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aka - Spider-Man
USA 2002
Directed by
Sam Raimi
121 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Synopsis: Orphaned Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) lives with his aunt and uncle in suburban New York next door to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). When Peter is bitten by an escaped genetically-modified spider on a high school museum tour, he is transformed. After his uncle is shot dead he decides to turn his new powers to good use. But the evil Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) is bent on his destruction.

The opening credits of this latest offering in big screen transpositions of comic book heroes are wonderful, but clearly indebted to Tim Burton's masterpiece, Batman, not least thanks to Danny Elfman's brooding musical overture which closely resembles his score for the 1989 film. Setting yourself up against such a precursor invites trouble and trouble besets this film in just about every way that matters.

The fundamental shortcoming is that for all its visual flair there is no grand vision the film. The standard super-hero vs super-villain with a damsel-in-distress scenario is here but there is no larger-than-life motivation for what occurs. Unlike The Joker, who had an engagingly meglomaniacal vendetta against Gotham City and for whom Batman was a persistent obstruction, The Green Goblin, other than misplaced corporate ambition, has no other purpose to his destructive impulses than eliminating Spiderman. This reduces the plot to a series of one-on-one confrontations with predictable results.

A general underpinning cause of the problem is, I suspect, that whereas Gotham City was itself a cartoon city, Spiderman is set in contemporary New York. This is a function of the different comic styles of DC Comics (Batman) and Marvel Comics (Spiderman). The latter are more grounded in the everyday world of the juvenile reader. The consequence is however that the film oscillates between the kind of postcard streetscapes and filmic style that one is familiar with from hundreds of Big Apple lightweight romances (the Peter Parker-Mary Jane crush goes on and on) and computer-generated fantasy-battles, once again with a deadeningly predictable alternation. The result is that the heroic keeps being dragged back to the mundane and the mundane is never successfully lifted to a heroic level. For many reviewers and comic-loving filmgoers, this everydayness and the tongue-in-cheek take on the superhero is the principal virtue here, so how you rate this film will depend on where you stand on this issue.

Thus, in the lead, Toby Maguire is perfect as a dag. But a superhero? The intention was clearly to give the audience a zero-to-hero set-up but for me Maguire just didn't qualify in the latter department. The scenes where he converses with his true love, Mary Jane, with his squeaky voice slightly muffled by his head gear are embarassing (the only thing he lacked was his underpants on the outside of his costume). Michael Keaton was an unlikely choice for Batman but at least he knew the importance of cool. And as for his enemy, Willem Dafoe is no Jack Nicholson. Dafoe has the kind of face that looks right for evil, and he's played plenty of such roles, but he's best when he implies it. He is not good at caricaturing it, which he is called upon to do here.

Despite being short on inspiration, technically this is well-made with plenty of money evident on the screen, although I found the cartoon-style computer graphics somewhat jarring, devaluing the action sequences, which were often reduced to broad strokes. Word-of-mouth had it that this was a good film but believe me, if you want to see the real deal, head down to the video store and get out the Burton film. And Spiderman II, Sins of The Father? I bet it's already in pre-production.




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