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Spider-Man (PG-13)
Sony Pictures
Official Site
Director: Sam Raimi
Producers: Ian Bryce, Laura Zishkin, Avi Arad
Written by: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, David Koepp
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe

Rating: out of 5

Surrender your wallet; summer blockbusters have begun. If The Scorpion King was the ďOn your marks, get set;Ē Spider-Man is the ďGO!Ē And this summer is one for fan boys to rejoice everywhere, as not only will Spider-man be appearing in theaters, but George Lucas will be selling brand new toysÖ and a new movie. Well, if this movie is any indication, the summer will be a season of borderline-quality action movies, much improved by talented actors.

If you donít know the Spider-man plot, welcome to America. Have a complementary action figure. Nerdy teen, Peter Parker (Maguire), is bit by a mutated spider during a class field trip and turns into a web-slinging acrobatic superhero. Elsewhere in a laboratory, Peterís best palís dad, Norman Osborn (Dafoe), injects himself with a performance enhancer, goes ballistic, and becomes the evil Green Goblin. They fight. Plus, thereís a love story, but you all know how those work. Grade-school crush, closeted feelings, yada, yada, yadaÖ Iím not trying to display the plot as trite; I just donít what to waste time talking about it.

The translation from comic book to screen is perfect. Absolutely perfect. The lines are cheesy, the colors are vibrant, and even the fighting has that unrealistic comic-book feel, something which eludes many other adaptations. If I didnít know better, I would say Raimi stole the entire movie from one of Stan Leeís comic books, substituting shots for frames. In fact, the movie is an amalgamation of several of Spideyís early stories and a seamless one at that. No, the faults of this film do not come from the adaptation.

Sadly, the problems come from the story itself, and even sadder, the direction. The superior Blade II (you heard me) has a distinct advantage. It never takes itself seriously for more than 30 seconds. This area is where Spider-Man shoots itself in the foot. The Maguire-Dunst romance doesnít work. Their scenes have, by far, the most atrocious dialogue of the film, and their chemistry is like watching napkins mate. I was totally unconvinced. As for Raimi, his signature style is nowhere to be found. All the things that made the Evil Dead movies exciting are missing here. There are very few clever shots and the humor of the film is only worth a chuckle every once in a while. Also, the direction seems to be striving hard to make the film less serious and more playful, but the screenplay is pulling in the opposite direction, muddling the focus of the movie.

The acting is commendable. Maguire is fair, but Parker is such an everyman that there is no meat to his character (unlike say, Batman). Dafoe is excellent. In fact, he ranks among the best comic-book villains of all time. Second only to Jack Nicholson as The Joker. His Jekyll-and-Hyde character provides important depth to the movie. The mirror scene, in particular, is the high point of the film. Dunst, despite the lame romance, has an impressive character, a well drawn, habitually-abused damsel-in-distress. In fact, the barrage of insults she takes from her parents, her boyfriends, and her boyfriendsí fathers only accentuate her need to be saved.

HEAVY SPOILER ALERT - Mouseover to read

After the mirror scene, the most impressive part of the film is when the emotionally damaged Dunst finally comes around and practically begs Maguire to love her back


Now, letís discuss the most important aspect: the effects (joking). The digital fakery is not realistic in this film, but one gets the feeling that itís not trying to be. Spider-manís leaps and bounds are never plausible, but they are very much like a comic book. The suspension of disbelief in this area only adds to the comic-book feel of the film. The same goes for the action, though I would have liked to have seen more of it. All in all the action only made up a paltry portion of the film. An odd thing to criticize, but one doesnít go to see films like this because of the Shakespearean acting. I want to be wowed.

So whatís that leave us with? An above-average action movie with flawless adaptation from its source. My recommendation: Donít miss it if youíre a fan, miss it if you donít like comics, and buy a matinee ticket if youíre looking to kill two hours.

óZack Schenkkan

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

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