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on August 23, 2003
Watching "Spider-Man," I was reminded of the first time I saw "Batman." I walked away from that movie awed by the visuals, but completely unmoved by the characters (even Jack Nicholson's over-the-top performance was a caricature, not a character). But "Spider-Man" did something very unusual for films in this genre: it made me care for the people in it far more than I cared for its spectacle.
And, in reflection, that's a good thing, since the spectacle here isn't all that spectacular. More about that later - for now, let's just say that "Spider-Man" is perhaps the most emotionally involving comic-book movie ever made.
That is in no small part due to Tobey Maguire, who is absolutely perfect as the all-too-human Peter Parker, a nerdy young man who is bitten by a "super spider" and develops superhuman capabilities. At first, he simply tries to cash in on his newfound powers, as any teenager probably would, but he's reminded tragically that someone who has his capabilities should be using them to better the world, not to rule on "WWF Smackdown."
This is, of course, the essential "backstory" that all comic book characters have, and this one really clicks. Batman is a borderline personality, and Superman is too good for his own good; in "Spider-Man," we have a pretty normal guy who's only abnormal in his capabilities, which makes him darned easy to relate to, and admire.
It's all about motivation when it comes to comic books. Batman is motivated by emotional pain, and Superman is motivated by his too-good-to-be-true nature; it's very difficult to see either character's life playing out much differently than they do. But Peter's destiny is chosen, not by his psychological problems or emotional programming, but by himself. He can be what he wants, and he wants to be a super-hero, but more importantly, he chooses to be a super-hero in a way that doesn't hurt his loved ones.
This means sacrificing things that most young men wouldn't be prepared to do without, most prominently the love of his life, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). At first, Peter's too shy and insecure to do anything but pine away over her, but as his confidence grows, Mary Jane begins to see him in a different life, and eventually falls for him. But Peter chooses not to make himself avaiable to her for a simple reason: he's made all too aware that the only way to defeat Spider-Man is to hurt his loved ones.
The comparisons to other superheroes come up again. Batman is too screwed-up to have a normal relationship, and Superman is physically incapable of one without giving up his powers. But Peter would be perfectly capable of having having a normal love life, and probably would be a heck of a catch for any woman with half a brain, and chooses not to because it would endanger her.
There's real humanity and pathos in that decision, and Maguire's performance really brings that out.
There's also real humanity in the central villain, Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), a corporate magnate who inadvertently releases a lot more than his physical potential when he tests out his company's performance enhancing drug. His personality splits between the marginally likeable Osborne, and the Green Goblin, who's the kind of villain that likes to roll off long, evil laughs and lines like, "he must be instructed in pain and loss." Osborne's son Harry (James Franco) is Parker's best friend, and even after Spider-Man finally defeats him, Osborne's dying wish is that his son never finds out about his secret supervillain side. Of course, Peter, being the honorable guy that he is, honors that dying wish, even when Harry threatens revenge against Spider-Man.
How long has it been since we saw a villain in one of these movies with real humanity? Only Lex Luthor, and perhaps Jim Carrey's Riddler, come close. All the rest, including Nicholson's Joker, are just cartoon characters - fun to watch, but ultimately empty and uninvolving.
This all makes for a good basic drama, built on nice dialogue and fine performances - a rarity in films of this sort, which almost invariably succeed as spectacle and fail miserably as drama. But "Spider-Man" has the opposite problem - it succeeds as drama but fails a spectacle.
The fight sequences play well, but whenever Spider-Man takes to the air, and the CGI effects cross the screen, it plays like a video game - flat, graceless, and obvious. Spider-Man looks no more real or graceful than Sonic the Hedgehog, and the effect is even more pronounced on a television screen. Many recent films, notably the latest Star Wars prequel, have shown that CGI can create animation that has real weight, realism and elegance. I don't know any other reason, save budgetary concerns, that would drive the filmmakers to settle for such obvious, silly effects here.
In the end, the effects don't ruin this film - the basic goodness of the story and the quality of its telling preclude that - but with better visuals, this would have been a total triumph. As it is, I'm sure that the immense success of this film will enable the producers to hire a more competent visual effects shop for the upcoming sequel.
And if that sequel is able to replica the human impact of "Spider-Man," then that movie will truly be something to see.
