Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the theatrical release of Spider-Man. The most anticipated movie release of 2002, and a comic-book superhero adaptation that is winningly directed by Sam Raimi and is sure to be a box-office explosion!
Attack Of The Clones is dead. Long live Spider-Man, or so the box-office receipts will claim. It’s the most anticipated movie of 2002, more so than Lucas’ prequel or any follow-up to Fellowship Of The Ring. The ultra-popular Marvel comic-book creation has been in development as a movie for years, and has seen a host of directors come and go including James Cameron, who even worked on an alternative script version and Ang Lee. Lee himself will turn another Marvel comic-book creation The Incredible Hulk into a blockbuster in 2003, starring Eric Bana. It does seem like Marvel’s comic-book super-heroes now seem ripe for picking after the publisher has sorted out its lengthy legal wranglings, and now that Bryan Singer’s X-Men is nearing its sequel release, you can’t blame studios for attempting to cash in.
It’s an inspired move however, that Columbia Studios, who own the movie rights to Spider-Man, finally went with Sam Raimi as its choice of director. Raimi has earned a legion of cult fans with movies such as The Evil Dead and its genius sequel Evil Dead 2, and has along with other directors such as Singer and Jackson successfully survived the transition from cult-virtuoso to a blockbuster A-list director. Raimi is the perfect choice for Spider-Man, as his lack of pretentiousness as a director ensures that the legend of Spider-Man, and therefore its legion of obsessive fans, will not be dishonoured by an inferior big-screen adaptation.
The plot of Spider-Man, considering it is likely to be the first of a lengthy super-hero franchise, is predictably introductory in its tone. Geeky young nerd Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) lives at home with his ‘parents’ Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris)and is an insignificant loner at school with only richkid Harry Osborn (James Franco) considered his friend. Peter has his eye on the very attractive Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but her hotshot boyfriend Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello) is too much of a bully for Peter to ever want to cross. However, one day on a science-trip, Peter is accidentally bitten by a genetically-modified spider, but thinks nothing of it. However, day by day, Peter notices his body has been rapidly changing, and he suddenly has the ability to climb walls and stick to objects, not to mention shoot spiders’ webs from his wrists and jump extraordinary lengths. Peter keeps the secret of his abilities close to his chest, and soon finds himself inadvertantly fighting crime, with the help of a newly acquired ‘Spider-sense’ that gives him prophetic powers concerning any imminent danger. Soon, Peter, now nicknamed as ‘Spiderman’ by the press, is embroiled in a long battle with the ‘Green Goblin’ (Willem Dafoe), a scheming megalomaniac alter-ego of ruthless businessman Norman Osborn, who seems powerless to control the battle of two personas in his own subconscious.
Essentially, Spider-Man is a very enjoyable piece of super-hero action that at times is both funny and inventive. It celebrates the wonderful comic-book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and transplants it to a movie format without shedding any of the original comic-books’ colourful charm. At times, the film suffers from being nothing more than a bog-standard actioner, but on the whole Spider-Man is a glorious winner, and one that leaves a smile fixed to your face throughout. Maybe it’s success over something such as Star Wars Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones is to do with the notion that Peter Parker as a protagonist represents the typical everyman, albeit one blessed with freak luck, as opposed to someone such as Anakin Skywalker whose mystical powers from the start remove any hope the audience has of identifying with him. It’s a tribute to Sam Raimi and Columbia that they chose Tobey Maguire over all the other young pin-ups to play Peter Parker. It would have been very easy to attempt to harness in a mass of adoring female fans to the film had DiCaprio or the boring Josh Hartnett been cast as Peter Parker, but thankfully the final choice Tobey Maguire is perfect as the film’s leading man, with his quirky charm and oddball likeability.
The rest of the cast are quite strong too. Willem Dafoe cackles deliciously as the Green Goblin, and even though he has been criticised in some quarters for providing a weak villain, his rendition of the Green Goblin is very in-keeping with the comic-book’s spirit. The Green Goblin is practically redundant anyhow in the film’s second halfKirsten Dunst provides much drooling for the adolescent teenboy market, and she gives Mary Jane a decidedly ‘helpless female’ touch in her role as Peter Parker’s emerging love interest. Even J.K. Simmons’ comic performance as Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson is nails the right tone for the film, and his character and surrounding locations even feel like they have been ‘lifted’ directly from the comic-book pages.
Bruce Campbell (who even makes a cameo in the film) will tell you that Sam Raimi loves to use his main protagonist as a figure of ridicule as much as a figure of heroism, and Spider-Man is at times no different to poor Ash. Raimi has tremendous fun in the initiation stages of Parker’s powers, and presents it as a form of rites-of-passage adolescence as opposed to a young man coping with newly-acquired superpowers. Indeed, the film’s funniest moment comes from Parker trying to force his web-spinning into action by quoting other superhero catch-phrases. However, the biggest fault of the film comes with the script, which has seen endless rewrites render much of the dialogue to be mundane nonsense. On the scale of things, the script doesn’t pose too much of a problem for the film ultimately. Having said that, the script cleverly contains a number of references to the comic-book universe of Spider-Man, and even has a number of plot simularities with other superhero films, which will surely please fans. Raimi even throws in the trademark of a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, a car that has appeared in all of his films, as Uncle Ben’s car.
The trailers for Spider-Man generated two different types of controversy. The original trailer featured our web-spinning hero using the twin towers of the World Trade Centre as a massive web to catch an escaping helicopter full of bank robbers. The trailer was instantly withdrawn after September 11th, and the film was delayed for months. The second release of trailers for the film wowed audiences but worried a few general onlookers who couldn’t help but remark at the fact that the film placed too much of a reliance on CGI effects when it came to the action sequences involving Spider-Man. CGI is perfect if it appears to be seamless in the finished film, but when it loses any sense of realism the audience gets distracted and as a result becomes withdrawn from the story because of it. What’s so refreshing about Spider-Man is that it does have obvious CGI sequences throughout that are not seamless, and yet these sequences maintain a consistent comic-book tone throughout and are still immensely impressive. It’s even often hard to draw breath during some of these action sequences, as Raimi directs them with such fluidity of movement.
By the looks of things, our friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man is here to stay as a movie franchise. It isn’t as good as Batman, Superman or even Superman II, but it still carries on a welcome return to ‘serious’ comic-book adaptations heralded by Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Make no expense, this is the movie event of 2002, and judging by the initial buzz surrounding the film, most of you will love it.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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