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Spider-Man

Starring Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, James Franco
Screenplay by David Koepp;
Based on the Marvel Comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Directed by Sam Raimi
website: www.spiderman.com

IN SHORT: It really doesn't matter what we think . . . 'cuz this one is review-proof. [Rated PG-13 for stylized violence and action. 112 minutes]

Sometimes a comic book adapted to the big screen transcends the four color page. It shouldn't be too hard, most action packed films aren't much more than comic books with character development. The catch for comics is that all the character development is done over decades of time, for the good ones. Getting any of that to screen is almost impossible. And so comes Spider-Man to the big screen. (and you can get wallpapers from the film, here)

It is a rule of this site that you shouldn't have to know the Source Material to appreciate the movie. We've been reading the book for years so -- if you're no fanboy, skip down a paragraph. For the fanboys: Tobey Maguire's Parker is dead on. J. K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson flat out steals every scene he's in. Kirsten Dunst plays the unhappy daughter of a verbally abusive father and invisible mother -- hell if we know who she is but she's not Mary Jane Watson in any shape or form, excepting the red hair. This Watson is the most radical change in a Spider-Man story, even moreso than the relatively minor adjustments to the nitty gritty of Spidey's powers and origin.

OK, for everybody else, action rules this comic book on the big screen. Teenage girls were walking out of our screening mouthing the word "awesome," which is bound to make the studio happy because teengirls are the last part of the market they'd expect to lay down and roll over for a testosterone fest. Simply: high school kid Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, click for StarTalk) gets bitten by a super-spider and develops spider-like powers and a sixth "spider sense." He tries to make big bucks with his powers to help out his loving Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) but tragedy results from his arrogance. He turns to fighting petty crime and later, an evil high tech villain the Daily Bugle newspaper has nicknamed "the Green Goblin." The Peter Parker character created by Stan Lee (who does a millisecond cameo) and Steve Ditko was a skinny science brained nerd whose alienation and transformation spoke volumes to all the teens reading his adventures, all of whom were going through their own genetic transformations. That hasn't been lost in the big screen adaptation, which is about as true to the comic book origins as it can get. (Two minor changes are made. Get over it.)

The big difference is that, on the big screen, Spider-Man is still a comic book. The choice was made to make the superheroics the centerpiece of the film so John Dykstra, already a legend in the biz, was hired to run that show. Good God does his work rock! Then there's everything else...

Willem Dafoe, as industrialist turned madman Norman Osborn gets to go all wild eyed and chomps the scenery to a pulp. That means he overacts up the wazoo and we didn't buy his character's transformation at all. James Franco as Osborn's son, and Peter's only friend, Harry, mutters more than half of his lines and wastes our time. Then there's the lovely girl next door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), love object for both Peter and Harry (roommates in the post high school world) who's trapped between storylines reminiscent of the Perils of Pauline and the bad performance of the guy not named Maguire.

Director Sam Raimi's picture begins with promise but has to move so quickly to get to the action scenes that there is absolutely no time for any kind of chemistry to develop between any of the characters in the "live action" parts of the story. Maguire and Dunst's scenes couldn't melt an ice cube. The keystone of the story, in which Cliff Robertson gets to deliver the Spider-Mantra ("with great power comes great responsibility") almost hits the mark but it, like every other scene with the actors, comes across feeling as if at least another take or two was needed to get the point across. Then again, if all that matters is the action, there's plenty of it and all of it is good.

Spider-Man feels like a lot of ideas lifted from the comic and barely developed for the big screen, all stapled together and ultimately coming down to the necessity of telling the actors what to do so that the cut into CG effects is seamless. Most of the time it is. But we're far past the stage where all we want is a whole load of action. By the time the big fireworks were unleashed, we had ceased to care.

The film is stuffed with cartoon references from all over the map that will make fanboys smile so, before you email us saying "well you're a fanboy, you know too much," know this. We lugged along another middle aged fanboy and he turned and said "I think they nailed it." And he's right -- Tobey Maguire nailed it. As a whole, Spider-Man is a great excuse to munch popcorn and plant a date or with the kids, if you got 'em. And if you buy what you see in the very final scene of the film, you're a bigger fanboy than I.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Spider-Man, he would have paid . . .

$6.50

Spider-Man is no more than a good popcorn flick. We may want to see the some of the action scenes in slow motion when the DVD hits. Now that all the history is out of the way, we cross our fingers and hope that Number 2 fires on all cylinders.

or... you shouldn't plan the sequel before you get the first one right.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.