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Spider-Man, written by Sam Koepp from the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, directed by Sam Raimi, 2002, 120 min.

Spider-Man is a respectable, balanced, fun movie adaptation of the famous comic book and cartoon character. The movie is superbly cast, remarkably funny in places, and it made a killing at the box office. Itís as if all my dreams of a reasonably competent, character-based, summer spectacle type movie have come true. The only problem is that Spider-Man is strangely weightless, somehow lacking in some kind of key factor that would give it significance. As it stands, the movie is perfect product: fun while it lasts, fun to see more than once with friends if you want, glossy enough to attract lots of merchandising, and not a thought in the head of the consumer once the movie is over. Amusing, but disposable. Lacking in inspiration perhaps, even though it is a solid movie.

Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, and the movie wisely focuses on him. Peter is a nerdy high school kid who gets picked on by the cool kids; he lives with his aunt and uncle in Queens and he has a crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane. One day on a school trip to a science lab, he gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider. His hand swells up but he decides to sleep it off, oddly; he wakes the next morning to find out that he now has amazing powers. Itís only about 20 to 25 minutes into the movie before this happens, so there is a surprising amount of character development. We are also introduced to Peterís only friend at school, Harry, the son of a rich inventor named Norman Osborn. Peter and Harry move into an apartment together in the city once they graduate from high school, and Mary Jane and Harry get together without telling Peter whatís going on. Meanwhile, Normanís company is under pressure from the military to provide some successful trials of its strength-enhancing formulas, as well as its jet glider. Norman does some premature human trials on himself and soon a supervillain named the Green Goblin takes on the city and all of Normanís enemies.

Tobey Maguire plays the role of Peter Parker, and heís the best part of the movie. The scenes early on as he discovers his powers are probably the most interesting: heís amazed by what he can suddenly do, heís not sure how to control them, and he starts off his career by trying out some professional wrestling! But it only takes about another twenty minutes or so until he gets his own personal tragedy, indirectly causing the death of his uncle by a lack of personal morality. Then he gets serious about fighting crime, and the rest of the movie falls into a typical pattern of fighting a supervillain and then saving the girl. The Green Goblin figures out Spider-Manís identity, and the climax of the movie combines the two: Green Goblin gets to Spider-Man by way of kidnapping Mary Jane. All very typical unfortunately, but the setup is smooth.

I also got some laughs from the newspaper editor that Peter works for. J. Jonah Jameson is cast perfectly, and he has some classic lines. Itís a stereotype for sure, but inhabited with gusto.

The special effects in the movie are bright and cheerful, with only a few night-time scenes, and one of the best sequences a fight in the air above a parade. Spider-Manís webs are convincing, but the swinging through air segments are not quite as credible. Spider-Man by definition is not quite human anymore, but the realism of the rest of the movie doesnít seem to translate to the spidery parts. The filmmakers also donít do enough to counteract the fact that both hero and villain are speaking most often from behind full-face masks.

Spider-Man gets my recommendation but I probably wonít watch it again. Certain movies get better when I watch them on DVD after seeing them in the theatres, with Minority Report being a prime example, while Spider-Man was virtually no different the second time around. To me, that means that Spider-Man has fulfilled its apparent goal of being a popcorn film; too bad it didnít want more.

DVD Note: Spider-Man on DVD comes on a 2-disc DVD set, sold in both widescreen and fullscreen editions so make sure you donít get the fullscreen by accident. Disc 1 has the movie itself, audio commentary with Raimi and company, and a few other items like some music videos. The second disc is divided into two categories: special items about the comics, entitled Spiderís Web, and Goblinís Lair, about the movie. The comic section tries hard but in the end isnít very helpful; for someone not familiar with the names of all of the people being interviewed or how they might have contributed, thereís no overall scheme or timeline or any such help. Just a documentary filled helter skelter with information. The movie section is also not the greatest, with some random TV specials thrown in, with not much overall planning. We see the same soundbites and bits of footage over again in the different making-of documentaries. On the whole, the DVD suffers from a lack of coherent preparation.


Last modified: June 1, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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