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For starters "Spider-Man" is probably the most faithful translation of a comic book superhero to the big screen. Throughout the movie I kept thinking, yes, this is in "Amazing Fantasy" #15, that is from the cover of "Spider-Man" #39, and that is what "really" happened to the Green Goblin. Go back and look at "Batman," "Superman" or any other comic book film and you will find that beyond the basic plot of their origin, you will not find anything reminding you of specific issues or great moments from the actual comic books. On this score I believe the credit goes to director Sam Raimi, but there is always the possibility David Koepp's screenplay might have had something to do with it (note: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko get credit for creating Spider-Man but John Romita, Sr. deserves some credit too given that much of his artwork is invoked by the film as well).
Of course there are differences, because film is a different medium from comic books (feel free to quote me on that one). Some of the changes result from a desire to provide an appropriate rationale for Spidey's powers. This means we get a scientist providing expositionary details during the visit to the lab where the spider (now genetically enhanced rather than radioactive) puts the bite on Peter Parker. While this works for the ability to cling to walls and the good old spider-sense, I am less sure about the natural web spinning ability. I mean, on the one hand, the invention of his special web fluid was how we knew Peter was a brilliant young scientist, while on the other, how does the web go through the costume? No, this is not "No Prize" worthy, but it does bug me.
My thoughts on other changes: Yes, it was good to forget about Gwen Stacy, go right to Mary Jane Watson and completely ignore Betty Bryant, given the history of Peter Parker's love life. However, having MJ have a crush on Spidey smacks too much of Superman and Lois Lane for my taste, although since she is a high school senior they were right to tone down her sexuality from the bombshell Peter finally encountered in the comic. The Spider-Man costume looks a lot better than I thought it would and I certainly understand why the Green Goblin goes heavy metal. However, the yellow eyes on/off was a bit bothersome, although, again, I understand why you do not want two characters with giant eye blanks trying to have a lengthy conversation.
My biggest complaint with the film would be that the computer generated sequences of Spider-Man web-slinging through New York City just do not seem real. Granted, it is really hard to get a feel for watching somebody do that (compare it to Tarzan going through the trees in the old Johnny Weismueller films versus the Disney cartoon), but maybe they can do something in the future films. Similarly, some of the fight sequences when Spider-Man takes on a gang seem (ironically) rather cartoonish and, again, I wonder if it is because this is computer generated action.
The casting is fine, although Rosemary Harris never looks as frail as we all remember Aunt May. Tobey Maguire tends to keep things a bit too sedate with MJ after his transformation, but there is undeniable chemistry between him and Kirsten Dunst at key moments in the film. Willem Dafoe does some of his best acting opposite himself (you will see), and James Franco does a nice job of reinventing Harry Osborn for the modern world. Special kudos to J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, who only has a limited number of scenes because he steals every single one of them. Look real quick to spot Stan Lee in this film.
"Spider-Man" is one of those films you give 4.5 stars, because it manages to surpass expectations in some key regards while still needing to be improved in some other areas. However, the basics are all here for extending the franchise and I have to think that the second time around they will fix all of these "problems." Ultimately, the faults are not of the comic book story but of the filmmaking, and who would have ever thought that would be the case? The main thing is that even hardcore Spider-Man fans are not going to be bitterly disappointed by this film.
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on May 3, 2002
I actually got to see Spider-Man on May 3rd! In Japan it is highly unusual for a movie to come out on the same date as in America, there's unusually at least a 3 month wait. But surprisingly, I was able to see "Spider-Man" on May 3rd by getting reserved tickets! And I must say, the movie was so much better than I expected (and I had expected a lot!)
High school student Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is while very smart is the school freak. His only friend is Harry Osborne (James Franco), son of scientist Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe). He is also very much in love with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) though he won't approach her. So he goes through life ignored and made fun of. But Peter's life is about to be turned upside down when at a high school excursion to the museum he is bitten by a genetically enhanced super spider. At first thinking none of it, he goes back home where he lives with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). But the next day, he wakes up to find himself with perfect vision and also a more muscular body! Stranger things happen in school where he finally realizes that the bite he got has given him special abilities which spiders have, from amazing agility, strength, extraordinary senses, and web flinging powers. He soon finds out though that with his new powers comes great responsibility. Norman Osborne has got a split personality, the other side of him being the evil Green Goblin. Peter knows that someone has to stop him... could that someone be 'Spider-Man'?
