Movie Review: Spider-Man

Article by Mike Finkelstein

Spider-Man is the story of one nerdy kid who gets thrown into unimaginable situations (well, unless you're Stan Lee) all because he was bit by a genetically engineered spider.

Peter Parker is your average kid; smarter than most, sure but not very cool, so it balances out. He's loved by his Uncle Ben (who lost his instant rice fortunes years earlier) and Aunt May, Peter's surrogate parents after his real parents died years earlier (I believe from a car accident... or snakes on a plane).

His life takes a bit of a detour, however, when that pesky spider comes along. Soon he feels different; he becomes more agile and much stronger. He discovers he can climb walls, shoot webs, and, more importantly, no longer needs to wear glasses (suck that Lasik).

In an attempt to get money together so that he can buy a car (so that he can impress the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson), Peter becomes an amateur wrestler. When he gets screwed out of all the money he's owed by the owner of the wrestling arena, he gets his payback by not stopping a robber that steals all the money from the wrestling organizer.

And then it all comes crashing down on Peter when he finds out that the very robber he didn't stop is the same man that later kills Peter's own Uncle Ben (have a cup of rice and never forget!).

Peter takes it upon himself to use his new-found powers wisely, to stand up and fight for those he need a defender. He becomes the amazing Spider-Man.

And that's just the first half hour or so. You have to give the writers credit. They worked a lot of plot into a quickly paced popcorn flick.

Spider-Man is one of the better superhero movies. I wouldn't go nearly so far as to say its perfect, but it is about as good as Hollywood can do (this is only reaffirmed when watching the god-awful Spider-Man 3).

What Spider-Man does best is tell a tight, cohesive story. Past the first half an hour of setup, Spider-Man kicks into the struggle between Spider-Man and a new villain, the Green Goblin. Along with this, Peter is dealing with winning over the girl of his dreams, and trying to keep himself afloat amid schoolwork, problems with his best friend, and his new job as a photographer for the Daily Bugle.

The story isn't forced. It doesn't go too slowly, nor does it try to fit too much in (more ideas than run-time). No, it's well thought-out and finely paced.

Sadly, the performances aren't all as good as the writing. Tobey Maguire is an okay Peter Parker, but he's much better at acting confused or pouty than he is menacing or strong. Any time he tries to act like a hero, and not awkward or nerdy, it comes across as goofy. Kirsten Dunst fares little better, nearly phoning most of her scenes in. It's as thought she thought she could just be pretty on camera and no one would expect much more from her.

That said, when Willem Dafoe is on screen (playing Norman Osborn, the man inside the Power Rangers Green Goblin outfit) he's truly menacing. Without the idiotic costume, he's one of the best villains in a superhero movie (would be the best, but Heath Ledger as the Joker will be the pinnacle for eons to come).

On screen it shows that the director, Sam Raimi, has a love for the Spider-Man character. He also, plainly, knows how to film exciting action sequences. The few times he just lets loose and says "this is how Spider-Man should web-sling", and just lets the camera pan around, following all the death-defying action, you get the feeling that no one could have directed this movie better.

Sadly, when Spider-Man is stuck closer to the ground, the action is far less impressive. Sam Raimi is great at flights of fancy, but either he just doesn't get ground-based action (which I doubt), or he just got bored when Web-Head was earthbound. Whatever the case, he lets a few action sequences (especially the climactic ones) go by faster than they should, which leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling inside.

All that stated, many of these issues are fixed in the second movie (although others creep up -- and that will be discussed in that review). For a first effort at bringing this character to life on the big screen, Spider-Man is commendable. For the time it came out, Spider-Man was exceptional. Now, a few years later, it's still a good flick; but as I said, not the perfection some might otherwise say it is.

There's no reason not to watch the flick. Most will have a great time, and, from a superhero popcorn feature, what more can you ask for?