Plot Details: This opinion reveals no details about the movie's plot.
Oftentimes bringing comic book heroes to the big screen seems more like a curse than a blessing, at least it was for Marvel Comics. DC Comics has always been the juggernaut in the movie making industry putting their stranglehold on their Superman and Batman franchises. Just look at the Marvel properties that have attempted to make it onto the big screen.
The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren (that alone should raise an eyebrow or two). Captain America. Or how about that failed attempt of The Fantastic Four? Never heard of these movies? That's probably a good thing because they went directly to video instead of stinking up the big screen. At least this way you can turn these blasted things off when it becomes too nauseating.
So Marvel did what any smart business does... have patience, because eventually DC Comics' good fortune had to come to an end. And it did. The Man of Steel came crashing down to obscurity and The Dark Knight left an eerily, irritating black spot that can't be washed out.
After watching the last two Batman movies, you can understand why comic book fans cringe at the thought of seeing their favourite characters receiving such disrespectful treatment. If a good comic book movie can't be made, then don't try to attempt it. Thank you Joel Schumacher for scarring us for life.
But something happened. A movie called Blade, a third-tier hero about a vampire hunter, became successful for Marvel. So how would they fare with a bigger property? Would they hit gold again? It took a merry band of mutants in X-Men to show Marvel that they could as it grossed $157 million. The question now at hand: can we do this with Marvel's most popular icon?
"And Along Came A Spider"
40 years ago in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Dikto broke the mold for superheroes in Spider-Man. They empowered an everyday person with spectacular abilities and never giving that person a break. Spidey is the classic hard-luck hero who always takes one step forward and three steps backwards. He may have these fantastic abilities at his fingertips but they are useless when he can't fix his own personal life. The spectre of Spider-Man always interferes in the daily life of Peter Parker.
Director Sam Raimi understands this character to a tee (it also helps when the director has been reading Spidey comic books since he was a kid). Raimi is faithful and respectful to Stan Lee's most famous creation. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is still the teen geek/social outcast with a crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Out of all the actors that auditioned for the role of Spider-Man, Raimi selected Maguire. It was an oddball choice that had executives raising their eyebrows. Then again, these are the same suits that questioned Tim Burton's choice of casting Michael Keaton as Batman, a debate that will probably still linger throughout the ages. However, when looking at Maguire perform on screen, he is Peter Parker to a fault. He brings about a quiet strength to the character but at the same time giving the character that vulnerability which makes the audience relate to the roller coaster of feelings that is being experienced. After all, how many superheroes cries more than he does? Kirsten Dunst is highly energetic as Mary Jane, but it's all a mask to deflect any suspicion away from the truth about her personal life. I guess that's why Mary Jane is studying to be an actress. She's already had the practice of being someone else.
Every Hero Needs A Villain
A hero is defined by a good villain (an oxymoron to say the least). Batman perhaps has the greatest and colourful assortment of rogues to contend with but Spidey is no slouch in that department. In fact, I would wager to bet that they are neck-in-neck when it comes to memorable foes. So who does Raimi bring out for the tour-de-force? Only the biggest threat to hit Manhattan, and whatever else stands in his way... The Green Goblin! Willem Dafoe has the honour of making Norman Osborn, industrial tycoon and engineer of Oscorp, into a psychotic sociopath, a role he is quite familiar with. Dafoe convincingly makes the audience believe the dual nature of his personality that is in conflict with each other after an experiment goes array (depends on who you talk to, though). He can be over the top at some times, but unlike Jack Nicholsen as The Joker in Batman, doesn't overdo it. What makes matter worse for Peter is that Norman is the father of his best friend.
The Goblin's costume doesn't follow the classic mold and I wasn't to sure how I would respond to the exo-skeleton, armoured-look. It didn't appeal to me too much since it wasn't flashy, but I started to see things in a different light when I thought about it. Sure, this is a comic book movie where the extraordinary happens but when you think about it, could even a empowered sicko survive the high winds in a costume made of latex and spandex flying at mach speeds on a glider? All of a sudden, the armour made sense (I still hate it, though).
The Green Goblin may be the villain who defined Spider-Man as a hero, but really the biggest villain is the one who made Spider-Man... the burglar. This two-bit punk opened the eyes of young Parker after he unceremoniously shot his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). "With great power comes great responsibility" Uncle Ben taught Peter, but it was a lesson that came at a high price. If you ever wanted to know why Spider-Man exists, the burglar must be thanked for that.
Unnerving Scene: Spider-Man and The Green Goblin, both wearing masks, are having a conversation on the rooftop and all you hear are their voices. No lip movements are seen, not even any shifting under the masks. It's like watching a badly-dubbed Japanese movie or an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (don't ask).
Interpretations of superheroes have always been played around with each creator giving a different spin on it, but it all comes down to the story. The storytelling is solid but when you consider the source material, you can't be too surprised by it.
I thoroughly enjoyed J.K. Simmons' portrayal as the Daily Bugle's hard-nosed J. Jonah Jameson. He stole the scene every time he was on the screen, and it wasn't enough. I needed more JJJ as that cantankerous, cigar-chomping, ill-natured, disagreeable publisher who we all love to hate. He was perfect.
The organic web-shooters bothered me because it took away the element that Peter created his web-shooters. This may seem insignificant but it shows how much of scientific genius Peter Parker really is. He is Über-dork! Raimi's assessment is that how would people relate to a character who could create something that even the big corporations couldn't manufacture themselves? Even Stan Lee was disappointed by this development but he said it best: "When you see Spidey swinging through the city, it all of a sudden doesn't matter." If Stan "The Man" Lee can look beyond it, then so can I.
Best scene: a guy at the subway playing his guitar for cash sings his rendition of the old Spidey theme song from the 60's cartoon.
There is something for everyone to enjoy in this movie. In fact, the audience built up through 40 years of comic readership, solid action and a tale of a misfit youth. Everyone knows Spider-Man. He is an archetype just like Superman and Batman. The crowd was split 50-50 between men and women, young and old. It is a universal story that everyone can relate to, about a misunderstood guy that no one recognizes and just wants to do what is right. There is so much of Peter Parker in all of us.
Superman showed us that comic book movies can be done and done properly without "dumbing down" the material. X-Men set the bar for all comic book movies to follow. Spider-Man raised the bar and showed how much fun it can be.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8