SpiderMan Review

by David N. Butterworth (dnb AT dca DOT net)
June 27th, 2002

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2002 David N. Butterworth

*** (out of ****)

    If you’re going to make a summer blockbuster about a web-spinning, building-scaling
superhero from the pages of a Marvel comic book then this is the way to do it. With calculated casting, terrific special effects, large doses of humor and, surprise surprise, nicely-rounded characters (well, except for Kirsten Dunst’s maybe), the much-touted, highly-anticipated “Spider-Man” finally swings its way into theaters and it’s nothing less than spectacular, crowd-pleasing stuff.

    Director Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead,” “A Simple Plan,” “For the Love of the Game”) fashions his tale as if it were a comic book, with lashings of color,
close-ups, and corny dialogue. The film moves quickly, introducing our hero, the nerdy Peter Parker (“Pleasantville”’s Tobey Maguire, silencing his critics with a performance that blends physical prowess with emotional
who is bitten by a genetically modified spider during a high school field trip (hey, it happens!) and begins to develop super-human powers as a result.
    These early scenes are extremely well done, as Peter--like the
first frustrated, then amused, then excited by his new found skills. This is when we get the first sense that “Spider-Man” (the movie) doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s all the better for it. We learn how Spider-Man (the superhero) got his name, how we came up with that super cool blue and red one-piece,
and why he chose to fight crime rather than knock off 7-11s. A little less clear
are the motivations of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis the maniacal Green Goblin, the experiment-gone-awry alter-ego of corporate scientist Norman Osborn (played
with scenery-chewing panache by Willem Dafoe), who zips around on a metallic jet-bike tossing exploding orbs hither and thither. Osborn’s son Harry (James Franco) bears more than a passing resemblance to Dafoe, and that’s going to come in real handy with not one but two sequels already in the pipeline!
    Unlike a lot of comic book adaptations, which spend the film’s entire budget
on special effects (the ones in “Spider-Man” are none too shabby mind you, as Spidey whips from one Manhattan skyscraper to another without so much as a pause),
Raimi’s film spends a little time getting to know its characters. Peter lives with his Aunt and Uncle, and the relationships here are nicely drawn, especially
between Peter and his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). Also memorable is J.K. Simmons
in a small but scene-stealing role as the cigar-chomping newspaper magnate J. Jonah Jameson.

    Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson (the obligatory high school love interest)
isn’t the deepest character on the planet but Dunst provides what’s expected of her, right down to a brief wet t-shirt frolic in the rain followed by a surreal
upside-down lip-lock with our masked (or in this case semi-de-masked) avenger.

    But if, like me, you were brought up on the cartoon television series (“Spiderman,
Spiderman. Does whatever a spider can. Spins a web, any size. Catches thieves, just like flies. Look out, here comes the Spiderman”) then you’re not here to worry about the girlfriend, you’re here to see how effortlessly (and spectacularly!)
Spidey gets around, whether crawling up walls or swinging from building to building
on glistening silver bungi-webs.

    “Spider-Man” is enthralling, exciting, exhilarating. It goes beyond the hype to, first and foremost, entertain. It’s not for youngsters--Dafoe’s too scary for that, both in an out of his Green Goblin costume--and it’s not Merchant/Ivory
by any stretch of the imagination but you should definitely consider dragging any other grown-up out to see it before it starts breaking some serious box office records (if it didn’t do so already).

David N. Butterworth
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