Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:01 - Released 5/3/02
Not being a particular fan of superhero comics, I have to admit I've never read Spider-Man and don't know much about the character. This is why I was rather surprised to see that Tobey Maguire, the quiet, slightly geeky guy whose understated performances gave Pleasantville, Wonder Boys, and The Cider House Rules their sturdy underpinning, was starring in Sam Raimi's 21st-century update of the classic Marvel Comics character. But I guess Spider-Man's alter ego, Peter Parker, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and adapted for the screen by David Koepp, is a quiet, slightly geeky guy. At any rate, Maguire fits the role. He's not an action star, he's not a martial arts master, he's not a ball of muscle who blows up stuff while uttering clever one-liners...and yet, now he is. Our little Tobey has found his multimillion-dollar, sequel-making action role that will catapult him from minor prominence as a real actor into the pantheon of major commercial contracts and household word status of which real acting plays a very small part.
Spider-Man begins with a high school field trip to the
Columbia University science department, where spiders, for some
reason, are being cross-bred to produce "super spiders."
Yeah, that's something I need around my house. When sweet-tempered
doormat student Peter is bitten by an errant orb-weaver, he begins
to feel a little woozy. After getting home, he tells his loving
Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris) that
he needs a nap, but when he wakes up, he feels better than ever.
He also discovers that he can climb walls and buildings and spin
webs from his wrists. Basically he does whatever a spider can.
Hoping he can win some quick cash and buy a car to impress his
friend and literal girl-next-door Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), on
whom he's had a crush since 4th grade, he designs a costume and
enters a wrestling competition against "Bone-Saw McGraw"
(WWF/WCW wrestler Randy Poffo, a.k.a Macho Man Randy Savageyou
know, the Slim Jims guy?). Peter wins the competition, but it's
too late: M.J. is already dating his best friend, Harry Osborn
(James Franco), whose father, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), is
the founder of a multi-million-dollar chemical company. You know
how the chicks always go for the rich guys.
But dating soon becomes the least of Peter's problems when
his uncle is shot by a thief during a police chase. As he lies
dying in Peter's arms, Uncle Ben gives him a piece of wisdom which
will ring in his webby ears for decades to come: "With great
power comes great responsibility." I think the old man is
just talking about always using a condom, but Peter interprets
it in his own way, deciding to use his newfound arachnid talents
to fight crime and evil. And it's just in time, too, because,
as it turns out, Mr. Osborn's company has begun developing a powerful
performance-enhancing drug which turns the user into a homicidal
megalomaniac with the strength of 10 men, and he chooses himself
as the guinea pig. Soon Spider-Man and Osborn (now dubbed The
Green Goblin) must face off in a desperate power struggle between
good and evil, with Mary Jane caught in the middle.
Tobey Maguire is certainly more than adequate for the scenes
in which you can actually see his face or hear his voice, and
ditto for Dafoe. Dunst is good at the three things for which she's
required; namely, screaming, smiling, and flashing her cleavage.
Also notable is J.K. Simmons as the crewcutted, tough-as-nails
newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. Of course, most of the really
amazing action stuff is done either by stunt professionals or
CGI computer geeks, but Evil Dead director Raimi definitely
understands what makes a blockbuster, with quick cuts, fast action,
and the judicious cranking up of Danny Elfman's pounding musical
score. There are some eerie moments when images of collapsing
New York buildings and fleeing bystanders hit a little too close
to home (apparently there was even a scene which involved the
World Trade Center that was cut from the final print), but generally
things are well-sanitized and kept on a light-hearted basis. Screenwriter
Koepp, previously responsible for scripts like Jurassic Park,
Mission: Impossible, and Panic
Room, successfully adapts his writing style to that of
pulp comics, and director Raimi follows suit with the film's colorful
and fantastic look. And if you're wondering about a sequel, don't
worrynot only does the film's ending hint at the possibility,
but Spider-Man 2 is already scheduled for release in November
Reeve. Reeves. Keaton. Kilmer. Clooney. And now, Maguire. Get used to it, folks. Tobey's grown up. ****