Spider-Man (2002)
Directed by Sam Raimi

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

DVD In Association with
Rent DVDs online!
In the USA:
Try Netflix For Free.In the UK:

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), a bookish New York high school student living with his aunt and uncle, develops various superpowers when he is bitten by a genetically modified spider. Soon thereafter, Peter decides to use his newly acquired abilities to fight crime and, hiding his identity behind a mask, becomes Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), a wealthy executive who runs a company that produces weapons for the military, conducts an experiment on himself, which gives him enhanced physical capabilities but which also causes him to lose his mind. He then makes use of his own technology to transform himself into a supervillain, the Green Goblin, and begins terrorizing the city.

While Sam Raimi's Spider-Man may not be a particularly distinguished film, it is, nonetheless, so likeable and so filled with excitement that it is genuinely fun to watch.

The director's narration of Peter Parker's transformation from a socially awkward high school student into a superhero with fantastic abilities is especially well handled. The viewer is likely to enjoy Raimi's presentations of Parker's defeat of Mary Jane's obnoxious boyfriend in a fight, his initial efforts to scale walls and leap from building to building, and even his bout with a vicious wrestler. All are imbued with a tremendous sense of fun that invariably retains the viewer's interest.

Moreover, many of these scenes reveal to the moviegoer how a young man who has been picked on and intimidated by others throughout his life has been given the chance to live what surely must be his dream, to do to others what they have done to him. I will admit that this sort of fantasy fulfillment is hardly original, but it is satisfying nonetheless.

Regrettably, Spider-Man's struggles with the Green Goblin are never as involving as is the former's creation. The protagonist's conflict with this fiend is almost entirely confined to the movie's second half, and, even then, it is little more than an adjunct to the tale of Peter's growth into a superhero.

This is not to say, however, that this strand of the narrative lacks any interest whatsoever. The sequences in which Spider-Man and his enemy fight are well choreographed and often thrilling, and the interactions and emotions of these two are genuinely intriguing. For instance, Norman's relationship with Peter, whom he both likes and praises more than he does his own child, Peter's best friend, adds a real complexity to both the antagonists' animosity for one another. What is more, Peter's guilt about having caused the death of his uncle, who is killed by a thug Peter had earlier allowed to escape, gives a certain humanity to the hero himself throughout his conflicts with his foe, as he fights him in order to live up to his uncle's expectations and to atone for his guilt.

In addition to such virtues, all the film's players acquit themselves well. Dafoe is weirdly unnerving as Spider-Man's enemy, and Kirsten Dunst is able to make the hero's love interest, Mary Jane, likeable despite the fact that her character comes across as superficial. Tobey Maguire, however, undoubtedly deserves more credit than do any of his co-stars. He consistently allows the viewer to involve himself with Peter Parker. The moviegoer is, as a result, made to feel that character's excitement when he acquires his superpowers, his frustration at not being able to act upon his infatuation for Mary Jane, his love for his aunt and uncle, and his guilt and sadness when the latter is killed.

Whatever Spider-Man's appeal, it never rises above the ordinary. The story is formulaic. Its characters, though likeable, are unmemorable, and, visually, the film is never realized with any great sensitivity. The movie is a fun but undistinguished work. It never excels, but it is never boring either.

Review by Keith Allen

Home Page / Alphabetical List of Films
List of Films by Star Ratings
Aesthetic Principles / Guide to Ratings
Criteria for Inclusion / DVD Stores / Blog

© 2005 Keith Allen. All rights reserved.

Click Here

banner 2