will stand the test of time like a good movie will. And while it may not be a perfect film, Spider-Man easily earns its spot among the superhero elite.Ignore the semi-controversial "alterations" made in the transition from comic book to silver screen. Better to introduce some logical changes than adopt a slavish commitment to the source material. Adaptations succeed, in large part, due to the filmmakers attempts at reshaping a legend, not photocopying it.
"Joins the original Superman in the Comic Book Flick Hall of Fame."
Dismiss the tempting trap of comparing this one to other comic-book flicks. Superman, Batman and X-Men are all all damn fine pieces of entertainment, but I doubt anyone would say that these three films are exactly similar in style or tone.
Judged on its own, divorced from source material and separated from its inevitable sequels:
Spider-Man is a great movie.
The plot covers the genesis of our favorite wall-crawler, and those weaned on the old-time Spidey comics will be glad to see the essential plot points all present and accounted for.
Peter Parker is a sweet and smart, yet socially inept, high school student who carries a very large torch for his beautiful "girl next door", Mary Jane Weston. Pete lives with his lovable Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and is the epitome of all things milquetoast. Aside from his superior intellect, Pete's kind of a loser.
As is often the case in adolescent males, Peter starts to experience strange and somewhat satisfying changes in his physiology. No, this is not the onset of late-stage puberty, but a gift (in the form of mutant DNA) given by a genetically enhanced spider. (Some of Act I's best bits draw a distinct parallel between Peter's uncontrollable spider-ish spurts and 'icky' things best left behind closed bathroom doors.) Although initially a bit stunned by his sudden transformation, Peter quickly learns to enjoy crawling up walls, ejaculating massive web strands all over the place, and using his new strength to earn a few bucks in a local wrestling ring.
But much like any kid given too much rope, Peter unwittingly hangs himself. Uncle Ben meets with a tragic fate when Peter's anger clouds his judgment, and this causes an integral change. No longer content to use his newfound skills for selfish wall-crawling, Peter dons a sleek outfit and takes to the streets to fight crime. No purse-snatcher can avoid the free-flying acrobatics of our colorful hero, and Spidey earns himself his first arch-enemy in the maniacal Green Goblin.
Spider-Man achieves everything a comic-book adaptation is supposed to accomplish, and director Sam Raimi has infused the affair with dizzying "swing" shots, stark iconic imagery, and a playful sense of color. Those who choose to look too closely may see the seams in the CGI mirages, but where's the fun in that? We know Yoda was played by a puppet and that Superman was suspended by cables in front of a blue screen. These other cinematic magic tracks are not negated by our awareness of them, so why should extravagant uses of CGI effects earn such scorn?
As a fast-paced introduction to the Spidey mythos, the movie works resoundingly well. As a colorful and exciting "popcorn flick" it certainly delivers the goods, devoted fans are treated to a few knowing winks, and the movie as a whole goes way beyond a simple action flick. There's some real heart in this movie. It's nestled in between some dazzling effects (not the least of which is the luminescent Kirsten Dunst, but more on her later) and enjoyably pulpy character drama, but it's there all the same.
Though much praise is due to David Koepp's screenplay (although to be fair, Koepp had several "collaborators" on this project), the glue of Spider-Man is not anything flashy or extravagant; it comes in the form of two young actors. Although it was originally a somewhat controversial decision, the choice to cast Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man was a stroke of filmmaking genius. (My original choice was That 70's Show's Topher Grace!) As he's proven in the past (The Cider House Rules, Pleasantville) Maguire is a fantastic (if somewhat understated) young actor, and now that I've seen him play my favorite super-hero...I can imagine nobody else in the role. A combination of boyish charm, mellow humor and realistic awkwardness is Maguire's arsenal, and when he looks at his dear Mary Jane, we really believe he loves her. (That may seem a simple equation, but shoehorning "realistic emotion" into something as high-concept as Spider-Man is no easy feat.)
And what's not to love? As played by the splendid Kirsten Dunst, Mary Jane is everything a smart boy would lust for: she's sweet-natured, beautiful and rather smart. Though this may not rank among Dunst's most commanding performances, she does a fine job with a character that seems a bit light on details. Willem Defoe is lots of fun as Norman Osborne/The Green Goblin, channeling Nicholson's Joker for a few moments, but never allowing the character to become an outright joke. The jewel of the cast is J.K. Simmons as the blustery publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Though he only has a handful of scenes, this guy makes a fantastic (and sarcastic) addition to the eclectic cast of characters.
Aside from the original Superman, this is the only superhero flick in which you grow to love the characters. And in a movie that's sure to be chock-full of visual fireworks and high-flying action, a little love in between the explosions is a valuable thing indeed. Perhaps some of my enthusiasm can be attributed to my affinity for this specific superhero, but I don't see it that way. As a lifelong fan of Spidey, I was prepared to take this movie to task if my favorite hero wasn't adapted with the proper respect for detail.
I needn't have worried. Spider-Man should please just about everyone. Hardcore webheads get to finally see their hero's tale portrayed on the big screen with equal parts flash and emotion, while newcomers will get a strong idea of why this character has stood the test of time. Parents will thrill to see a childhood hero in a full live-action adventure, while a whole new generation gets their first taste of a superhero too cool to ever go out of style.As a superhero flick, it's already one of the best.
As a plain old "movie", it's one of the most entertaining I've seen in years.
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originally posted: 05/11/02 16:38:42
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