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Spider-Man (2002)

PG-13 121 minutes

Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by David Koepp

 · Tobey Maguire
 · Kirsten Dunst
 · Willem Dafoe
 · James Franco

Review by Thom Stricklin

Where should I begin? Perhaps by saying Spider-Man is one of the reasons for my creation of this very website. It's the definitive "popcorn" flick by every definition--including the grosses--yet at the same time, it is intelligently written, directed, and acted. Not what you'd expect from a high-action summer flick.

It wasn't what I expected at all. Let's flash back to late 2001. X-Men was, in my opinion, the best film of the genre, and I thought it would never be surpassed. Certainly not by some nerdy high school student named Peter Parker. Yes, for a short time, I was a whiny fanboy. Well, I thought the cast was well-chosen, and wasn't bothered at all by the "changes" (a.k.a. the "ORGANICS SUCK!" hype), but I was worried by the apparent tone of the film. Those publicity images were awfully bright & cheery, and Green Goblin sure looked like an action figure. I was reminded of Batman & Robin, the flop heard 'round the world, but perhaps more so of the Superman franchise. Yikes! A bastardized version of Lex Luthor, "surrounded by nincompoops", Atomic Man, Richard Pryor... The Supes flicks might've been good for their time, but they wouldn't stand a chance in today's Hollywood. So I was worried.

But, thank goodness, I started to come around as I read and saw more about the film. By mid-March, nearly all my fears had been put to rest. That was a good thing, too... Having finished eating my crow, I had a good six weeks to gain my appetite for Spider-Man. I started counting the days, I became one of the hopefuls that the webslinger would dethrone Harry Potter, and as the film unrolled across its opening weekend, I was checking Box-Office Mojo almost hourly to monitor the film's progress.

And that, as Paul Harvey says, is the rest of the story.

As we all know by now, the film has broken most records in the existence of the domestic box office. Millions have seen it. Millions have seen it again--I've seen it four times in theatres. Millions love it. So, what better film to use for Smart-Popcorn.com's inaugural review?




Unlike the film itself, the entertainment value here is a no-brainer. When one of the world's most recognizable characters is swinging onto the big screen for the first time, there's little that could prevent an audience from being entertained. But rest assured, the filmmakers went to great lengths to make this film as enjoyable as possible. Raimi is blessed by his well-trained visual style, which he uses subtly but effectively in Spider-Man. Moreover, he made sure to capture the style of the comics themselves--by far, more so than any film before it.

Although the CGI is a bit rough, particularly in the early action scenes, the effects of this film are no less revolutionary than those of Superman twenty-five years ago. With that film, you were made to believe a man could fly. With Spider-Man, not only do you believe, but you almost feel as though you could reach out and touch him mid-swing. The action sequences are less like battles and more like a ballet, with Spidey, Gobby, and the camera twirling around each other. Sure, you can tell the difference between CGI and live-action footage. How? Pay attention to the camera angle. The live footage features relatively still shots and the camera at a reasonable distance from the actors. The CGI-shots, however, are almost always moving and often come from impossible angles. Although a bit dizzying at first, eventually this really helps to draw the audience even further into the action. Technology providing, I wouldn't at all be surprised if the day comes when action scenes in all films, even simple fistfights between plainclothes characters, are rendered through CGI.

That tone I was worried about? Well, I figured out what it was. It was Raimi's attempt (and success) at truly making this a live-action comic book. The film had elements that could certainly border on camp: a few scenes with slightly over-the-top acting, some rather cheesy dialogue between hero and villian. Yet this film's intelligence (which we'll get to shortly) prevents it from being a campfest. Instead, we are left with a wholly enjoyable film and a strong reminder that, yes, this is based on a comic book.

And I dare you to try and not laugh every time J.K. Simmons is onscreen as newspaper mogul J. Jonah Jameson. Here's hoping he has even more screen time in the sequel!




But oh, would anyone have ever guessed that a comic-book property could be this smart? Excluding my circle of friends at Comics2Film, probably not. Except for Sam Raimi.

While the villianous banterings of The Green Goblin may be classic Stan Lee, the meat of the story dates far earlier than the comic's 79-year-old creator. Spider-Man is full of tragic characters... A hero forced to not recognize his love. A prominent leader whose ambition and lust for power are the very things that cause his demise. A jealous son, seemingly incapable of pleasing his father, while watching his best friend receive those parental affections. Indeed, Raimi and Koepp have remembered the literary roots of the term "hero", and have delivered us characters on par with the greatest Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. In fact, The father-son-friend triangle reminded me of Othello, and...I have a strong feeling (judging by Harry Osborn's last words) that we will recieve a dose of Hamlet in the sequels.

Maguire and Dafoe, as well as James Franco, deliver these themes through top-notch acting. Unfortunately, Kirsten Dunst's role as girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson is overshadowed, However, her performance is more than apt, and the final scene gives us a feeling that there will be more to her character--and her relationship to Peter Parker--in the sequel.

There have been complaints about gaping continuity errors, such as actors' bodies changing position between cuts. Yes, those editing errors are there, but I personally find them unimportant. So the film won't win an Oscar for best editing, big deal. It doesn't change the fact that the film is, otherwise, a visual feast. Superb cinematrography, beautiful set decoration, and carefully chosen costuming--not just for the men in tights, but for every actor down to the last extra in the World Unity scene.



If it isn't obvious by now, I love Spider-Man. It captures my eyes, my attention--in many places, even my heart--as few films have. No film is perfect, least of all a film about a kid dancing around in tights. This film is no exception, and I won't pretend it is. Still, Spider-Man seems to have transcended the expectations of both superhero films and summer blockbusters. It's proven that big action does not have to come at the expense of great characters and a strong story. Indeed, I think it has set the standard for its genre, and future films of the genre will be compared to Spider-Man just as musicians have been eternally doomed for comparison to The Beatles.

Well, there's one difference. Unlike Ringo Starr's solo career, Spider-Man 2 shows a lot of promise.

1181 Words Published: 11 July 2002

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