It's really too bad. You'd think the stage would have been set for an outstanding comic book romp. Good, solid cast; direction of Sam Raimi, all brought together by the everlasting appeal of Spider Man; the fearlessly cheesy, noble alter-ego of nice guy geek Peter Parker. But for some reason, it hasn't gelled.
The basic story covers Spider-Man's origin and his first battle with his first big super evil bad guy. Oh, and he falls in love too. `Spider-Man's' problem isn't the story. A movie is never so much about its story as it is how it tells its story. And this movie tells its story with cheesy dialogue, one heap of clichés and some sketchy effects.
When the side effects of the gas that transforms Willem Dafoe into the Green Goblin are being described, the list terminates with an `iSaNiTy!' so ominous that Adam West would be jealous. And, my God, who the Hell had the idea that they should start calling May Jane' M.J.' (Forgive me if that's what they call her in the comic book.) My name is Alastair, and there are only certain people who can get away with calling me Al. Very few, at that. Peter Parker, being the shy geek that he is, wouldn't be one of them. He should call Mary Jane `Mary Jane' because he's polite and timid and that's just what he'd call her. Plus, they aren't on colloquial enough terms for that. It just sounds phony. As it did whenever anyone else said it, with the exception of a carload of Mary Jane's friends. The intense confrontations between Spiderman and the Green Goblin produce some pretty hard-hitting lines. `Goblin, what have you done!?'; and the Green Goblin's rendition of `The Itsy-Bitsy Spider' are just a few bites of cheese you'll find. Oh, and after Harry thinks Spider-Man has ruthlessly killed his father, not realizing his father was the Green Goblin, `Spider-Man will pay' he assures repeatedly. Geeze. There's more than all of this. Much, much more. I should have taken a notebook to the theater.
The script may be a downer, but it's the clichés that kill it. For example, Peter goes back to meet uncle Ben after he's been to the `library.' How many times have we seen someone in a movie instantly force their way to the front of a crowd surrounding a crime scene? Then, shocking tragedy awaits... well, maybe not all that shocking. Earlier on, there's the scene where dude in charge of the wrestling match refuses to give Peter his money promised for the victor. `It's not my problem,' he tells him. (That's not an exact quote. I don't remember the line, perhaps because the line wasn't as great as it thought it was.) So a few minutes later, a burglar steals the money, runs down the hall and Peter doesn't stop him. Buddy from the desk asks Peter why he didn't stop him. Peter repeats the same line. Oh, the poetic justice of it all! And the whole `With great power comes great responsibility.' Ok, we get it. You don't have to keep ramming it down our throats. There are a lot of things in `Spider-Man' that could go unsaid. Not a lot of innovation went into this movie. The story could have been dealt with more originally.
We haven't seen anything like the Green Goblin's death before, have we? Peter's revelation that the Goblin is business tycoon and father of his best friend and roommate Harry, Norman Orbson sure hits home (right.) And then his hand grasps upwards through that wall and they share a poignant final moment. It's just sooooooooooo dramatic. Not a lot of innovation went into this movie. The story could have been dealt with MUCH more originally.
I didn't have a lot of complaints about the performances. Tobey Maguire was perfect for the lead roll, much better than, shutter, Freddie Prinze Junior would have been. Parker is a geek and so is Maguire. But they're both cool geeks. I usually like Willem Dafoe, here is no exception, even if he wasn't always able to render the insane bantering of his surprisingly two-dimensional character plausible (one situation, however, where he coped especially well were the difficult scenes of his dueling personalities.) Dunst was very pleasing and dealt with the script the best of all (maybe because she didn't have to say M.J.) And J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson seems to have flown in straight from the campy cartoon, in a good way. It's too bad that with all of these characters in the right place, the rest of the movie couldn't have been better.
`Spider-Man' couldn't decide whether to be totally cornball or to go for the drama. `X-Men' was shamelessly cheesy, and for that I enjoyed it a lot more.
The special effects are, if anything, a little rough around the edges. He might be a super-hero, but Spider-Man isn't in outer space. As a consequence, there's still gravity. Then why does it seem like he's flying half of the time? Maybe it's some aerodynamic mystery like the bumblebee. Other effects are, well, all to obviously effects.
But the thing that bothers me the most is that they could have done something really great with this movie, and it would have made just as much money, so why not bother?
But who cares what I think, really? I've never really read the comic book much. I just watched the cartoon and looked at some of the cards when I was a kid. If the fans of the book like it, that's what really matters. Although it doesn't sound like some of them are too pleased. I gave this movie a zero. In actuality, I'd give it a four; but a lot more people gave it a ten than should have and now it's in the top 250. Come on, this movie is not better than `The French Connection.'
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