As you must have heard
by now, Spider-Man smashed all box office records for an opening
weekend. It crushed the previous record-holder, Harry
Potter, bringing in about $115 million. Your friendly neighborhood
movie-reviewer fought his way through the crowds this weekend to see this,
the first blockbuster of the Summer of 2002. Long after Batman,
Superman, even The
X-Men were brought to the screen, Spider-Man has finally made
the transition from the comic book. The new movie follows the
well-known history of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) as he is bitten by a
mutant spider and becomes a superhero. Peter lives with his aunt
and uncle (Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson) and lusts after Mary Jane,
the girl next door (Kirsten Dunst). After he being bitten by the
spider, Peter notes that there have been "big changes" while looking down
at his pants. Other changes include being able to climb walls, shoot
webs and, of course, his Spidey sense. The movie has a lot of fun
showing Peter learning to use his new powers. At first he regards
this as a way to earn some extra money but soon tragedy strikes.
Peter learns the meaning of the words spoken by his uncle, ``with great
power, comes great responsibility." And in case, we don't get it
as readily as Peter, these words are repeated for us several times during
Anyway, Peter immediately acquires a topnotch Spider-Man suit and heads off to fight evildoers. Your average criminal is no match for Spidey but just in case you thought things would get boring, a super villain appears in the form of The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). He happens to be the father of Peter's best friend (James Franco). The Green Goblin is your typical mad scientist. After he develops a new product to make the world a better place, his research program is about to be shut down. So he tries the product on himself and becomes a murdering maniac. Meanwhile, the editor of the local paper, the memorable J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), decides against all evidence to the contrary that Spider-Man is a menace to society and devotes his front page to denigrating Spidey. Peter seizes the opportunity to indulge his interest in photography and make some extra dough by providing Jameson with pictures of Spider-Man fighting bad guys. While Spider-Man has been otherwise occupied, the lovable Mary Jane, who looks for love in all the wrong places, has started dating Peter's best friend. If all this sounds a bit complicated, it isn't. It's a comic book! The plot is very straightforward, boy meets girl, boy loses girl because he's a total geek, boy becomes superhero, girl falls in love with superhero not knowing he's the geek next door, super villain tries to kill boy and girl, boy gets girl only to spurn her because, ``with great power, comes great responsibility."
Spider-Man works pretty well as a movie but don't look for any depth. The main three actors, Maguire, Dunst and Dafoe, are all very good but they aren't taxing their acting skills. The movie is almost stolen by Simmons who recreates the newspaper editor from the comic book with eerie perfection. Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris appear out of the distant past to do workmanlike jobs as the aunt and uncle. Robertson won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1969 for Charly, and Rosemary Harris is a multiple Oscar, Tony and Emmy nominee. Spider-Man is directed by Sam Raimi who started out with horror films (Darkman) but lately has crossed over to the mainstream (A Simple Plan, For the Love of the Game). He picked Maguire for the role of Spider-Man over the objections of the fans and the studio. But he was right. Maguire, previously known for introspective roles (Wonder Boys, The Cider House Rules) is a perfect Spider-Man. And he has a good chemistry with Dunst. She seems to have been around forever although she just turned 20. Her breakout role in Interview with the Vampire was when she was 12 years old. Coming off such movies as The Virgin Suicides and Bring it On, she is definitely the new ``it" girl.
There were rumors before the movie came out that the special effects in Spider-Man look fake. Well, they do look fake. In fact, they look a bit like they are from the comic book. But since this is basically a comic book on the screen, it works. Spider-Man is definitely a bit too long. They obviously wanted to go for an 80-Page Giant when they should have just stuck to a regular comic book. But Spider-Man is fun so go see it. Oh, if you want to hear the original Spider-Man theme song you have to stay to the very end of the closing credits.