I must say that "Spider-Man" has got it all! *ACTING*: Kirsten Dunst is very believable as the not-so-perfect Mary Jane with her family and love problems. You can't help but feel for her character. Then there's Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin. His scene where he confronts 'himself' in the mirror was remarkably well down, it takes an enormous amount of talent to be able to portray two different personalities like that. And I mustn't forget Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker. He can show his expressions so well, from his shy smile to Mary Jane, his turmoil of grief, his determination to stop Green Goblin, and his excitement when he first tries out his superpowers. You can't help but become attached to his character. Though I have never read any of the Spider-Man comics, my father has and he was so delighted to find that the editor of the newspaper seemed to be right out of the comic book, from his looks to his attitude.
*PLOT*: Intriguing plot, making the two hours of the movie seem to flick by so fast. The story has plenty of surprises and twists, making the whole entire time very enjoyable. The first thirty minutes or so was very light, I was laughing a lot on the mishaps of Peter Parker's previous life to becoming Spider-Man. But from then on it became a little bit more serious, the ending climaxing to explosion of action and excitement! The end might put off some people but I found it highly satisfying. I can't tell what happens but I must say that the end definitely calls for a sequel! As for the humor and seriousness of the film, I always believe that most all movies should have the right balance of these two points. And Spider-Man was great, having plenty of humor to keep my laughing yet a serious tone to it which was essential to the movie.
*ACTION AND F/X*: The action is so well done that through the last hour or so of the movie I was on the edge of my seat! All of the confrontations of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin were very exciting, the last 'battle' (as there usual is) the most tense. As in the trailers, Spider-Man does not only get to fly and fling himself through the air, he also gets to do a lot of hand-to-hand fighting and kung-fu. Applause to the fight coordinator. The F/X were pretty real yet had a sort of comic book feel to it making it very easy to watch and enjoy. Watch Spider-Man fly through the air, send out webs, twist in the air in what seems like impossible moves, and fight evil with the agility of... well you know, a spider!
*PG-13 RATING*: The film is rated PG-13 for 'stylized action and violence' but I think think there should be added 'and for some language'.
So my conclusion is, "Spider-Man" is a GREAT film and I most definitely will be getting the DVD as soon as it comes out! Maybe see it in the theaters a few more times :-). I also recommend two other super-hero movies which are my favorites, "Superman" with Christopher Reeve and "The Shadow" with Alec Baldwin. "Batman" was also interesting though it didn't make much of an impression on me.
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on November 24, 2002
First of all, this isn't a review of the Spider-Man movie or dvd. It's a review of the box set: Spider-Man Limited Eidtion DVD Collector's Gift Set. (I'll do a review of the Spider-Man dvd at a later time) It contains two dvds: 1) the Spider-Man widescreen special edition, and while I'm not going to go into it in this review, it is a great movie and a great dvd; and 2) Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels, which I've reviewed under the dvd, so I won't go much into this dvd here. But it is a very informative interview. These two dvds pretty much make the gift set worth the price. It also comes with a few 'collector's items' which I leave to you to decide if they make it worth picking up the gift set or just buying the dvds. There's a reproduction of the Amazing Fantasy comic that first introduced Spider-Man. It's monetary value is null, since it is a reproduction, but it is nice to get a copy of our favorite web-slinger's first appearance. A bit juvenile, but valueable for the Spidey-fan. There's a piece of artwork by John Romita Sr, nice but doesn't add much to the set. And finally there is a film cell from the movie (when Spider-Man is dodging Goblin's bats in the burning building). Also nice to have, but I found these collector's items don't add much to the enjoyment of the dvds. I'd say the gift set is only valuable to the hard core fan. Otherwise, just pick up the dvds.
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VINE VOICEon December 9, 2013
The Evil Dead's Sam Raimi finally took this franchise for its long overdue big screen treatment (up til this point we only had live action Spidey in the 70's Electtic Co. bits and a 70's TV series without supervillains). Still Hard to believe this one is over ten years old now. Holds up ok...Great cast, Toby is perfect as Peter Parker & Spidey. It's a Great Web-Head origin film too, if a bit too heavy on the Burton Batman homage (Big fight via ballons at a parade, even Danny Elfman for the theme). There are elements now in the Ultimate SpiderMan origins, like no web shooters, links to Norman's Osco and the classic Villain Green Goblin. Play to perfection by Defoe. Dr Connors is first referenced here, and turns up in Spiderman 2 & 3 but never as the Lizard. [We finally got this in Amazing SM].
