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Spider-Man
2002 - PG-13 - 121 Mins.
Director: Sam Raimi
Producer: Ian Bryce, Laura Ziskin
Written By: David Koepp
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson
Review by: Carl Langley
   
Several years ago, the idea of bringing one of Marvel's finest heroes to the silver screen was entertained. The initial success of DC Comics' 'Batman' culminated in a number of comic book adaptations. 'Spider-Man' seemed like a natural fit for the movies. A number of top-notch actors and directors were attached at different times as 'Spiderman' crept along in development, including Leonardo DiCaprio, James Cameron, John Woo, and even Freddie Prinze Jr. In the end, those casted were unexpected, the choice of director seemed uncanny, but the final product was - no pun intended - marvelous.

Who better cast to play Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire? The scrawny independent actor fit the bill as the nerdy photographer, masterfully and most facetiously retaining the geekiness with the discovery of his alter ego.

The movie begins as an 'origins' story. On a class trip to a biology lab at Columbia University, Peter and his classmates, including the lovely Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and his best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco), are learning about the gazillion types of eight-legged critters. One genetically-altered spider escapes and drifts down onto Peter's hand, biting him. Eventually, after a run-in with the flu, Peter wakes up looking fitter than ever with spider-like attributes.

What would a comic book film be without a villain? Willem Dafoe slips into the role of Norman Osborne aka Green Goblin, arguably the most prominent villain in Spider-Man's time. Dafoe presents us with the most bone-chilling criminal since Kevin Spacey froze many spines in 'Seven.' The transformation of his alter ego is presented in the standard experiment malfunction sequence, which results in superhuman strength, not to mention insanity. Dafoe has an eerie persona about him in most of his films (i.e. 'Shadow of the Vampire', 'Boondock Saints', even his fish character in 'Finding Nemo') and here his ghoulishness erupts. In what may be the best scene of the movie, Dafoe holds a conversation with himself in a mirror, effortlessly switching between Osborne and the Goblin.

The film stays faithful to the comic. Peter Parker lives with his Uncle Ben (Oscar winner Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Oscar nominee Rosemary Harris). Next door is the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson, who befriends his nemesis' son Harry, and is a photographer for J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons in a most giddy role). It's clear that screenwriter David Koepp and director Sam Raimi treat the story and characters with great respect.

Raimi also throws in some bubbleheaded humor into the mix. There is a segment in the film where Peter is testing his newly discovered arachnid powers. Watching him alternate between different hand formations/signals to spin his web was a nice touch. Undoubtedly all genetically-changed humans didn't master the techniques of their super power strengths right off the bat. Showing Peter Parker trying to understand his new abilities was not only a novel move, but a clever one.

The great thing about comic book adaptations is that there are plenty of stories and characters to explore. And when properly made - unlike the 'Batman' franchise - a series of films has the capacity to keep entertaining. 'Spider-Man' is one of the best original comic book movies of all time and I know I'll be one of the first in line for 'Spider-Man 2.'
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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