Altered States Magazine - June 2002


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    Big Screen Review:
    Spider-Man

    By Philip N. Zeman

    ASM Quick Facts

    Starring: Tobey McGuire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst
    Director: Sam Raimi
    Producor: Sam Raimi
    Genre: Action
    Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
    ASM Grade: B

    Overview

    This is an interesting review for me to write. As I type these words, it's been more than a week since I saw Spider-Man. So I've had many days to digest the movie and think about it. Some people would say that this is no way to write a review, that it should be written as soon as possible after seeing the movie.

    But in this case, perhaps it's better that I didn't.

    A little bit of history: I've been a Spider-Man fan for as long as I can remember. When I was young, the old 1960's TV show was in reruns on TV, so I grew up knowing the familiar theme "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...." I had some Spider-Man figures to play with; I even recall sitting on Santa Claus' lap and asking for a Spider-Man doll one Christmas season. I had the suction-cup Spider-Man web shooters that lasted for a short time before failing to stick to any surface ever again. I fantasized having real web-shooters; I imagined a Spidey costume that would allow me to swing from house to house as I collected candy. I read the old "Spidey Super Stories" in the old Electric Company magazine.

    I didn't collect Spider-Man comics, though. Not until I was in my late teens. I had picked up the Spider-Man wedding and honeymoon issues, thanks to ads in the TransFormers comic. But when I got into comic books heavily in 1991, I started reading Spider-Man religiously. I got some back issues, I got all the new issues, and every week it seemed like there was a new story for me to read. I stopped buying the comics when the Clone Saga came to a head and Ben Reilly was revealed as the true Spider-Man, and not until that was resolved did I buy a single Spider-Man comic. Then, in 1997, I quit comics and haven't bought an issue since.

    But Spider-Man still was -- and always will be -- my favorite.

    I went to see Spider-Man opening night. I went into the theatre wanting to love the movie. I came away liking it; there were several intangibles about it that kept me from loving it, but I couldn't fully express what they were.

    Now, over a week later, I find myself liking the movie a lot more than I did a few hours after seeing it. I think it's because I've been able to separate my preconceptions about the movie from what actually took place. It's not necessarily the movie's fault if it didn't live up to my expectations. Granted, there are some things a movie should live-up to, so this is a sticky point to deal with.

    But on the whole, Spider-Man is an enjoyable comic-book film. It's not a Gone with the Wind epic movie, and it won't win any Academy Awards for Best Film. But it's a great way to spend a few hours watching a childhood hero in action.

    The Ten Point Stance

    Here, now, are ten things about the movie that stick in my head.

    1. The Special Effects

    Okay, I know that the producers were saying that the reason the movie could be made now is that the computer generated Spider-Man was completely believable, and that it would make us think Tobey McGuire was really our hero.

    Er, sorry, no, thanks for playing. While some of the Spider-Man effects in the second part of the movie look pretty good, the early stuff, especially the part where Peter is in his first costume, looked horrible. It was easily apparent that it was all fake, and it distracted me from the film.

    2. The Organic Web-Shooters

    This didn't bother me at all. I was afraid that Spidey not having created the shooters would be such a jarring change from the comics that I'd hate it. But, rather, it seemed totally natural. Why shouldn't he have the power to make webbing? It's also a nice touch to the Spider-Man 2099 comic.

    3. The Genetically Altered Spider

    I didn't even think about this one until someone mentioned it to me after the movie was done. In the comics, the spider that bit Peter and gave him his powers was mutated by radiation. In the movie, it was genetically altered to combine abilities from many species of spiders. As the person who pointed it out said, "In the 1960's, radiation was a fear/curiousity of the nation. Today, it's genetic engineering and cloning." Makes sense.

    The whole point of announcing the spiders' abilities could have been more subtle, though.

    4. The Death of Uncle Ben

    Okay, I wish this plot point would have been kept the same as the comics. It's more gut wrenching to think of Uncle Ben dying to protect May from a burglar, dying in her arms, than him being a victim of a random act of violence. Plus, the relationship of Peter and Ben could have been played up a bit more. I think I felt the emotion I was supposed to only because I knew I was supposed to feel that way. However, I'm not sure what could have been done to show that relationship without making the pacing of the movie drag.

    5. The Score

    Actually, this should read "The Lack of a Score". Danny Elfman was a great choice to provide the score for the movie, having composed the familiar theme for the Batman movie back in 1989. However, the score for Spider-Man didn't jump out. There was no theme, no cohesion. Once, I did hear the opening three notes of the familiar "Spider-Man" cartoon series theme, but that was it.

    6. The Green Goblin

    There were times when the portral of the two sides of Norman Osborn worked and there were times when it was laughable. I think Willem Dafoe was a good choice to play this character, but the mirror scene sometimes drifted from showing the madness Norman possessed to being an unintentionally funny showing of overacting.

    As a suit of armor rather than just spandex tights, the costume in the movie does make sense. It gives Spidey even more of an underdog scenario. But I did miss seeing the Goblin laugh and have the mask move with his jaw.

    7. The Little References for Comic Fans

    Mary Jane being the party girl on the outside, but the insecure girl from a broken home on the inside. MJ calling Peter "Tiger". A Daily Bugle reporter named "Eddie". Some of these references made for enjoyable "Hey, cool!" moments. Some of them were painfully obvious that they were there just for the sake of being there.

    8. The Costume

    I liked the costume -- immensely. The raised web-lines and mirrored lenses may not be in the comic book, but they did a great job of bringing the comic look into the three dimensional world. It looked fantastic on the screen.

    9. The Performances

    I enjoyed Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. Tobey McGuire -- sometimes he was Peter Parker, sometimes he was Tobey McGuire reading lines. Sometimes Spider-Man seemed like Peter in the mask, when I would have preferred a little different inflection between the two personas. I did think the scenes of him finding out about his powers and then testing them out were well done.

    And J. Jonah Jameson was perfectly cast. JJJ never seemed more real.

    10. The Ending

    I could see the fight ending coming from a mile away, once I saw the set-up for it. As for the ending of the movie itself, well, it makes perfect sense why what was done was done, although that was definitely a "What are you doing?" moment. But that entire scene rang true to whom the characters are, either in the movie itself or the comics.

    No more shall be said in case you haven't seen the movie yet.

    Conclusion

    Would I see this movie again? After opening night, I said "Yes, but in a matinee." After thinking about it, I'd go pay full price again to see it.

    It's an enjoyable movie, not without its flaws. But it is Spider-Man, and there is just something about seeing that costume on screen that makes you think "Yeah, this is pretty cool." It's also going to be a long wait until the sequel (May 2004), and I hope it will not follow other comic book movies and fail to reach the level of this original.

    After $200+ million in two weeks, the cast and crew have a high bar to reach.

    Final Grade: B



      Copyright © 2002 Altered States Magazine
    A SkyJammer Enterprises Publication