time: 121 minutes
by Kevin Lang
I remember when I was eight years old, watching The Electric Company, a kids program that was part of Sesame Street. During each show they would run a very short live-action Spider-Man episode. It probably didn't even last ten minutes, but it was one of my favorite things to watch on TV at the time. I don't know what it was about Spider-Man that appealed to me so much. Maybe it was the webs that he shot from his wrists or his ability to climb up sheer faces of buildings, which helped me in some way to defy my own fear of heights. It also may have been his secret identity and his eye-catching costume, or maybe it was just because he was plain cool. Regardless, Sam Raimi's newest version of Spider-Man more than revived my interest in the web slinging superhero. I left the theater feeling like a kid again, and I almost believed that if I concentrated hard enough webs would fire from my wrists, and I would swing out of the theater above the world.
"Spider-Man" wasted no time in introducing its characters. We immediately met Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and "M.J." Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the girl who lived next door whom Peter had liked since the second grade. The storyline mimicked the comic book almost exactly. We joined them on their field trip to the genetics lab where Peter, while taking photos of M.J. for the school paper (and for his own personal interest as well), was bitten by a genetically altered spider that had escaped from its enclosure. Soon Peter was discovering and exploring his new abilities as we watched him climb walls, jump between rooftops, and swing around the city with the aid of his extremely strong spider silk.
After foiling a bully at school in several very funny scenes, Peter later participated in a wrestling match versus none other than Mr. Slim Jim himself, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, known in the film as Bone Saw McGraw. The wrestling sequence added to the humor and enjoyment of the film as we watched Peter do battle in an "under development" spidey outfit. After the match he found his uncle, Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson), dying in the street. Through his tears, he remembered what his uncle had told him, "With great power comes great responsibility." By those words a new crusader for justice was born, and our superhero emerged.
The film's villain, The Green Goblin, played superbly by Willem Dafoe, was highly irresponsible with his own powers. Known to the public as scientist Norman Osborn, he sought revenge on those who betrayed him, while also harming anyone in his way. Dafoe, who recently appeared as the uniquely creepy Max Shreck in 2000's "Shadow of the Vampire," was again very impressive in this character. Although his split personality performance may not have been as colorful as Jack Nicholson's 1989 performance as The Joker, Dafoe still created a more than apt rival for our emerging superhero.
The character of Spider-Man made this movie more than just another average comic book film. Tobey Maguire brought such personality to both Peter Parker and his counterpart, that we as an audience embraced both characters as if they were extensions of ourselves. Maguire as Spider-Man effortlessly drew our sympathy and respect, and we swung through the film with him, embodying his perspective. Maguire, who recently gave impressive performances in "The Cider House Rules" (1999) and "Wonder Boys" (2000), was cast perfectly in this rule. The appealing awkwardness that he so often brings to his characters acted perfectly to help project Peter Parker's innocence. We were fully made aware that he was still young and slightly immature, yet we clearly saw him on the verge of who he would become. With the aid of the film's unique special effects, we were able to participate in this evolution with him.
One of my biggest fears for "Spider-Man" before going into the theater was its use of digital effects. I wanted to see something that looked like real life, not something that looked like a live-action cartoon. Whether the studios realize it or not, the audience can tell the difference. Thankfully, although many scenes of "Spider-Man" were obviously digital, they were blended with enough live-action scenes to keep the audience from giving into the artificiality of the movie. Not to mention, the digital scenes were done well, and they didn't always look as digital as some of the scenes from other films, such as "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" (1999).
was a film that exuded such confidence in itself, that it never at any
moment questioned its purpose. It was on the screen to entertain, and
that was just what it did. It's not to say that it didn't have its flaws,
but the director, Sam Raimi, brought his vision of a superhero to the
screen with such unparalleled perfection, that it will set the bar for
future movies across the genre. So, turn over your hands, arch your wrists
back, and entwine yourself in a movie franchise in the making.
"Spider-Man" Review written May 2, 2002, CTF.
ChasingtheFrog.com, CTF Media