Spider-Man Swings Onto the Silver Screen

July 28, 2002

By Avi Green

You know, I have to confess, these days I only go to see a small portion of movies, and I like to take my time to read comics like Spider-Man and also books like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter as often as possible.

But this I knew I had to go and see, being the big time Spidey fan that I am, and it was simply terrific. 40 years after Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider at a science convention, our wall-crawling superhero Spider-Man finally makes it to the big screen, big time.

And whaddaya know, I enjoyed it tremendously. Tobey Maguire was well cast as Peter Parker, a nerdy student of science and an orphan, living with his loving Aunt May and Uncle Ben Parker (Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson) in working class Queens, who’s being picked upon by sneering jocks at school, whose only friend at school is Harry Osborn ( James Franco), son of wealthy inventor Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), and who’s got a crush on the gorgeous Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who’s been living next door to him since they were six years of age. Maguire gives a very tour de force performance as a student who, while shy, shows a lot of fascination in his new powers and is eager to learn how he can use them.

One day, Peter is with his school class on a trip to the NY science museum, when, while photographing some of the exibits for the school newspaper, which include some very dangerous arachnids who were influenced by chemicals and radiation, is bitten by one of the specimens which broke out of its glass cabinet. Sometime afterwards, he finds that his body is undergoing some very remarkable changes: he can stick to walls (or rather, objects like paper and silverware can stick to him), take huge leaps and bounds from rooftop to rooftop across the city, and, as he soon discovers, can even shoot webbing from his wrists.

Admittedly, I was never a fan of the decision by writer-director Sam Raimi to make Peter Parker’s webshooting abilities organic rather than mechanical. (Note: having said that, it should be noted that Scott Rosenberg and David Koepp are credited with the final script draft.) And for a while, in the two years since I’d heard of it, I’d thought that he’d decided to ditch the whole idea and just let ‘em be mechanical ones like the regular Spidey’s been sporting for the past forty years. It turned out that they went with the organic webshooters after all. But, happily, as it turned out, they weren’t the least bit detracting from the film.

Meanwhile, across town, Norman Osborn, the head of Quest Enterprises, is running a chemistry experiment that goes awry and drives him mad, leading to his killing his assistant, Dr. Stromm, and subsequently taking up a criminal career as the Green Goblin after his company votes to depose of him as the chairman. Unlike his comic book counterpart, who dresses in Halloween style garb, complete with a cap, this Goblin is of the armored variety.

Admittedly, the movie isn’t without its faults, such as how Norman managed to avoid being a suspect in the murder of Stromm and his attack on Quest Technologies after they voted to oust him from his position as chairman and sell out his company from under him. And the fight promoter who actually saw his face. It should be noted that the movie takes some of its cue from Ultimate Spider-Man, which suffers from some similar flaws. And I could’ve done without three times in which Spidey’s got to rescue MJ from danger, just two would do. But even so, it still managed to be quite a treat, even with the shortcomings, and while Spidey's spider-sense may not be portrayed consistently here, it's never been that way in the comics either. And, most notably, the filmmakers did a very remarkable job in avoiding much of the campiness that’s been getting into films like this one.

Peter Parker later gets a freelance job selling photography to J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), the biased publisher/editor of the Daily Bugle, who’s so jealous of all the attention that Spidey’s been getting that he obsesses himself with slandering Spidey in his own editorials. Simmons was so good in the role of Triple J that you don’t even notice that he’s only got three scenes at best.

Rosemary Harris and veteran actor Cliff Robertson were very good as Peter’s aunt and uncle, and much to the movie’s credit, Aunt May isn’t depicted as a dim and overly concerned parental figure that characterized her for many years in the comics. While as for Robertson, it should be noted that Raimi chose just the right actor for the role, a veteran who knows how to make us remember the character well and feel his loss. And while a small role it may be, Cliff does a very remarkably good job at it.

The only actor who didn’t make much of an impression on me was Franco in the role of Harry Osborn. His performance was very tepid and the least interesting in the movie. But in spite of that, it was still easy to sympathize with Harry in the film.

While as for DaFoe, his performance was certainly very excellent whenever in his regular guise, although it was a bit hard to fully get the hang of him under that suit of armor. The suit itself is rather clunky and undercuts some of the dramatic impact that the Goblin is in need of. It’s sort of like all those suits of armor one sees on a Saturday morning matinee serial like the Power Rangers. But luckily, DaFoe’s performance and valiant effort in emoting more than makes up for it.

Spidey’s legendary creator Stan Lee has a cameo in the scene where the Green Goblin attacks the party, but alas, I missed it! That, to say the least, was the only part that really disappointed me, because of how they’d limited it to a mere split second. For heavens sake, give Stan “the Man” Lee a real chance! He’s not getting any younger, and if he could just be given the real chance at being seen in a movie, that’d be the greatest thing in all his career.
But overall, this was very entertaining, and the kind of movie that succeeds in spite of itself, and I highly recommend it for everyone. And given how many people close to Peter have been hurt by the villains trying to get at him, well, I could understand as to why he decided to put his romance with MJ on hold for awhile at the end of the film. It also provided a very welcome change from some of the cornier “Hollywood endings.”

And best of all, it stresses about how, "with great power comes great responsibility," the legendary lesson taught to Peter by his Uncle Ben shortly before his death. A very good lesson indeed for one and all.

Now, I’m waiting for the sequel to go into production to see how it’ll turn out. Boy, am I ready for more!

Avi Green is now going to take some time to stick to walls himself. He can be reached at avigreen2002@yahoo.com

Copyright 2002 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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