"Spider Man, Spider Man, does whatever a spider can,"
"Spins a web, erm, writes reviews,"
"Catches thieves just like flies."
"Look out! Here comes the Spider man!"
Well this is nothing whatsoever to do with the kitschy cartoon series made
several years ago. Gawd knows, the catchy title tune lyrics above have been
slightly reinvented by myself as well. However, this is everything to do
with the big-screen mega budget summer blockbuster debut of Spider Man.
Now when you normally put the words "summer" and "blockbuster" together,
certain expectations are raised, and others are lowered. So you will get
something big, and loud, and very flashy. The cinematic equivalent of a
fairly violent fairground ride, and guaranteed to leave you shaken up,
nearly throwing up by the end. The things that may be in miniscule
quantities are character portrayal, plot, suspense, and any notion of depth.
But with this movie, we are pleasantly surprised for once.
Spiderman is a happy series of things that it isn't. It is not as cardboard
as Christopher Reeves' Superman series, not as hammily gothic as the Batman
films, and thankfully not superficial masquerading as very deep, like Attack
of the Clones does! Spiderman portrays light and dark in varying but roughly
equal quantities, which makes it more lifelike than a film of this genre
Spiderman on the screen is an almost faithful reproduction of the Marvel
Comics character. We are given an accurate portrayal of the troubled
underdog Peter Parker lifted directly from the comics. As 'Mr Marvel'
himself, Stan Lee is involved, it is a fair bet that Hollywood hasn't been
allowed to interfere too much with a sacred memory of American youth
There is a pretty good use made of the leading character. The audience
oversees a gradual development from the personable and put-upon nerd in the
opening minutes, through an aloof and awkward spider bite-victim, finally
becoming the smooth (when in costume and character) crime fighter. We are
lucky with this film, it could have been made in a lesser and more
superficial fashion. Tobey Maguire gets it spot on, and maintains the
credibility of the lead role throughout the film. Anakin Skywalker, take
Fans of dodgy scientific practice might be interested to know that Peter was
bitten by a performance enhancing Genetically modified 'GM' spider. It seems
that a radioactive spider does not cut it anymore in plausability terms!
We get a feeling that friends and family matter in this film more than in
most other summer blockbusters. The portrayal of Peters Aunt and Uncle
(Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson) might be a little bit sentimental, but
still rooted in reality (his last words to his uncle were in the form of an
argument, for example.) The love interest, in the tasty form of Kirsten
Dunst is developed slowly, and left inconclusively, so you get the feeling
there is more to come next time. She didn't have a lot to do, apart from
being rescued, and a midnight snog-session with Spidey in the rain!
The love interest never quite gets there, as there is a gulf forced between
the would-be lovers by Spiderman's emotionally monastic life of crime
fighting. Willem Dafoe makes a decent fist of the wealthy industrialist
father of Peter's best friend Harry. He is the man who suffers the slow
descent into madness as he succumbs to the malign split personality of the
I also enjoyed a memorable cameo of the megalomaniac newspaper editor of the
Daily Bugle, J.K Simmonds, played with obvious enjoyment by J.Jonah Jameson.
Any resemblance to real-life members of the Alive! team, picked up by
readers of this article will be sued on mentioning it!
J.K Simmonds happens to be the focus of the authorities (if not the
public's) less than happy relationship with Spidey, who is portrayed by the
Bugle as a vigilante attention-seeker. Happily, the public on the receiving
end of Spiderman's heroics are somewhat more appreciative.
The special effects are pretty fair. My best moment is seen where we take a
spiderman's heightened sense view of the action, with everything seemingly
slowing right down around him. There are touches of John Woo influences in
Spidy's physically dextrous fighting and leaping moves.
There is even room for comedy, when Peter Parker first discovers his new
powers, in his bedroom at home. This is shortly topped when he is in the
canteen at school, when he stuffs the school bully. The last instance of
Spiderman played for laughs, is at an amateur all-comers wrestling match,
when he tries to use his powers for mercenary ends. "The Human Spider? You
mean you couldn't come up with a name better than that?!"
If there is a weakness, it is with the villain. William Dafoe turning into
the creeping gradual madness of the Green Goblin is very well executed, but
the Green Goblin himself is strangely two-dimensional, as if lifted straight
off the comic book pages into the film? He cackles evilly, flies around, and
blows up stuff. The costume design brings out the harsh and simplistic comic
book artist sketch lines, strangely at odds with the atmosphere of the rest
of this film. Was it not possible to make a costume that had a moving jaw?!
You probably know that this film was one of the ones that suffered post 9-11
editing, as a scene with Spiderman using the World Trade Towers as a
catapult was stricken from the final version.
The ending is not a happy one, the difference between evil villain and
loving father is too close to call, but it is an ending which leaves the
probability of a whole series open. And as I write this, I understand that
there already is a second Spiderman movie in production
Taking this first attempt, this is an endeavour worth persisting with.
Overall, Spiderman is a better than average translation of a classic comic
book hero to the big screen.
CiH, for Alive! Mag,June '02