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Spider-Man (2002)
Director: Sam Raimi

review by Gary Couzens

There's one simple reason why Spider-Man has a special place in comics fans' hearts. Unlike Superman, say, who has to disguise himself as bumbling Clark Kent, Spider-Man begins as every-nerd before becoming a superbeing... a journey from identification to wish-fulfilment for much of the intended audience. In the latest (and due to its success, even holding Star Wars at bay, certainly not the last) attempt at bringing comic-book characters to hi-tech life on the big screen. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bookish and bespectacled, the type of guy who gets sand kicked in his face. He lives with his aunt and uncle (Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson), he's shy around girls, and harbours a crush on Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst) but has no hope that she'll respond. And then, one day, on a school trip to the local scientific establishment, he's bitten by a mutated spider.

Like many films intended to set up a franchise, Spider-Man is essentially a film in two halves. The first hour or so, which establishes character and premise and shows Peter/Spider-Man discovering his powers, is the better half: engaging and directed with some invention by Sam Raimi. Part two basically gives this film a plot, in which Spider-Man clashes with the Green Goblin, alias vengeful millionaire Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), feels more perfunctory, and all in all Spider-Man runs out of steam in its last 20 minutes or so. Raimi grew up on comics, and his earlier films (the Evil Dead trilogy and more pertinently Darkman) are really live-action comic strips. Even in his more mature later work, such as A Simple Plan, his roots are not far from the surface. Even so, the 12 certificate would indicate that this isn't a film for kids: some sequences will be too intense for the very young. Spider-Man is much more worthy of your money and two hours of your time than most summer blockbusters of recent years.

Spider-Man (2002)
Director: Sam Raimi

review by Amy Harlib

Spider-Man may just about be the best movie adaptation of a comicbook ever made so far, capturing the spirit of the sequential art and storytelling of the original and transferring it to the big screen. Helmer Sam Raimi, with a distinguished genre track record that includes the cult favourite Evil Dead trilogy, and Darkman (1980), turns out to be a fan of the source material created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko for Marvel Comics in 1962, this graphic narrative in question being the first about a superhero who, under his colourful costume, represented very much the ordinary, disaffected urban adolescent whose self-doubts and emotional troubles reflected those of his audience. The hero's personal life became equally interesting as his crime-fighting life, winning over legions of loyal followers and revolutionising the degree to which readers could identify with the characters in very many subsequent comics that carried on the trend.

Sam Raimi's and scripter David Koepp's respect and affection for Spider-Man shines through every aspect of this film which should please both comicbook fans and the general public and tells the eponymous protagonist's origin story with certain aspects altered and adapted to suit the requirements of the movie medium and the current cultural zeitgeist. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), not quite your average teenager, orphaned in infancy and raised in Forest Hills, Queens, New York City by his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), suffers the ridicule of his classmates because of his high IQ and general geekiness. Too shy to profess his love for the literal girl next door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), Peter's sole friend remains Harry Osborn (James Franco) the disappointment of his rich, industrialist, widower father Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), for nearly flunking out of every private school in the city.

When his high school senior class goes on a field trip to a university research facility, Peter gets accidentally bitten by a genetically engineered spider - updated from the atomically mutated one in the comic - that has escaped from its container. This bite transmits substances that, after a night of disturbed sleep, dramatically alters Peter so that he has the muscular physique of an Olympic champion; no longer needs his eyeglasses; and now possesses weird glands in his wrists that shoot spider-webbing (an agreeable change from the comic's mechanically contrived, chemical web-shooting devices). Soon discovering additional powers including incredible strength; the ability to cling to and scale vertical walls and ceilings; and an uncanny awareness of approaching danger, Peter trounces the school bully and then, feeling cocky, creates a makeshift 'Spider-Man' costume and enters a contest and wins hoping for the $3,000 prize for defeating a tough, professional wrestler. Stiffed of his payment because of a technicality, the unsympathetic Peter chooses not to help catch the thief when that stingy promoter gets robbed. This decision leads to the tragically ironic death of Uncle Ben, who, on his way to meet his nephew, gets carjacked, shot and killed by the very same criminal mentioned above. Resolving to honour his Uncle's memory, Peter perfects his Spider-Man costume and begins secretly using his new powers to thwart a series of violent crimes and to help save Mary Jane's life from some of the same foul deeds, thus winning her heart. All the while, the newly graduated Peter maintains his mundane persona of freelance photographer.

Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to secure two big defence contracts, one for a hi-tech personal combat glider, another for a drug to enhance human performance, Norman Osborn, CEO of Oscorp Industries attempts to shortcut the final testing process by using the prototypical substance on himself with calamitous results. Osborn becomes a latter-day Jekyll and Hyde, at certain times transforming into a psychopathic madman and then, turning back to normal, unable to recall the deeds he's done. When a corporate takeover ousts him from the corporation he founded, the distraught Osborn's 'goblin' side prevails. Absconding with the snazzy armament-packed glider and clad in metallic green armour of a design vastly improved from the original comic book conception, the 'Green Goblin' commences a series of attacks on his tormentors, actions that put innocents in danger - including those Peter cares about most, like Aunt May, Mary Jane and Harry. Peter realises the necessity to take on the Green Goblin while simultaneously coping with the ensuing juicy emotional complications: Harry, his best friend also loves Mary Jane and is the son of Osborn whose dual identity Peter soon deduces at the same time the nemesis discovers the hero's alter ego!

This wild and woolly plot comes alive and gets rendered believable by the superb cast perfectly suited to their roles: Maguire's appealing combination of athleticism and vibrant energy with crack-voiced boyishness; Dafoe's convincing night and day personality transformations and earnest conviction delivering some very outr´┐Ż comic-bookish lines; Kirsten Dunst's radiant charisma and nuanced performance giving depth to an otherwise stereotypical role; Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris utterly lovable and avoiding cloying sentimentality; James Franco's seething intensity; and J.K. Simmons as the scene-stealing, feisty, boss-from-hell editor of the 'Daily Bugle' to whom Peter sells his photos.

Besides the dazzling Spider-Man and Green Goblin costumes, the movie's special effects offer equally stunning visuals, especially when the hero performs his amazing web-slinging flights through the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan, the recognisable locations therein adding much to the fun. The super-powered fight sequences also provide thrills and excitement in superbly coordinated set-pieces that include duels above a street festival with Spider-Man bounding from one giant parade balloon to another; to a set-to in a burning building; to the climactic nocturnal showdown on the 59th Street bridge. These, plus Spider-Man's heroics capturing lesser wrongdoers, realised through the effects skills of John Dykstra and his team, made comicbook action spring to vivid life on the screen. Equally great, if not more so, the scenes depicting Peter's giddy glee on discovering his newfound powers and testing them out, believably and wittily portray a teenager's reactions. Also, showing Peter's sober realisation that "with great power comes great responsibility" adds a necessary verisimilitude to the proceedings. The combination of wild stunts and excellent storytelling with emotional impact (I nearly cried when Uncle Ben died and the joy of the blossoming love between Peter and Mary Jane proved so infectious), makes Spider-Man that rare treat - a comicbook-based movie that satisfies on all levels - including Danny Elfman's lush, sweeping, perfectly complementary score. Comicbook fan or not, the Spider-Man film exhilarates and tugs at the heartstrings, weaving a wonderful web of entertainment in which it's definitely worth getting caught.
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