9 April 2004 | clydestuff
Raimi and Maguire weave a magical web in this excellent comic adaptation
Studios lately have been known to spend almost $200 million dollars bringing a comic book super hero to life on the silver screen. With $200 million dollars you can buy many state of the art special effects for the director to full around with to his hearts content. If in the process, though, he decides to fore-go an entertaining story and script, characters that we can get to know and sympathize with, and good actors to bring those characters to life, all the special effects in the world isn't going to amount to a hill of beans. Fortunately for us, in bringing Marvel Comic's Spiderman to life, Sam Raimi did care about those little details and the audience is richly rewarded because of it.
One of the trickier tasks when transferring a film such as Spiderman to film is in giving us enough background story. If a writer and director spend too much time on the origins of the character, it has a tendency to bog the rest of the film down. Likewise, if it is given short thrift, we never have a chance to become involved emotionally with the super-hero. In Spiderman, Raimi, aided immeasurably by Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spiderman strikes just the right note. Maguire is such an accomplished actor, that he immediately establishes Peter Parker as someone we will care about throughout the film. He has a crush on the beautiful girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), is constantly harassed by the school jerk, and has a best friend, Harry (James Franco), who's relationship with his father Norman (Willem Dafoe)is far from perfect. As for Peter, he has an exceptional home life with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) which is probably one of the reasons Harry develops an early kinship with him. That and the fact that Harry's father seems to think more of Peter than he does of his own son at times.
After having been bitten by a mutated spider, Peter awakens one morning to find himself with some exceptional super powers. He develops muscles that he didn't have before, has reflexes Michael Jordan would be proud of, and can shoot a web like nobody's business. It is during these early scenes of discovery by Peter that the film truly excels. Maguire is like a child whom after taking his first steps, learns he can motor about the house quite nicely, thank you very much. We can't help but have as much fun watching Peter Parker hone his skills as he seems to have in being able to do these magnificent feats.
Another fine aspect of Spiderman is the love story that develops between Parker and Mary Jane. As Peter Parker, he is never able to quite overcome his inability to tell Mary Jane of his true feelings. Later, as Spiderman, there is a wonderful scene between him and Mary Jane in a drenching downpour that any romantic film would envy.
Whereas some have not been too enamored of Dafoe's portrayal as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, I found both to be right on the mark. As Norman, we see how his continuous drive to control his company alienates and spoils the relationship he has with his son Harry. It's not that Norman is an evil person, his quest for power has led him to more or less take his son for granted. Later, when after a lab accident, it is the schizophrenic battle between the normal Harry and the Evil Harry that brings the Green Goblin to life. It would have been easy for Raimi to have the lab accident just turn Harry instantly into the Green Goblin, but instead we get a richer more dramatic story that we wouldn't have had otherwise.
Likewise James Franco, who looks enough like Dafoe that they could be father and son, is a youth who seems tormented by the fact that no matter what success he achieves, his father never gives him his just due. Kirsten Dunst is also beautiful and charming as Mary Jane. Her romantic scenes with Spiderman are wonderfully played, and she has an especially moving scene with Peter Parker as the film draws to a close.
As for the special effects, they are indeed spectacular. As Spiderman swoops between buildings on his web, you won't think once that it's not really him doing so. When reading IMDB reviews of this film or any other film that depends heavily on special effects, one must keep in mind that it has become more or less a hobby among some to downgrade the effects of any film so my advice is to just ignore the criticism in that regard. The effects here are fine.
Two years ago, it was with quite a bit of eagerness that I anticipated Raimi's Spiderman film and it lived up to my hopes in every aspect. If the impending sequel comes even close to being as good as the original, it'll be a job well done. And if a film such as Spiderman can have me counting the days until Spiderman II, than I have no choice but to give it my grade, which for Spiderman is an A.