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2001, Dir. Sam Raimi
121 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe.

Review by Noel Wood

Well, itís been a while since Iíve actually gone and actually put any effort towards updating this site, but something got the home fires burning and itís time to get things going again. Iím not sure what it is exactly. Itís not that there havenít been any great movies to inspire me over the last 12-odd months, because I could go on and on talking about how much I felt THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING deserved to win Best Picture more than that feel-good Opie Cunningham flick or how insanely brilliant SHREK was on so many levels or how I want to dedicate my life to finding the title character from AMELIE, or even how much I was surprisingly entertained with HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERERíS STONE. But something was keeping me away. Of course, I saw all those movies once. It wasnít until this past weekend that for the first time in a long while I actually felt the need to go see a movie twice. That movie was SPIDER-MAN.

While most people are waiting for the latest STAR WARS sequel to arrive, Spidey was the movie I was most looking forward to this summer. Episode 1 pretty much killed off my enthusiasm for the Star Wars franchise in general for the time being, but the early buzz on SPIDER-MAN had me enthused from day one. This movie has been up in the air for a good decade and a half, and has had so many names attached to it at some point that I thought it would never get made. Everyone from Ang Lee to Jan Debont to David Fincher were rumored to be directing it at some point, and James Cameron was attached to the project for years and finally dropped out of it due to the movie being caught up between studios. So when I finally found out it was going to be a reality, I was stoked. And when I found out it was going to be a Sam Raimi film, I was doubly stoked. And when I found out Tobey Maguire was slated to portray the web-slinger, I was elated (especially considering early talks that Ben Affleck or Leonardo DiCaprio might play the role.)

Comic Book Movies are a tough subject matter to tackle. Youíve got quite the hill to overcome in that you have to present a story that the general public will enjoy while still keeping the story true enough to the base story that you donít alienate the hardcore fans. This can be quite a task, as many comic movies in the past have been construed as failures, both commercially and critically. Hot mainstream titles such as Superman, Batman, and the X-Men have generally been successful, but those three films got where they were by being above average movies to begin with. On the other hand, the unreleased Roger Corman-produced FANTASTIC FOUR proved that an A-list comic doesnít always translate to an A-list movie. On the other hand, a few B-list comics have managed to become surprise Hollywood successes, as witnessed by BLADE and THE CROW. But with the success of recent comic outings, Hollywood has leaned a lot more to comic titles to try and grab audiences.

Of course, if youíre going to grab the next big comic property yet to be adapted in to a modern live-action motion picture, then you have to go with Spider-Man. Spidey fits in with the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader as the holy trinity of comic heroes. And it takes a lot to do him justice. Spideyís not your typical superhero. Heís not the strong-jawed alien that Superman is or the Millionaire playboy that Batman is. Heís just an average kid who happened upon an arachnid bite one day and woke up the next morning with the ability to scale walls. You gotta portray him right, or the story just ainít gonna work.

I couldnít think of any better person to play Spidey than Tobey Maguire. I wasnít completely sold at first, but the more I saw him in other films, the more I realized just how perfect he was for the part. And as each scene in the movie unfolded, I liked him more and more in the role. SPIDER-MAN doesnít come off as your typical action super-hero movie. Yeah, the action scenes were there, and they were pretty terrific as far as action scenes go, but this movie had a lot more story to it than most movies of its type. Itís nearly an hour in to the film before we meet the Spider-Man we all know and love. The rest of the time is built by showing not only HOW Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, but WHY he does as well. The film does an excellent job of following the comic storyline as far as Uncle Benís ďWith great power comes great responsibilityĒ mantra that embeds itself in Peterís head and makes him decide to use his new talents to be an airborne vigilante. The love story with Mary Jane is well done, and while it becomes an important part of the film, does not become too distracting to the overall story. Mary Jane becomes much more than the typical superhero love interest/damsel in distress, although I felt they could have expanded her character a bit more, she was definitely more dynamic than most characters in that vein. Where the movie really excels is in the character development of the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn, and especially the way that he interacts with Peter/Spider-Man throughout the film. Willem Dafoe does a fantastic job in his portrayal of this complex villain, going from the cunning businessman at the helm of his multimillion dollar aeronautics company to the insane recipient of the Performance Enhancers to the pure evil incarnate he has become by the end of the film, with no regard for anyoneís life.

And Sam Raimi was born to direct a Superhero movie. His main protagonist in the Evil Dead movies, Ash, has sort of morphed in to a comic book superhero over the course of the three films. Raimi has done an excellent job (with credit due to Bruce Campbell as well) at making a character who at first glance looks contrived and uninspired and turning him in to a dynamic character with a huge cult following. In the same sense, he created a living comic book story with no comic book to support it in DARKMAN. With Spider-Man, Raimi finally has a chance to show off what he can do in a real superhero environment, and he pulls it off brilliantly. All the nuances of Peter Parkerís transformation are captured in the course of the film, and we identify with and care about him in his mission. Heís a real person. Heís this geeky kid in love with the girl next door. When he discovers his powers, heís not instantly able to adapt to the situation. Heís a little overwhelmed by them, and it reflects in his general demeanor and comes out in all kinds of situations (see the scene with Uncle Ben in the car before the wrestling match.) He definitely evolves, and the whole time the audience never lets go of the fact that beneath the superhero exterior, Peter Parker is just your typical adolescent outcast.

I went in to this movie expecting a lot. For once, I wasnít disappointed. Pretty much everything was delivered on. The movie didnít take itself too seriously, and at the same time wasnít overwhelmingly hokey in the slightest. Entertaining story? Check. Good action scenes? Check. Neat visual effects? Check. Great Score? Check. Interesting but not overblown love story? Check. Believable characters? Check. Cool villain? Check. Hell, even the title sequence kick ass. So make sure you see this movie. And when you do, stick around during the closing credits for a little musical treat.

Oh, and if none of that sells you on the movie, I got seven words for you that may: Kirsten Dunst in a wet tank top. Digg!

All Material Copyright © 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

For questions, comments, or the occasional stalking letter, send mail to Noel Wood. Please give proper credit when using any materials found within this site.

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