Film Review: Spiderman
Sam Raimi weaves a web of intrigue with the action hero. Or does he?
Spiderman arrives on these shores having roundly beaten Attack of the Clones at the US box office. With huge box office receipts being an unreliable indication of quality (and also given the chequered history of comic-strip hero films) I approached Spiderman with some trepidation.
Opening with a terrific spider's web sequence the film wastes no time in moving onto the story of Peter Parker and his encounter with a genetically altered spider. Peter, the school nerd, lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris). In addition to coping with his unexpected arachnid abilities he also has to deal with his unrequited love for the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She is completely oblivious to Peter's feelings for her and more interested in Peter's (richer and better looking) friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco). The story of Harry's father, Norman, and his genesis into the Spiderman's archenemy, the Green Goblin, is told in parallel to Peter's transformation.
The film is not without its problems. As with X-men the amount of time given to the introduction of the characters, the genesis of the powers etc. leaves a very basic central conflict between Spiderman and the Goblin i.e. Spiderman is GOOD and the Green Goblin is BAD. In addition to this there are a couple of gaffes by the makers that stick out like sore thumbs in a film of full otherwise excellent production values. First and foremost the costume for the green goblin should not have got past the design stage. Several audience members at the screening I attended giggled at scenes that could have quite effective were it not for the fact that Spiderman appeared to be having a battle of wills with a transformer toy. I have also yet to solve the mystery of who exactly made Spiderman's costume(s). While we see Peter designing the costume I?m not sure we're actually meant to believe he ran it up himself after school. Paying someone to make it might not have helped his bid for anonymity but I hardly think he brainwashed Aunt May into doing it.
These are minor quibbles in an otherwise terrific film. We know that Maguire (Ice Storm, Pleasantville) can do geekiness standing on his head but he also brings real feeling to the more emotional elements of the story. Kirsten Dunst has a fairly thankless role as ?the girl? but as usual she lights up the screen whenever she appears. The rest of the supporting cast (including a scene-stealing turn by J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson) all perform well with newcomer James Franco particularly good as Harry Osborn. Despite my quibbles about the main storyline the same cannot be said about some of the secondary plots. The genuinely complicated relationships that Harry Osborn has with both Peter and his father (and especially the heavy personal cost that Peter's new powers carry) are all well integrated into the story. Indeed the film travels into considerably darker territory than you would expect. A humorous scene in which Parker handles a school bully with his new skills gains laughs from the audience but these die down when we realize his fellow students are not impressed but frightened and in one genuinely shocking moment a rash (and also initially humorous) decision on Peter's part carries a devastating personal cost.
With Spiderman director Sam Raimi has finally catapulted himself into the
really big league. While A Simple Plan was criminally neglected by moviegoers I
hope this move into action adventure does not prevent from revisiting thrillers.
Spiderman will probably turn out to the best of the Summer blockbusters. In most
years this could be described as fairly faint praise but Raimi et al have
created a rarity ? a well made, complex, character driven action movie that is
full of quirky humour. Roll on Spiderman 2.