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on May 31, 2002
Since the sequel is already in the works, a review of "Spider-Man" almost seems superfluous. But it definitely isn't. Because, when a comic-book movie gets it right, as this one does, people should know, especially those who think of going to a big over-hyped summer blockbuster about as often as they think about going to the South Pole.
This is a film, of course, in which a guy slings webs, scales walls and fights a villain who looks like a cross between the Joker and the grille of a Dodge Ram. But much like Peter Jackson and the initial "Lord of the Rings" movie, director Sam Raimi gets Spider-Man; he's been smitten with Spidey since he was a kid. (For his 12th birthday,we're told, his mom painted a Spider-Man mural on his bedroom wall.)
To Raimi, making Spider-Man isn't interchangeable with making "The Scorpion King" or "Men In Black II" or any other big-budgeted summer movie. That fan's pure devotion coupled with Raimi's considerable directorial flair (remember the "Evil Dead" movies or "A Simple Plan"?) makes the movie far better than you might expect.
For anyone who hasn't been reading Marvel Comics since the early '60s (when Stan Lee created the character), Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a teen geek who lives in Queens with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris). Peter's the kind of guy who gets kicked around by the other kids for no particular reason, the kind of guy with a hopeless crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst, with flame-red hair).
On a school field trip, Peter is bitten by a genetically mutated spider. The next morning, he no longer needs his glasses; his abs look like they were carved out of The Rock. He soon discovers he has other powers, too: He can crawl up walls and spin webs that make leaping over tall buildings in a single bound uneccessary. He simply swings though Manhattan's concrete canyons. (Special effects evaluation: very, very good but not always thrilling.)
When tragedy strikes his family, Peter stops fooling around with his new powers and starts fighting crime. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the tycoon dad of Peter's best friend Harry (James Franco who played James Dean on TV), is experiencing a super-power make-over, too. In a Jekyll -and- Hyde scenario, the good Osborn turns into the bad Green Goblin, who cruises around on a glider wreaking havoc and trying to destroy Spider-Man.
Okay, it's not Tolstoy. It's not even Tolkien. But it is a picture jam-packed with swinging action scenes, spiffy spider jokes and an unforced earnestness that never becoes corny or tongue-in-cheek. "Spider-Man" doesn't go for the retro-camp of "Dick Tracy" or the brooding hipness of "Batman." True, the Spidey/Green Goblin battles are generic and somewhat repetitive, which can make the movie feel long. But the picture has an an energy and a self-confidence that give it a terrific movie-movie feel.
Even the acting is better than it usually is in this kind of flick. Dafoe brings some of his downtown theater training to his role, especially in the scenes where the innocent Osborn is talking with his evil alter identity. (at one point, he chats with The Green Goblin's mask which hangs from a wing-back chair.) Dunst, whose work in the current "The Cat's Meow" proves she doesn't have anything to prove to anyone, puts some spunk and integrity in her admittedly limited role.
Still, it all comes down to Maguire who is flat-out terrific. A lot of fuss surrounded his casting: what's the sensitive kid from "The Ice Storm" and "The Cider House Rules" doing as a beloved comic-book hero? But Raimi said that he didn't need to look for Spider-Man; he needed to find Peter Parker. Maguire, with his slightly crooked grin, his mild yet laser-sharp gaze and his crackly, choked-up voice turns out to be the perfect choice. He knows we root for poor, shy Peter as much as we do for Spidey in all his wall-crawling splendor. Maguire brings a pensiveness to the part as well a goofy likability and an unabashed intelligence. When things get totally outlandish, he's our touchstone.
The best advice Uncle Ben gives to his nephew is "With great power comes great responsibility." Sam Raimi knows exactly what that means.
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on May 1, 2002
I saw Spider-Man last night at a sneak preview sponsored by a famous food company. As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, I was very pleased with Sam Raimi's faithful interpretation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's character, and his world. The writing couldn't have captured the spirit of the comic any better, and the casting was truly inspired. Unlike so many other comic book movies, Spider-Man brought the best of the series to the screen without needless changes aimed at "marketing" to a broader audience.
