Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Spider-man.
Like a flawed diamond, Spider-man sparkles brightly, yet also must bear the scars of poor craftsmanship. At it's best, it's action packed fantasy, grounded in reality by a talented cast who pack a real emotional wallop. At it's worst, it's over the top, and more than a little sappy. Fortunately, the good bits far out number the bad, making this one of the most enjoyable, if not the most, enjoyable movie based on a comic book ever made.
Tobey Maguire makes the perfect Peter Parker, and he fits the suit, which is about all that is required of him as the actual super-hero, since most of his scenes in costume are done with CGI. He is so good, that the best part of the movie is the back story, before he dons the spidey-suit. From the beginning of the movie, when we are shown his un-requited love for Mary Jane, the beautiful girl-next-door (literally), through the school trip to Columbia University where Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider, and through Peter's coming to grips with his new spider like powers, you are on the edge of your seat. And although his uncle's little speech to him about 'with great power, comes great responsibility' is a little borderline (particularly since his uncle is ignorant of Peter's powers), the emotional impact of the following scenes easily makes up for it.
It is only after Peter has decided upon his course as a hero and graduated from high-school, that the movie starts to lose it's way a little. A few scenes with his Aunt May are so cloying, you almost wish the Green Goblin would go ahead and kill her, just to stop the sappiness. And speaking of the Green Goblin, Willem Dafoe's performance is about three notches above the over the top mark, particularly while he's in the suit. Topping the list of sappy, over the top moments, however, has to be the moment when a group of New Yorkers start throwing trash at the Green Goblin, exclaiming out loud, 'Hey, leave Spider-man alone, he's trying to save the kids! You attack one New Yorker, you attack us all'. Truly groan-inducing.
Of the supporting cast, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is easily the stand-out. His scenes as the greedy, bad-tempered editor of the Daily Bugle are all hilarious and he is the scene-stealer in this movie.
One of the things that has always separated Spider-man from such super-heroes as Batman or Superman, is that he gets his ass-kicked. He's a super-hero, but he's always having a hard time, and his life is a struggle. When he wins a fight, it's because he's had to work for it, not because he's invincible. It's kind of like James Bond (in the books, not the movies), by the end of the book, he's usually in a hospital or recuperating somewhere. Sam Raimi deserves credit for keeping this element alive in the movie. At the end of this film Spider-man is bloodied and beaten up in a way never before seen in any of the sanitized Super-hero movies which have come before, and Peter Parker is equally emotionally battered.
A sequel is inevitable, and is already in the works. Hopefully, with the same cast, same director, but maybe with someone to help with the dialogue, this diamond will receive it's final polish.
Tobey Maguire in Spider-man.
Spiderman is a great film! Not since the first Christopher Reeves Superman movie has there been such a good character driven superhero film. Both movies deal very well with the super hero's strength and the alias's weaknesses.
Peter Parker is a shy guy with one friend, and pines desperately for the girl next door. His one friend has issues with his dad and the girl next door has abusive, verbally at least, parents. The whole story of Peter's life, even without becoming a superhero, would make an interesting movie on its own.
The movie shows how Peter gets his powers and learns to use them. The part that inspires him to become a vigilante for good is emotional as well as shocking. The problem I had with this part of the movie is that it is missing a scene. My kids favorite scene in Superman is the one where he first opens his shirt to change into his costume. In Spiderman we see him draw a picture of his outfit but never do we see him put it on. Who made his costume? Does he put it on at home or in an alley?
Scott wrote that Willem Dafoe plays The Green Goblin over the top, and he certainly does. "FINISH IT!" Bad guys who play to the last row are a tradition in superhero movies. Look at all the Batman movies and Gene Hackman in Superman. Other than Ian Mckellan's subtle Magneto, most villains tend to be played to the hilt.
Other than that movie stereotype the rest of the acting is right on. James Franco as Peter's best friend Harry, seems to be channeling James Dean with all his angst and father issues. In fact, Franco did a great Dean recently in a TV bio flick.
Kirsten Dunst is in the thankless role of damsel in distress. She gets to scream and get saved a lot. However, her character is allowed to demonstrate some good range and in the capable hands of this actress she is better fleshed out than Lois Lane ever was in Superman.
Tobey Maguire is the dramatic center of this movie. Balancing between superhero and shy loner. He did a great job in The Cider House Rules and proves again here that there is a lot of good performances to come from this actor. It was genius to hire an actor to be an action hero instead of hiring an athlete to be an actor.
A few campy lines, 'With great power comes great responsibility,' a missed scene, and a stereotype villain are the few pitiful areas I wish would have been thought over better. Otherwise, this is a great film. An action film that is entertaining even when there is no action.
Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin in Spider-man.
OK so this is a great superhero movie. Spiderman completes the trilogy of the greatest comic book heroes, joining Superman and Batman. However, I must confess that I am not a huge fan of the genre. That said I will admit that unlike my brothers I enjoyed the action scenes much more than the back story. Sure the acting is good and there is a level of realism seldom attained in this type flick. Nonetheless at times I began to be a bit impatient during several of the early development scenes. Once the hero and the villain are in costume and ready for battle the movie really takes off. Visually the scenes of Spiderman web-slinging his way across the city are truly remarkable.
I will add my voice to the chorus praising J. Jonah Jameson as played by J. K. Simmons. Those who know him as the neo-nazi white supremacist Schillinger from O.Z. will be pleasantly surprised to see him in this comic role.
Though the tone of this movie is more serious than funny, one instance of unintentional hilarity occurs when sweet Aunt May is saying her prayers and the evil Green Goblin crashes through the wall of her house. She screams as she falls but keeps praying; only louder and more fervently. I'm sorry but I laughed out loud at this truly campy moment.
Speaking of camp, the Green Goblin is great! In the annals of film villain-dom he is truly one of the most despicable and evil creations to grace the screen; showing absolutely no regard for any human life. As Scott mentioned the final fight between him and Spidey is truly a knock-down, drag 'em out, bone-crunching battle.
In the end my mind keeps going back to those shots of our hero swinging over traffic, climbing up the sides of buildings and leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Never before have images been translated as authentically from the comic book page to the silver screen.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (2002)