movie film review | chris tookey

Spider-Man / Spiderman / Spider Man

Columbia Pictures/ Sony Pictures - all rights reserved
  Spider-Man / Spiderman / Spider Man Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.15 /10
Spider-Man/Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire , Green Goblin/ Norman Osborn: Willem Dafoe , Mary Jane: Kirsten Dunst
Full Cast >

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: David Koepp. Based on the Marvel comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Released: 2002
Origin: US
Length: 121


Adventures of a new kind of super-hero.).

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy, pasty-faced science student who lives in Queen's, New York with his loving aunt and uncle (Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson) after the early death of his parents. Peter pines romantically but silently for the wholesome girl next door, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst).
She has eyes only for the school athlete who bullies Peter, and then for Peter's best friend (James Franco), a rich kid who is a disappointment academically to his arms manufacturer father (Willem Dafoe).
Peter suffers a freak accident while touring a laboratory. A genetically altered spider bites him, and overnight he develops extraordinary powers of strength, speed, perception and agility. You or I might call the doctor, and most typical Americans would sue the laboratory for several million dollars. But Peter is made of sterner stuff.
First, he uses his new superpowers to beat up the school bully in self-defence. Then he enters an all-in wrestling match as "The Human Spider" in order to earn 3,000 dollars, which he hopes will get him a used car to impress the girl next door. But the wrestling promoter tricks him out of the cash; and when a thief then steals from the promoter, Peter steps aside to let the thief pass, on the grounds that the promoter is receiving a kind of poetic justice.
But Peter has an important lesson to learn. As his Uncle sagely observes to him, "With great power comes great responsibility". As a result of Peter's momentary laxness over law and order, the thief commits a heinous act, and starts Peter on a one-man, zero-tolerance crusade first against street crime, and then against a cackling super-villain, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe again, overacting rather splendidly on top of a futuristic, rocket-powered skateboard).
Only rarely does a film comes along that manages to sum up the way a whole nation feels about itself. Such a movie is Spider-Man; and though it encapsulates the mood of America rather than Britain, nowadays Britain and America are so close that it will have almost as much impact here as it has done in the States.
This is the best of the superhero films to have emerged from Hollywood. It has more advanced effects than the Superman saga, and a greater sense of fun than the Batman series. When commercial film-making achieves this level of gloss, professionalism and insight into mass psychology, it deserves the accolade "pop art" - and it will make a fortune.
Where the film is skilful is first in making Peter such a likeably diffident, flawed character. His transformation into Spider-Man is transparently a metaphor for something everyone goes through: the traditional growing pains, sense of alienation from an older generation, and lack of confidence with the opposite sex that are a feature of most people's adolescence.
The second way in which the movie is clever - uncannily so, since the bulk of it was shot before September 11th - is that it makes Peter an emblem of America's war on terrorism. He may start out as obsessed with his own private problems, but events turn him into a one-man crusade. Spider-Man becomes a metaphor for New York Mayor Giuliani, George Bush and the American People all rolled into one.
The digital stunts and special effects are mostly terrific, even joyous, as Spider-man uses his athleticism and leaps around New York like Tarzan through a jungle, though the editing jumps between the real Tobey Maguire and a rather too weightless digital one struck me as a tad unsubtle. A few of the action sequences are a reminder that this kind of animation is still in its infancy.
Sophisticated moviegoers may also notice that at no point do many of the characters react with anything much resembling rationality - senior tabloid executives, in particular, may baulk at the travesty of one that is shown here.
Were I feeling especially critical, I might quibble about some plot points that are left dangling - why is it, exactly, that Peter protects his Spider-Man identity with such rigour, even from the girl he loves? Why does he believe it sentences him forever to being alone? Are there intimate aspects of his transformation that are being kept from us?
Perhaps the inevitable sequels will tell us more. In any case, the movie inhabits its own crazed, comic-strip world that's a slightly distorted view of the real thing - as though seen through the eyes of a slightly psychotic adolescent who thinks he sees through the world of big corporations and the newspaper industry but really views them in hysterically simplistic terms.
Because the story has dark overtones, the movie may even be called deep, an adjective it hardly deserves. However, it is cannily put together by a film-maker, Sam Raimi, who demonstrates real affection for the comic-strip genre.
David Koepp's screenplay is not free of clunky dialogue or comic-book cliches, but he is a Hollywood professional who also brought us Panic Room, The Paper and Jurassic Park. He knows how to keep the plot moving and give us a sense of developing character.
Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are two of America's finest young actors, and their dopey normality can hardly help but make you like them. Their first kiss, with Spider-Man hanging upside down as they lock lips in the rain, is a classic screen moment.
All in all, Spider-Man is a first-rate blockbuster, with a lot of flair and imagination. Okay, it's a popcorn flick - but if you're in the mood for popcorn, why not spoil yourself?
Additional note:
The British Board of Film Classification once again turned itself into a laughing stock over Spider-Man. Not content with letting through a torrent of degraded and degrading films that would never previously have been given an 18 certificate, culminating in the repulsive Baise-Moi, they have now decided to clamp down on a film that most ordinary people will immediately and instinctively recognise to be harmless entertainment.
The BBFC saddled Spider-Man with a 12 certificate that will keep it from children who would not be harmed or frightened by it in any way. It is one of the eternal mysteries of British life that the same BBFC which can be amazingly lax about allowing violence, bad language and anti-social attitudes to pervade so many PG movies can suddenly turn round and condemn quite harmless ones to a 12 certificate.
There is a lot of violent action on display in Spider-Man, and (this always offends the kind of liberals who get recruited to the BBFC) it is used to resolve conflict, but the action is so wildly surreal and cartoonish that I can not imagine any child being adversely affected by it, still less able to imitate it.
Nor will the violence be in the least disturbing to children above the age of about nine. It's far less disturbing, certainly, than The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, which the BBFC casually awarded a PG certificate, even though its atmosphere of relentless threat, interspersed with extremely gruesome violence, was much closer to 18-cerificate horror films like Predator and Aliens, than it was to any previous PG-certificate film.
One of the many problems with the BBFC is that its members seem isolated from the rest of society, and especially its children. Relatively few of our censors seem to have children in the 9 to 11 age-group, who will be most disappointed about not being allowed to see the film. There is nothing in Spider-Man that I would be even slightly anxious about letting my 11 year-old son watch.
This is the silliest decision over a 12 certificate since the BBFC gave one to the last James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, a romp which deserved no more than a PG and has been seen by every child I know. That decision brought the BBFC into worse disrepute with parents than any since the innocuous Mrs Doubtfire, which the BBFC at first gave a 12 certificate but reduced to a PG after several local authorities wisely ignored the BBFC's advice.
Censors are meant to be protectors, not killjoys.

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