As with many comic-book hero film adaptations, I was apprehensive about this latest attempt. Not only was it Spider-Man, whose story still reeks with the scent of 1960’s nuclear misinformation and silliness, but also it starred Tobey Maguire! Tobey Maguire for Pete’s sake. Skinny, sloe-eyed, whiny of voice, and not exactly someone you imagine being able to put down the self-torture kit long enough to go save someone. I was pleased to discover that he actually did a good job, and his weird wimp act really worked for him as Peter Parker. Once he’s buffed out and has put the mask on, it doesn’t really matter who is playing Spider-Man, because the computer is doing it.
Sure, lots of the action shots were so hyper as to feel rushed and odd; and his Spider-bod was too rubbery and flexible as it flipped through the air. Overall the computer effects were very very good, especially in marrying live action with CGI; the previews that started airing a year before were clearly 100% CGI and 0% actor, even the explosively obvious nipples of Kirsten Dunst. Understanding why they famously withdrew the preview shot of the World Trade Centers (with a helicopter caught in a huge web between them, twitching like an insect), I still hope it gets included on the DVD for posterity. It was one of the only reasons I ended up seeing the film. It was creative and impressive and actually a lot of the sequences honestly lived up to that level.
Thankfully, director Sam Raimi knows a little bit about exposing the cool in something that is irrevocably cheesy. Take, for example, Spider-man’s costume debut, hilariously parodied for the MTV Movie Awards by Jack Black (that whole segment was excellent). I won’t say what it was, though I am sure you have seen the film by now, but Bruce Campbell makes his requisite cameo as a dubious and abusive MC. Because we know the Spider-Duds are a little corny and not all that arachnidesque, we can laugh with the audience laughing at Parker jumping about in a proto-super-hero uniform.
However, I do not think we were meant to laugh at the Green Goblin as much as we ended up doing. The Goblin is played with full on histrionics by Willem “Jesus Christ” Dafoe, and he does an admirable job making the Goblin’s whole…thing seem very deep and meaningful. The mask designer, well, we need to talk. There is one scene, a dialogue between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin; they both have their masks on and guess what – all the head bobbing in the world won’t replace being able to see an actor’s eyes. It was actually so comical it was kind of embarrassing, especially when Goblin strikes an “Alas poor Yorick” pose. It was like watching a Thunderbirds episode with no strings. Cuh-reepy!
A few of the scientific details were changed about Spidey’s abilities, which I appreciated from a reduction-of-corn value, even though purists were disgusted at Parker’s downgraded science achievements. Hey, the lad drinks Dr Pepper, what more do you want? In fact, every brand name Spidey touches is right out there for you to emulate. Come on kids, don’t you want nasty little hairs growing out of your fingertips?
Oh yeah, Kirsten “Bring It On” Dunst. She sure is pretty, but after crazy/beautiful and this she had better do some more great character roles because she is going to lose all that great acting ground she got on Interview With a Vampire, ER, and of course, the greatest cheerleader movie of all time. The sequel is already slated for 2004…
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/3/02
Time in minutes 121
Director Sam Raimi
Studio Columbia Tristar