Spider-Man (2002)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 5/3/02
Director: Sam Raimi
Music: Danny Elfman
Special Effects: John Dykstra
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, cameos by Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee

Alright! It's been a long time coming, but Spider-Man finally hits the big screen. I grew up watching Spider-Man evolve from teaching grammar lessons on "The Electric Company," to an animated series, to a live action TV series (how did Nicholas Hammond fit all of his hair under that mask?), to an even better animated series, to James Cameron's announcement that he was working on a Spider-Man movie in the early 90's. Then Spider-Man got caught in a web of litigation and lawsuits. I waited in quiet anticipation for Spidey to get back on track, and by the time the dust settled in the late 90's, Cameron and his script were dropped, and schlock-meister Sam Raimi came out on top. I was horrified. Then came the unexpected casting of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and my heart sank again. HOWEVER, both Raimi and Maguire have created a superb piece of action hero cinema, and thanks to the success of "X-Men" (2000), they were allowed a chance to give it a mature treatment which it rightfully deserved. Marvel Entertainment is finally doing something right with their properties.

It's obvious that Sam Raimi is a Spider-Man fan, and it shows in the film. He opted to tell the origin story, which follows the adolescent life of a brilliant nerd named Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). While on a field trip, he gets bitten by a radioactive mutant spider and his body starts to change. He becomes strong and fast, and he can climb on walls like a spider. He also has a vague sense of precognition (spider sense) and can shoot a sticky web-like substance from his wrists. At first, he tries to exploit his newfound abilities for fame and fortune, but soon realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, and his uncle ultimately pays the price for his arrogance and vanity. Swearing vengeance, Parker now dons the Spider-Man costume as a hero and a crime fighter, and eventually lands a job at the Daily Bugle as a freelance photographer (since he's the only one who has caught Spidey on film - wink, wink). Apart from the Bugle's chief, James Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man has another nemesis in the form of Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin. When the Green Goblin starts hurting Parker's loved ones, he and Spider-Man are locked into a deadly showdown.

While some liberties have been taken with the material, it covers all of the bases and hits the important highlights of the storyline. Tobey Maguire does an excellent job as Peter Parker, the tormented Everyman, and within minutes it's obvious that he is only person who could play the role. Willem Dafoe is adequate as Norman Osborn, but a bit too over-the-top for me, and it didn't really seem like he could grasp the subtleties of the character. Kirsten Dunst is fine as Mary Jane Watson, the object of Peter's eternal unspoken desire. Since I never really followed her in the comics, I'm not sure how close the casting is. She seemed a bit more white trash than I would have expected, but I'm certainly not complaining. (she's definitely not the Todd MacFarlane sex kitten bombshell variety) Danny Elfman's music score is immediately reminiscent of Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989), but it works well and sets an appropriate tone to the film. The visual effects are neither outstanding or embarrassing, and seem to be more functional than gratuitous. My biggest complaint is that the computer animated and composited Spider-Man often seems to lack any mass, and that he and his surroundings don't physically react to each other how you would expect them to. It's not overly distracting though, since the action moves along at a good pace. Sam Raimi's direction is very good, although you can still see a twinkle of his B-movie days shine through. Great stuff that successfully manages to capture all the magic, imagination, emotion, and angst that all of the best comic books have to offer.