Spider-Man (2002) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K Simmons, Randy Savage
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: David Koepp (based on the comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko)
Initially, it was somewhat of a disappointment to hear that what once was supposed to be a James Cameron (The Terminator, True Lies) project would eventually digress into the hands of Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi. Raimi was the director responsible for the gruesomely mediocre superhero flick, Darkman, and I worried that my favorite childhood superhero would be turned into a one-dimensional semi-horrific mess. It is my pleasure to announce that my fears have now officially been laid to rest, as Spider-Man is not only better than I could have reasonably hoped, but may in fact be the best licensed superhero flick I have seen, besting Batman, X-Men and dare I say it, Superman. Spider-Man under Raimi's direction is light-hearted, romantic, funny and thrilling -- just like the Stan Lee penned creation was intended to be.
Tobey Maguire (The Cider House Rules, Wonder Boys) is perfect in the role of Peter Parker, a nerdy high school kid whose life makes a radical change after he is accidentally bitten by a rare spider, genetically altering his make-up. Now he has enhanced strength and agility, can climb walls with ease, and shoots webs from his wrists that allow him to swing around the city from building to building. Peter uses these abilities to earn himself some petty cash as a professional wrestler, but after he fails to stop a thief that eventually ends up killing his uncle, he vows to stop crime wherever he can under his new identity of Spider-Man. Meanwhile, the level of criminals have been upgraded a notch when psychotic billionaire Norman Osborn (Dafoe, The Boondock Saints), father of Peter's roommate Harry (Franco, City by the Sea), takes to terrorizing his enemies and the citizens of New York using a high-tech glider and suit under the moniker of the Green Goblin. In the mix is the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst, Bring It On), whom he has loved since childhood.
Spider-Man is a fun movie, much in the spirit of the comic book's early days, that amazingly is able to give Spider-Man's origin, as well as that of the Green Goblin, while also introducing many characters like J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane, Aunt May, Uncle Ben, and Harry Osborn, enough to seem familiar, and then set up the exciting showdown all in the span of a modest two hours. Yet it never feels rushed, in fact, taking the time to inject nice personality touches, as well as moments of humor that makes the film all the more fun. This is also the first time the Spider-Man costume has looked particularly good in a non animated format, although the CGI Spider-Man that permeates most of the action scenes may sometimes be unconvincing. However, the scenes where Spidey swings around New York are still very impressive, and the battle on Brooklyn Bridge is a classic feat of special effects.
On a personal note, being a hardcore Spidey fan, I felt I might be bothered by some of the modifications made to the origin, but after watching the finished film, I must say that none of the changes really have any bearing on the overall story, and it's remarkably accurate as far as the characters go. Tobey Maguire is equally nerdy and endearing as he should, while the dimpled Mary Jane is nicely portrayed by Kirsten Dunst. While I might not have cast Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn or Joe Manganiello as the bully jock Flash Thompson, neither particularly detracts from the overall feeling of the film to do any damage.
Yes, true believers, the long anticipated Spider-Man has arrived, and the fact that after all of the writes and rewrites that it is a good film made this well worth the wait. Now that the Superman and Batman films have died out from mediocrity, it's time for the new generation of X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil and The Hulk to get their due time. Make Mine Marvel for the New Millennium!
-- Followed by Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007)
©2002 Vince Leo