Spider-Man Review

May 03, 2002 | 4:34am EDT

As the famed comic book goes Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is your typical geeky teenager. He wears glasses hangs out with his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) and has a serious crush on Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) the girl who has lived next door to him since he was 6. She of course doesn't know he exists--much. Things get decidedly better for Peter however when he is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops superhuman powers that allow him to scale walls and shoot a web-like substance from his wrists. What should someone do with such powers? The answer comes quickly for Parker after his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) is killed in a carjacking: Parker will create an alter ego known as Spider-Man and will use his newfound powers to fight evil on the city streets especially against Harry's father scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) who mutants into the Green Goblin--a particularly sick fellow hell-bent on taking over the world. Peter pays a heavy price being a superhero as his uncle's words ring in his ears: "With great powers come great responsibility."

Well Maguire did it. Even after many people complained about the casting of this soft-spoken yet talented actor as one of the comic-book world's greatest legends a few of us out there had faith he could pull it off. Spider-Man is an introspective superhero after all and if you want someone to play him right you need someone who can act. Maguire not only possesses the necessary skill to become the tortured Spider-Man but he buffs up with the best of them as well. He could very well turn into one of Hollywood's sexier men--sexy but vulnerable. It's also quite evident he and co-star Dunst connected on many levels. Their scenes are all at once sweet and then sexually charged. Her Mary Jane is often relegated to the helpless female part but Dunst infuses the character with a definite spunk as well as a bit of sadness. Dafoe does what he can with the villainous Green Goblin but there have been better comic-book villains (Jack Nicholson's The Joker for one). It's a shame his face is covered up by a grotesque mask most of the time--Dafoe's sinewy face by itself would have been sufficient. Also quite good in smaller parts (which will inevitably get bigger in the sequel) is J.K. Simmons as Daily Bugle editor Jameson (he just nails it) and Franco as Harry Osborn.

Not that there's any pressure or anything but Spider-Man is one classic comic book you do not want to screw up when adapting into a big summer blockbuster--too many legions of fans to impress. Luckily director Sam Raimi doesn't disappoint remaining fairly faithful to the original source. The movie is pure fun from the time Parker finds out about his super powers to the exciting climatic battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Particularly entertaining is how Peter learns to use his powers. What would a teenager with superhuman powers do first? Use them to try to win money to buy a car and impress a girl of course. The look of the movie is also slick even using a bit of the ol'Matrix-like slow-mo shots. (Then again Spidey does move pretty fast.) The film however isn't without some flaws. For one it really isn't what you would call a balls-out action flick which some people may be expecting. There are many moments of quiet contemplation on the part of a few characters. (The scenes where Norman Osborn talks to his evil alter ego via the mask is a little silly.) All in all though Spider-Man purely entertains.

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