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SPIDER-MAN (director: Sam Raimi; screenwriter: David Koepp/based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; cinematographer: Don Burgess; editors: Bob Murawski/Arthur Coburn; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man/Peter Parker), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin/Norman Osborn), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J. K. Simmons (Jameson), Gerry Becker (Fargas), Joe Manganiello (‘Flash’ Thompson), Randy Savage (Bone Saw McGraw), Stanley Anderson (General Slocum) Ron Perkins (Dr. Stromm); Runtime: 120; Columbia Pictures; 2002)
“This Spider-Man is a sticky popcorn film, that should appeal to a Multiplex audience looking for an escape film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s not Superman, it’s Spider-Man. It’s a sure-fire critic-proof film that should do well in the box-office. So let the onslaught of summer movies begin with this comic book story from 1962. It’s coldly but efficiently directed by Sam Raimi and is adapted from the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, with David Koepp as the screenwriter. The film looks good, but other than that it fails to have any emotional impact. This Spider-Man is a sticky popcorn film, that should appeal to a multiplex audience looking for an escape film and those not caring how incredulous it all is but are filled with amazement at how faithful it is to the comic-book.

It’s all about childhood hero worship for a superhero to save the world, and in this case he’s an ordinary guy from the city. I was not inspired by the trying story, and was not overwhelmed with the CGI special effects (except for the fight scene on the girders of the Queensboro Bridge), which mainly consisted of Spider-Man scaling walls at superspeed and fighting with his arch villain the Green Goblin.

Peter Parker (Maguire) is a nerdy high school senior who lives in a working-class Queens neighborhood on a street with a row of houses. He has lived with his kindly Uncle Ben (Robertson) and caring Aunt May (Harris), ever since his parents died. He secretly pines for his next-door neighbor, the attractive redheaded Mary Jane Watson (Dunst), but she’s going out with the school bully Flash and doesn’t even consider him as a serious prospect. Peter has made friends with another outsider, Harry Osborn (Franco), who is a rich kid kicked out of a private school. On a high school field trip to visit a Columbia University exhibition on spiders, a genetically modified superspecies spider escapes and bites Peter.

Peter realizes he has now been given the powers to scale walls, create webs, has developed super reflexes, doesn’t need glasses anymore, has sticky hands, and he is also proud to observe in the mirror the new muscles he has developed. The first test of his powers is when he beats up the bully Flash in a school fight. He then decides to get money for a sports car to impress Mary Jane — taking the challenge to fight a wrestling match with Bone Saw McGraw in a steel cage by dressing-up as Spider-Man. He wins but gets cheated out of his promised money by the crooked promoter, who then gets robbed. Peter refuses to help him stop the thief. When he goes to meet Uncle Ben for a ride home, his uncle is shot dead by a street criminal. Peter now vows to use his new powers to get rid of evil. He becomes, as he sarcastically says to himself, “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” He keeps busy fighting street crime and rescuing fire victims from burning buildings, while concealing his identity with his costume and mask. After high school graduation he moves in with Harry and with his tycoon industrial scientist father Norman Osborn (Dafoe) to their city mansion. To support himself he gets a job as freelance photographer for the crass Mr. Jameson on his exploitative newspaper, taking pictures of Spider-Man in action.

At the same time Peter is undergoing an identity crisis, so is Norman. His research company, which develops “human performance enhancement” applications for the military, is about to lose a big contract, so Osborn is induced to perform a risky experiment on himself and becomes the evil Green Goblin when the experiment fails to materialize properly. In his evil state he is reduced to flying around on a rocket-powered board and he gets his revenge by killing off the board of directors who sold him out.

Also, to Peter’s travail, Harry is dating Mary Jane. This human interest part of the story was far more interesting than the phony looking and emotionally empty computer-generated images of Spider-Man in action. Those images were superimposed on real backgrounds and instead of enhancing the film –took the excitement and pulse out of it.

The corniest scene is saved for last, as Peter has finally broken the ice with Mary Jane. She swears her love to him. All Peter can manage to say is that he just wants to be friends. “Only a friend?” she repeats. “That’s all I have to give,” he says. Now what was that about! Did the spider bite effect his sexuality?

The acting was less than amazing, the script was stripped of any wit, and the special effects were hardly riveting. It’s a ridiculous film that somehow managed to survive all the things that were wrong with it and become one that’s easy on the eyes. There’s already a sequel in the works.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”