My only complaint with the film was the Green Goblin's costume. Defoe is one of Hollywood's greatest modern faces, he can convey a broad range of emotions simply by changing the expression on his face. Yet in Spider-Man his face is covered with a metal shell which doesn't move at all. Not even when he speaks. This unfortunate decision, the only bankrupt concept inherited from the Batman films, mutes Defoes effectiveness as the Goblin right when needed most. I found myself wishing he confronted Spider-Man as Norman Osborn rather than the lifeless robot impersonating the Green Goblin.
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on June 16, 2002
I was afraid to see this movie. I was afraid that I'd be disappointed,afraid that this would be a farce or a live-action cartoon with no human interest and that it would kill everyone's perception of everything that the comic book medium could be.I wasn't sure about Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst being in the movie. I was concerned when I heard they were making Spidey's webbing organic and threw out the web-shooter idea. I became dismayed when I read that Roger Ebert only gave it 2 1/2 stars and at this point,almost had to be coaxed into seeing the film.You see,I'm a lifelong comics fan and Spider-Man is my all-time favorite comic book hero.I have grown-up with him. Peter Parker looks like me,and I've always felt that I was him. He was the first comics character I felt I could relate to. The comics have had their ups and downs creatively throught the years,but all in all,I've remained loyal to 'ol Webhead(J.Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. are really working wonders with the character these days) I almost thought we were going to see "Spider-Teen" or "Spider-Dude". I was afraid to see this movie.
Boy, were Ebert and I dead wrong! There were minor problems with it,I felt,but overall,"Spider-Man" was everything I had hoped it would be:the best darn comic book movie ever made. Roger Ebert felt that the action sequences were fake-looking and said that "Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon" handled this type of superhumanity more effectively.I felt "Spider-Man" captured Spidey's actions perfectly. In the movie,Spider-Man and the Green Goblin have the fluidity in their movements that reminds one of the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man era. Spidey fights like he does in the comics(throwing guys around,double-punches,etc.)and the Green Goblin is as sinister, dangerous,and cunning as a large predator on the loose. The fight scenes are choreographed well,evoking the fantastic and the brutal all at once. Any comics fan will be reminded of the immortal "Death Of Gwen Stacy" storyline during the chilling,final confrontation between hero and villain.New York becomes a character in its own right. Watching the film,you really get the impression that Spidey owns the Big Apple.The city is like an old,familiar friend to him as he effortlessly swings from rooftop to rooftop,looking for vermin that would soil or irritate NYC and the good people who live there(the scene where all of the citizens start pelting the Goblin with debris and such almost brought a tear to my eye). "Spider-Man" is as much a tribute to New York and its residents as well as the comic book form and Spidey himself.
I had been pulling for Freddie Prinze Jr. to get the role as Peter Parker,but Tobey Maguire's performance made me forget about all of that. Maguire evokes Parker's quiet,shy,sensitive personality perhaps better than any other actor out there and balances it masterfully with cocky,devil-may-care attitude of Parker's alter ego. Now, I can't imagine anyone else playing Parker other than Maguire.
The same can be said for Dunst's Mary Jane Watson. I originally thought that she would have made a better Gwen Stacy(Parker's first true love in the comics). After seeing her as Watson,I became convinced that she was the correct choice. Dunst really tapped into the fun-loving,starry-eyed yet troubled working-class girl that MJ has always been. MJ's a flirt and a dreamer,and Dunst made her come to life(I wish she would have said the line "Face it tiger,you just hit the jackpot!" like she did in the comics,but oh well).
I jumped for joy when Willem Defoe was pegged to play the Green Goblin,and Defoe doesn't disappoint. I was hoping that the filmmakers would build the costume and mask around Defoe's chisled visage(just look at that face,he is the Goblin! I love it!),however they opt for a "body-armor" look that works pretty well in its own right. Defoe's portrayal of Norman Osborne's madness is frightening. Defoe didn't turn the Goblin into a buffoon like others would have. Defoe's Goblin is deadly,swift,and truly an alter-ego. Defoe makes you believe that Osborne and the Goblin are two separate people inhabiting one mind. The Goblin mask speaks to Osborne,and Osbourne speaks back to it. He makes Osborne seem sympathetic,and in a way,almost tragic in the tradition of the great Marvel comics villains.Under different circumstances,Parker and the senior Osborne could have been like father and son,and Defoe as well as Maguire show that through their stellar performances.
