Review: Spider-Man

Sam Raimi’s millenium Spider-Man is both sensitive and realistically self-serving.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Everyone wants to be a superhero, even Stan “The Man” Lee. On the April 29th episode of The Simpsons, Lee was convinced he could turn himself into the Incredible Hulk if he pulled a Homer Simpson fit of rage. Poor Lee. Screwed by Matt Groening just when he got the chance to see himself all green and greased up for his fanboys. As played by the perpetually angst-ridden Tobey MaGuire, Spider-Man is less cocky webslinger than rebel-without-a-cause. No, Spidey ain’t no wuss. As envisioned by director Sam Raimi, Lee’s hyphenated superhero is an existential geek tortured by his superpowers. When a super arachnid bites Peter Parker on a class trip to a hi-tech gene splicing facility, he’s kick-driven past that final leg of his adolescent cycle and wakes up with the stud body it takes everyone else half a lifetime to sculpt. Amid the muscle mass, Peter is still a quintessential dork. “Don’t be ashamed of who you are,” says Uncle Ben not long before irony shoots the wise man in the heart. Spider-Man is a superhero caper cleverly disguised as a coming-of-age saga. With great power comes great responsibility so Peter must negotiate more than silk-clogged pores when the Green Goblin (a carefully campy Willem Dafoe) goes bump in the night. Raimi’s millenium Spider-Man is both sensitive and realistically self-serving, rescuing women from rapists but never forgetting that he’s got bills to pay. Spidey also does his own PR work, saving a toddler from a fire after the city calls for his arrest. He may be too late to save New York City from Osama bin Laden (see the film’s awesome WTC wink) but Spider-Man is still needed, even if Raimi’s New Yorkers treat their superheroes like yesterday’s fad. Spider-Man is cheesy and drags at two hours, but Raimi does right by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original creation via an old-fashioned comic-book aesthetic worn on Kirsten Dunst’s bright red hair, the Daily Bugle newsroom pyrotechnics and Aunt May’s prayers to God. In the end, Spider-Man delivers New York from evil, stares at the face of a selfishly earned moral view and, during the film’s bittersweet finale, learns that it sucks being a teenage superhero in love.

 Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Michael Papajohn, Randy Poffo, Joe Manganiello, Rosemary Harris, Ted Raimi, Cliff Robertson, Bill Nunn, Bruce Campbell  Director: Sam Raimi  Screenwriter: David Koepp  Distributor: Columbia Pictures  Running Time: 121min min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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