Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriter: David Koepp; Based on the Marvel Comic Book by: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire
Norman Osborn/Green Goblin: Willem Dafoe
Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst
Running time 120 minutes
After years of false starts and legal problems the first big screen version of the classic comic book hero ìSpider- Manî is set to spin into theatres on May 3, 2002.
Director Sam Raimi (Darkman, A Simple Plan, The Evil Dead films) was eventually chosen to give Spidey his cinematic bow over Chris Columbus, who went on to do great things with ìHarry Potter.î That choice plays wise in a film that is rooted in the two worlds that best suit this superhero – a comic- book geography, in which the character can climb and spin through the urban jungle just as non-Ritalin induced kids scamper about a jungle gym, and old B-movies, where things happen with a rush and no one is afraid to be a little corny.
But I like corn. Especially Popcorn.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) may be close with his beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and idealistic Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), but in a change to the comic books, his academic life isn’t quite so rosy. For one thing, he repeatedly gets picked on by his fellow high school students, but more importantly, the love of his life, red-headed beauty Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), hardly knows he exists.
At a science-class outing to a research lab, Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider. The next morning, he discovers that a) he doesn’t need his glasses, b ) his body is buffed out and c) he has spiderlike powers including the ability to cling to any surface, spin tough-as-rope webs and make tremendous leaps. The movie takes some time to explore and have a lot of fun of the latter as the young man explores the range of his new abilities.
But not soon after initially reveling in his newfound web-spinning powers, he learns the hard way that with great power comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man’s main opponent this outing is the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), industrialist Norman Osborn in ìreal lifeî and father to his best buddy Harry (James Franco). The Green Goblin is a conflicted villain. He holds schizophrenic conversations with himself — staring into a mirror or at his evil mask –as he struggles against the villainy that has invaded his body. It is once that villainy is set free that ìSpider- Manî really gets into gear.
With a lesser cast the script could have come off as weak and contrived, but in the hands of the exceptionally talented Maguire, Dafoe and Dunst it plays just right. Said script also does a decent job of combining the origins of Spidey as we know it in the comics and creating a new world for him here.
Unfortunately some of the action sequences and computer graphics take away from the movie. Itís almost as if this $100 million+ film was made on a cheap shoestring budget. Maybe if the lighting approach wasn’t so bright, this is not a dark film, it could have covered up the apparent mistakes. I enjoyed the film more than ìSupermanî but it fails in many areas compared to the first ìBatman.î
But I do have to admit that I liked it. I liked it a lot! I thought it was really great! Not awesome, but great!
Ultimately this release does what the doctor ordered: It sets up ìSpider-Manî for a tent pole series that will continue for a long while, or at least until Maguire tires of the role, provides a satisfying first episode and compelling Jekyll-and-Hyde villain, establishes the hero’s love interest in Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson and leaves enough threads dangling so you’re eager for the next episode.
I guess you could say that “Spider-Man” is a flawed masterpiece. A masterpiece that youíll likely see more than a few times.
So enjoy the popcorn, and Iíll see you at the movies!
By Dan Reynish, April 10, 2002.