All of the other performances are great too. From James Franco's Harry Osborne(poor,little rich kid),to J.K. Simmons' J.Jonah Jameson(I wanted to see Dabney Coleman play him,but Simmons fleshes him out well),and even Randy Savage as Bonesaw McGraw(The Macho Man is jakked in this one!). Cliff Robertson's Uncle Ben is as loving as the comics character was,and Rosemary Harris turns Aunt May into the grandmother we all had or wish we had.
My beefs about this picture are minor. The score was totally wrong for this one. Danny Elfman sounds like he was doing another Batman film by mistake. There is nothing quirky about "Spider-Man",and the music should have reflected this. Spider-Man was to me the first "rock 'n' roll" superhero. Think about it,he defies authority,debuted in the early 60's(a turbulent time in American history),gets chased by cops,is misunderstood by elders,is full of bravado,is a smart-aleck,and is loved by the people. I wanted to hear electric guitars instead of a bouncy,pretentious orchestra. "Spider-Man" is set in New York,not a fictional city like Gotham where Elfman's music fit in better.
The Green Goblin's costume also takes some getting used to. Like I said before,I wished they would have taken advantage of Defoe's face(oh that face gives ya the willies,no pun intended). I would have rather seen a form-fitting mask,rather than the bulky helmet the Goblin is given here.
I have always loved heroes and heroism,fictional and otherwise. "Spider-Man" only reinforced that adoration. Spider-Man is our folk hero,an American myth,our everyman,and I think is in everyone of us. Peter Parker is the kid who we think is geeky,but is cooler than we will ever know. Spider-Man is the mousy librarian who plays in a heavy metal band by night,the housekeeper with a bestselling novel in her head,the accountant who dreams of being a director,hell,the construction worker who dresses in drag and sings Ethel Merman tunes while off-duty. Spider-Man is rock 'n' roll,romance,youth,daring,creativity,and anything anyone ever wanted to be when they grow up. The movie made this all clear.I hate to admit it,but I'm finding myself getting as choked up writing this review as I did while watching the conclusion of the film when I realized that they actually succeeded in making my favorite hero of all time come to life in masterful fashion.Watching the movie made me take a look into myself and realize more than ever that I too am Peter Parker and Spider-Man or at least wish I was.
"Spider-Man" is a sometimes harrowing,but ultimately wonderful film. Everyone will find something to enjoy in it. The action fans will rejoice when the battles take place,the romantics will fall head over heels with the love triangle,and those who just plain like a good flick will come away wanting to cruise the skyline of their hometown via webstrands.I want to personally thank all who were involved in the making of this picture. "We"(meaning comics fans) really needed this movie to be excellent. Not only did you all deliver,but you all seemed to have the time of your lives while you were at it.I want to see a franchise. I want to see Jack Black as Dr. Octopus,Henry Rollins as Venom,Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kraven The Hunter,Kevin Spacey as Electro,Ben Kingsley as the Vulture,Portia de Rossi as the Black Cat,Ed Harris as the Scorpion,and I could go on and on.
Go out and see this movie.
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on May 7, 2002
For those of us who have been waiting literally years for this, one of the greatest comic book series ever, to come to larger-than-life enormity on the big screen, this film is a godsend. One of the very few 'event movies' to actually live up to its hype, SPIDER-MAN (2002), as brilliantly directed by the wonderful Sam Raimi (one of the most successful cult directors in film history), delivers BIG-TIME!! It is perfectly cast, from Tobey Maguire in the title role--probably the role he was born to play--to Willem Dafoe, as his dreaded arch-enemy, to the beautiful Kirsten Dunst, the girl he would love to ask out on a date.
Actually, I knew that Tobey Maguire would be perfect as the nerdy, super-shy Peter Parker, who of course turns into Spider-man after being bitten by a genetically altered, and very colorful, red-and-blue spider in a science lab. I've seen Maguire in both PLEASANTVILLE (1997) and THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999) and I just knew that he fit Peter Parker to a T. Also perfectly cast is Willem Dafoe, as well-meaning corporate head Norman Osborne, who of course gives in to his evil side to become the fearsome Green Goblin. Kirsten Dunst, as sweet-but-troubled Mary Jane Watson, finds just the right note in her performance; her M.J. is pretty but not overly glamorous, talented but underachieving, desirable but not inaccessible. I've been following Dunst's career ever since seeing her remarkable debut, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994), for which she should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and I can say that she is every bit as deserving as Tobey Maguire for starring in such a wonderful film, which by the way just smashed all box-office opening-week records ($115 million). Now both actors are finally getting their due recognition!
