STARRING: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten
Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris
2002, 121 Minutes, Directed by: Sam Raimi
A few weeks before the much-hyped Spider-man movie's release I read The
Essential Spider-man Volume I, a collection of the first 22 or so comics
ever published way back in the early 1960s. To be honest I haven't read
any Spider-man comics since leaving school and decided
to brush up on my Spider-man 101. (We film reviewers call it "research.")
So how were they? Although considered "classic" today by nostalgic
comic book aficionados, I was surprised at their sheer amateurism. The
artwork weren't particularly good and the stories depended on the most
embarrassing unlikely coincidences. Corny as heck, these 22 comics served
as a sort of sociological time capsule from a time before JFK's assassination,
before Vietnam, "free love", LSD and Charles Manson. As innocent
and wide-eyed as Peter Parker, the geeky teenager who gets bit by a radioactive
spider and then turns into the flamboyantly costumed alter-ego of Spider-man
then . . .
Despite this, I enjoyed the comics not merely for their unintentional
humor, but for their very innocence and uncynical view of the world.
(As comic fans will tell you, this was before Stan Lee and Marvel Comics
grew all self-aware, ironic and "hip".) The same goes for the
new big screen Spider-man movie: it isn't really a very good movie, but
I was entertained throughout.
Part teenager movie, part soap opera, with
Matrix-like action sequences
and clunky comic book dialogue and over-the-top acting (especially thanks
to Willem Dafoe, who plays the Green Goblin villain), the movie manages
to capture the essence of the Spider-man comics. Like the old Christopher
Reeve Superman movies, its biggest asset is in its casting of the title
character, in this case Tobey Maguire, once seen reading Fantastic Four
comics in Ang Lee's 1997 excellent The Ice Storm. His wide-eyed innocent
shtick works well without ever becoming corny or irritating. His bemusement,
delight and angst at changing into the titular superhero seem real and
Otherwise, the plot sputters back and forth with no clear goal in mind,
lacking in structure pretty much like Tim Burton's Batman efforts back
in the early 1990s. A bored teenager sitting next to my wife in the cinema
was fidgeting on his cellular phone throughout the entire movie, composing
lengthy SMS messages.
Maybe the movie lacked a villain with clear goal in mind. Perhaps the
inevitable sequel will feature a mad scientist villain who wants to destroy
all cell phones and Spider-man must stop him. Maybe today's teenagers
will identify with that. Who knows? I'm just not sure what will constitute
a happy ending in such an event. I'm rooting for the villain to destroy
all those annoying cell phones, which seem to have taken over their "owners"
. . .
Despite its faults (the special effects aren't all that special either),
Spider-man has a human core lacking in most of today's heartless blockbusters.
We'd probably see more installments featuring our friendly neighborhood
spidey in the franchise considering that the movie opened so extremely
well at the US box office. Keep on web-slinging, I say . . .