(Sam Raimi, USA, 2002)
For its first half, Spider-Man exceeds expectations. Poor put-upon nerd Peter Parker Tobey Maguire) loves girl-next-door goddess Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) but has no hope with her. On a school trip to a research lab, a female scientist lists the various attributes of different spiders. This spider can shoot web. This one can jump. This one has great strength. Parker ends up being bitten by a genetically engineered one that has been created to combine all of these skills. This explains why he has such a wide range of super powers, but not why anyone would want to create such a composite spider in the first place.
The section following Parker's bite is great fun, and a blatant allegory for puberty. After writhing about on his bed all night, Parker finds that his hands are very sticky. Next he experiments with his hands, until he finds just the right motion to make white sticky streams of web shoot out. Where before he saw MJ as a friend, although unattainable in a romantic way, he now starts trying to think how to get her. Lacking the nerve to even approach her on the street, he concocts the masked superhero Spider-Man in order to impress her. While it's possible to imagine women swooning over handsome Superman, it's impossible to think anyone but an utter freak would be much attracted to the masked, sinister Spider-Man, no matter how many times he saved her. Like the creepy Rorschach character in Watchmen, a real Spider-Man would be shunned. Not because of his abilities, but because of the odd, childish way he's chosen to deal with them.
Was Spider-Man always so derivative of Superman? Apparently so. Parker goes to work at a newspaper, but the Daily Bugle rather than Clark Kent's Daily Planet. Also like Kent, Parker trades on his friendship with his own superhero alter-ego. And both pine for girls who are more interested in their costumed selves. Simultaneously with the creation of Spider-Man, an industrialist becomes the Green Goblin. While Spider-Man is an interesting creation the Goblin is just an idiot. His mask is frozen still, and having funny lines come out from behind that expressionless face just doesn't work.
But at least the Goblin does get to crack wise. In the comic, Spider-Man always had the best jokes, but here he's just a CGI figure that says very little. I usually hate those scenes in superhero films where the mask gets ripped, or removed, just to give the actor a few close ups. But they're the best bits here, because then we at least get an actor, and a really good one, rather than this CGI robot thing. Although to be fair the CGI Spider-Man robot can leap around high buildings in thrilling style. It just doesn't look like a human while it does it.
The ending pushes reality too far to be exciting, and is just silly, with characters falling from high buildings, but being grabbed by Spider-Man just before hitting the ground, and therefore being fine. Following the finale there's a compendium of cool web slinging scenes that have no reason to be there other than because they look great, which is probably fair enough. But after starting like a great teen version of The Fly, the whole film declines badly once the mask is donned. As such it may be the only superhero movie that would be improved by the removal of its own costumed hero. 7/10
Adrian Horrocks (December 2007)
[Background introduction: Like director Sam Raimi, I was obsessed with Spider-Man as a kid. I collected the comics, annuals and toys. My mum made me a pretty impressive Spider-Man costume and I manufactured my own webs out of string. Ever since reading the comics in the 70s, I'd longed to see a film do justice to the character created by Steve Ditko and founder of Marvel comics Stan 'the man' Lee. The late 70s TV series was bad enough but when they tricked young kids like myself into cinemas to see the feature length versions I walked out afterwards with my head held in bitter disappointment. Since then I've followed the possibility of a big-budget, just plain decent film version of Spider-Man with more than just a keen interest. This is the background to which I come to this film and this review.]
I'd never been a fan of the Superman comics so wasn't particularly interested in the film version of that particular comic book hero, but I was taken by his darker DC stablemate, Batman, as a kid and was surprised at how much of the spirit of (the then Jim Aparo incarnation) Batman had gotten through the Hollywood mincing machine in Tim Burton's big screen version. Ever since then, I've had incredibly high hopes for a Spider-Man film and it has taken extraordinary will power to avoid reading too much about fan director Sam Raimi's take on Peter Parker's alter ego.
Like Batman before it, I went into Spider-Man knowing largely what it needed for me to be satisfied. Based upon the trailers (and a "Making of" TV preview I couldn't help myself watching), whilst not a purist, the only thing that looked slightly dodgy was the massively reworked Green Goblin costume and the slightly obvious nature of some of the CGI effects.
As a Spider-Man film it has to be said that you'd be hard pushed to better it. It isn't even necessary to make any 'allowances' for Hollywood. Apart from the above mentioned Goblin sartorial deviation, the only main difference to the comic book origins is that the screen version of Peter Parker has the ability to spin webs naturally - that is as part of his special powers that came as a result of the bite from the genetically engineered spider - instead of manufacturing both the infamous 'web fluid' of the comic books and the requisite webshooter. Neither did it bother me that the fate-laden spider was here genetically engineered rather that irradiated by radiation as it was in the comic book origin. Anally retentive types who have a problem with this change should take note that this is the 21st century.
As far as comic book adaptations go this really is about as good as they get; it was even nominated for two Oscars! (Sound and Visual Effects). Ignoring the excessive changes to the Green Goblin costume, its virtually impossible to find fault with the transference from comic book to screen. It's about as faithful an adaptation as is possible. Having had a practice run back in 1990 with Darkman, Raimi's direction is his most mature to date. The casting and performances are uniformly first rate with the crucial male and female leads in Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson brilliantly realised by Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Special mention must go to Willem Dafoe's maniacal performance as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. The emotions are authentic and moving. Effects (mostly) thrilling and convincing. Cinematography perfect (thankfully not afraid to show Spider-Man's costume in all its bright red and blue glory). Even Danny Elfman's score goes beyond his usually limited range. Raimi's Spider-Man is unquestionably one of the finest superhero films ever made. 9/10
Rob Dyer (May 2007)
Green Goblin's Last Stand, The
A-Z of Film Reviews