Also finally getting his due recognition is director Sam Raimi, who first made the splatter-fest THE EVIL DEAD (1983), and the even better (and funnier) EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), before going on to direct the wonderful DARKMAN (1990) and then finishing the EVIL DEAD trilogy with ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993). More known to a wide TV audience as the exec producer of the "Hercules" and "Xena" series, Sam Raimi is now making his triumphant return to feature films. And what a triumph this film is!
SPIDER-MAN has action, fun, brains, brawn, suspense, and most importantly, a great storyline which blends the traditional comic-book story with modern-day realism. Sam Raimi and the screenwriter found a way to not alienate the original fans, while incorporating today's hip humor and attitudes. Plus, it was filmed in my original hometown of New York City! :)
To sum up: Great cast, great acting, great action, great story, great direction, great visuals, filmed in NYC. I can't wait to see it again, and I can't wait to own it on DVD! Now, the questions that may be on your mind if you haven't yet seen it: Does Spider-man conquer evil? Is he conquered instead?? Does he get the girl??? The answers to these questions are not so obvious; you have to go out and see it, and find out for yourself!!!! MOST RECOMMENDED
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on August 24, 2002
Spiderman was one of the most eagerly awaited movies of 2002, which is a lot of baggage to carry when setting out to make an adaptation of one of the most popular comic strips ever. However, with Sam Raimi safely entrusted with the responsibility of Directorial duty and the excellent casting of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, this movie always looked a sure-fire winner and indeed it is exactly that.
As everybody knows Spider-man's alter ego Peter Parker is that anonymous boy next door, the boy who never gets the girl and whom the girl doesn't even notice. He's as pure as the driven snow, devoted to his Aunt and Uncle, the boy for girls to take home to their mother, safe, kind but somewhat unexciting. Bullied at school, he is the butt of everyone's jokes and regarded as something of a nerd, a bit of a loser. However, after being bitten by a genetically modified spider, Peter transforms overnight from anonymous boy next door to super hero in this good guys can come first comic-book tale.
There are so many good things about Spider-man it is hard to know where to start. First off, what I found most impressive and refreshing was the screenplay, which unlike most major Hollywood studio major event movies actually relies on narrative, plot and character development to tell the story instead of just loosely sewing together action scenes with meaningless dialogue (Simon West are you listening?). Credit for this should go to writer David Koepp and Director Sam Raimi for avoiding this obvious pitfall that has spoilt many a summer blockbuster (such as Tomb Raider to give but one example). Raimi's direction is sure-footed and subtle and the decision to give him megaphone duties has proven to be well vindicated. The casting of Tobey Maguire is another masterstroke because Tobey Maguire is undoubtedly one of the most talented young actors around with a CV of critically acclaimed performances in critically acclaimed movies, that seasoned veterans would be proud of, such as; Ride With The Devil, Pleasantville, The Ice Storm, The Wonder Boys and The Cider House Rules. With Mr Maguire as Peter Parker we get performance of depth and subtlety of a teenager struggling with more than the normal transformation from boy to man. Kirsten Dunst (Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Virgin Suicides) is also a spectacular success with her girl next-door looks and range and depth of emotion and ability, as is Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Light Sleeper etc.) in the villainous role of the Green Goblin, carefully avoiding too much ham.
All that said there are some faults. For example, some of the web-slinging CGI is a disappointment and up close the green goblins headgear is a bit rubbish. Spider-Man is also apparently (according to all the geeks) littered with continuity errors but much of that can perhaps be explained by the devastating happenings of September 11th and several scenes featuring the twin towers, including an apparently superb sequence with the villain's helicopter getting caught in webbing between the Twin Towers had to be cut, along with the relevant narrative. Plus the final scenes where a crowd of New Yorkers hurl objects at the Green Goblin has a definite tagged on feel to it but the who can blame them for it's addition is entirely appropriate and rightly captures the spirit of NYC in the aftermath of 9/11: "Ya take one of us on, ya take us all on!" shouts one patriotic New Yorker. Ending with our favourite web-slinger against the backdrop of the stars and stripes, Spider-Man is a resounding success and with Raimi, Maguire and Dunst all signed up for the sequel, I personally cant wait for Spider-Man 2.
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