Tobey Maguire (Cider House Rules, Pleasantville) stars as Peter Parker, a.k.a Spider-Man, in the long-awaited big screen version based on the highly popular comic series originated by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film stays close to the comic book and even puts in juicy tidbits for big “Spidey” fans such as a Stan Lee cameo and a Dr. Connors mention. One major difference between the comic book and the movie is that Spidey shoots web shoots from his body not some mechanical “web slingers.”
Besides the predictable growing pains that come with his new-found physical changes, Peter must juggle the emotional roller coasters that come among other characters that greatly affect his life. There’s his family, Uncle Ben, played by Cliff Robertson, and Aunt May, played by Rosemary Harris. His friend, Norman Osborn, played by James Franco (Never Been Kissed, TV’s Freaks and Geeks) who struggles in his relations with his father, Norman, well played by Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire), head of Osborn Industries. There’s J.K. Simmons (The Mexican, TV’s Law and Order) as J. Jonah Jameson, head of the city newspaper. Jameson wants to make Spider-Man “infamous” by offering money for Spider-Man photographs while slinging slander at “Spidey” to sell more copies of his newspaper.
And finally, his life long love, Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst (Bring it On, Interview With the Vampire). Their special relationship eventually flourishes with genuine care and honesty. Notice how she doesn’t lie to him about her embarrassing job just as he doesn’t lie to her about having contacts in a cafeteria scene. Their honesty is also a big reason why Mary instantly believes Peter when he suddenly says he knows Spiderman during scene in a hospital. The actors performances are very natural and sustained which may seem boring for some, but at least they’re believable.
What would Spider-Man do without a nemesis to battle against? In this episode, The Green Goblin, a menacing figure who creates havoc with his weapon balls and jet glider, fits the bill mainly because of his close association in Peter’s life. Throughout all the troubles, Peter keeps a high sense of honor, righteousness, and admirable heroism that makes him a strong protagonist an audience can identify with.
Screenwriter David Koepp (Panic Room, Jurassic Park) does a great job at spinning this “story worth telling” to the audience including a very interesting proposal from the Green Goblin on a rooftop scene that quickly challenges Peter take a strong stand with his new-found hero role. Koepp saves valuable screen time by using main character dialogue to describe supporting character actions verbally instead of visually to keep the main focus on Peter and Mary. These characters logistics work well within the story, but the action logistics are a different matter. For example, it’s highly unlikely that someone would be able to hold on to a large car cable wire very long and scars mysteriously disappear after a brutal battle.
You also might wonder if Spidey has a police scanner at home so he can arrive just in time to rescue and assist various citizens. The audience must assume he’s just patrolling the city which realistically works for some events, such as fires that can be easily seen, but not for others, such as dark alley robberies.
Spider-Man has some predictable clichés, but the plot counterbalances these potential weaknesses. One character has to saved not once, not twice, but three times, but the hero constantly exudes realistic emotional turmoil he must endure which is also punctuated in the final scene.
The action sequences, backed by a reported 100 million plus budget, include several amazing sequences where figures fly through the air and maneuver through the urban settings in various way. Many of these scenes surpass what any stuntman could accomplish, so naturally filmmakers turn to special effects to for these action sequences. The technology (the main reason why this film could be made now as opposed to the early 80s with James Cameron’s treatment) is amazing, but the discriminating viewer always finds flaws which could only be remedied one way – having someone in a special body suit perform every amazing action in a huge facility possibly behind blue or green screen using Velcro to grip to each structure (probably not the technique used for every action sequence – a logistical and safety nightmare). Peter’s costume change as he’s running through the alley looked very real because he was grounded, but once he hits the air, the discriminating audience may take issue with the rubbery figure manipulations.
Director Sam Raimi uses several camera techniques throughout the film – notice the transition to high school graduation scene and the detailed background images layered in each shot that as Peter brainstorms with ideas in his room. Raimi captures the artful feeling of this famous comic book well with colorful background and depth in the epic urban settings, especially as Spider-Man swings from building to building. Raimi’s brother, Ted, (Seaquest DSV) plays Hoffman and Raimi movie vet Bruce Campbell plays a ring announcer.
Music by composer Danny Elfman adds great impact to the story, especially during a nice dramatic choreograph as Peter discovers his new climbing abilities for the first time. Popular music soundtrack includes songs by Default, Sum 41, Alien Ant Farm and Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger with Josey Scott from the music group Saliva who sing the first single “Hero”.
The high level of escapism gets a bit spoiled by two prominent promotional spots involving Macy Gray & Dr. Pepper. All audiences should enjoy the escapism though some may be bothered by the tough violence at times. Filmed in California and New York City, Spiderman comes recommended and has a rating of PG-13 for action-related violence.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler