Spider-Man (2002)

4 Mar

Spiderman-Kiss

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Every superhero must have an origin story and “Spider-Man” is an intriguing one. Spider-Man, of course, is the popular superhero from Marvel Comics. As many of his fans will know, Spider-Man is young Peter Parker when he’s not saving lives. This first film adaptation of the comics tells us how Peter Parker became Spider-Man. The result is quite entertaining.

The best thing about “Spider-Man” is the casting of Tobey Maguire as the hero. I’m not sure they could have picked a better young actor to make Peter Parker likable and convincing (except maybe Jake Gyllenhaal). Peter is a nerdy high school senior who hardly gets any respect. His best friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco), the underachieving son of rich scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). And his crush is Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who lives in the house next to his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). Oh yeah, and she’s currently dating Harry.

One day on a school trip to a lab at Columbia University, Peter is bitten by a spider of unknown species. That’s when things really start to change. He develops arachnid powers. He can see without his glasses, he is suddenly strong, he has spider-like reflexes, he can make webs appear out of his hands, he can climb walls, and he has amazing agility. At first, Peter wants to use his powers for personal gain (fighting a wrestling match for three thousand dollars so he can buy a car to impress Mary Jane—he wins the fight, but he gets conned). But after a serious tragedy occurs, Peter learns that “with great power comes great responsibility.” He creates a suit suitable for his powers and becomes New York’s arachnid superhero Spider-Man, fighting crime and rescuing people in need.

But it wouldn’t be a full superhero movie without a villain to develop powers coincidentally as Peter gets used to his own. Norman Osborn has been creating a new kind of energy source for superhuman strength and a jet-powered one-man glider. But something goes very wrong and Norman develops a sort of “Jekyll and Hyde” double personality. Norman is constantly controlled by something strange and sinister (I don’t know what—the movie calls for a certain suspension of disbelief). He becomes the Green Goblin, complete with that same glider and a horrific-looking metal suit. This is where the movie actually starts to falter.

The first half of the movie is better than the second. It’s so much more interesting to see Peter learn to use his powers accurately (or as accurate as can be). He stands up to the school bully and has enough confidence to have occasional conversations with Mary Jane. But more importantly, he learns that because he has these amazing powers, he has to use them responsibly. The second half is full of action and there are times when I could tell a CGI Spider-Man from a live actor, mainly because at times, Spider-Man moves almost like a cartoon character than a flesh-and-blood hero.

“Spider-Man” was directed by Sam Raimi, who also made the superhero tale “Darkman,” as well as the “Evil Dead” movies. He has fun giving the characters comic-book reactions to Peter/Spider-Man when something amazing happens. How can you not like the moment when Peter quickly rescues Mary Jane after she slips over some apple juice split on the cafeteria floor? He’s able to catch all the condiments on Mary Jane’s lunch tray before they drop to the floor so that Mary Jane can say, “Wow—great reflexes!”

I did enjoy Willem Dafoe’s “Jekyll and Hyde” persona, but as the Green Goblin, he’s not an effective villain. Take the scene where he makes himself known for the first time—in appearance, he looks like he would fit in through an episode of “Power Rangers.” And when he goes over the top, he really goes over the top, although his manic persona does cause a few good laughs.

One of the best things about “Spider-Man” is surprisingly not the action sequences, but the more quiet, simpler scenes that are touching, memorable, and great to watch. Peter’s talks with the supporting characters and the kiss between Spider-Man and Mary Jane are among those (that kiss is the most memorable—he’s upside down and she’s standing in the street, she takes half of his mask off, revealing his mouth and chin, and kisses him). Also, Peter and Mary Jane make a cute couple. But since Mary Jane is someone Peter really cares about, that puts her in more sticky situations than Lois Lane.

I want to say more about Tobey Maguire—he’s brilliant in this movie. He has never, to my knowledge, turned in a bad performance. As Peter, Maguire brings a lot of appeal and emotion depth. He never seems to be overacting. He takes the situation how any average teenager would react if he discovered he was half-spider. We are with Peter throughout this movie and we care for him. Also in times of tragedy, Maguire doesn’t hit a wrong note. I think Tobey Maguire is a part of perfect casting. Kirsten Dunst is suitably spunky as Mary Jane. James Franco, however, is a bit stiff as Harry.

“Spider-Man” is not one of the best superhero movies. But I am giving it three stars because I was intrigued by the origins of Spider-Man and the casting of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. You can enjoy it for what it is.

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