Spider-Man Movie Review
After the success of 2000's X-Men, Marvel Comics decided to finally kick itself into gear and start production on several new potential franchises, including The Punisher, The Hulk, and Daredevil. But if anything was a sure bet, it is the long-awaited Spider-Man, and obviously it is, racking up $114 million in its first weekend of release. However, a huge box office tally doesn't necessarily mean critical support, and so here begins the review of one of the hyped films of the year...
You know exactly what you are in store for when you see the opening credits. The credits are crisp, to the point, but displayed around shooting webs and images of our hero and villain. The credits have a very comic book-type feel to them, and then sets the tone for the rest of the movie; Spider-Man is going to be true to the comic book, but at a cost. A huge cost.
I collected comic books when I was younger, but I have to admit I was more of a DC kind of person. Marvel Comics never excited me much, although I did go through a streak where I collected "Spider-Man," during that clone saga storyline. I don't know that much about the details of his past, so I don't know how true the movie sticks to the comics, but from what I hear, it's pretty damn close. Maybe too closely. We are introduced to Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, who's shown that he is one of the best young actors in such movies as The Cider House Rules), a nerdy high school senior who can't catch a break, and who can't even win the time of a day with his neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). He gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gets superhuman powers, and so on and so forth... Most people should know the story, and if they don't, it's in the movie. Well, I find the character development of superheroes much more intriguing than them dancing around in colorful suits (which is maybe why I liked Unbreakable so much), but Spider-Man is a little overkill. The movie could have easily incorporated Parker's entire background, the relationship with Mary Jane, and everything else into the movie, without cutting anything, while still maintaining a fun, action-packed story, but it just doesn't.
The problem with Spider-Man is that it has no plot. Yes it does, some may say, but look at it closely. Sure, there is the storyline about Parker becoming Spider-Man, and that is important, but in any action movie, there has to be a plot for things to revolve around. There is none. Willem Dafoe does the usual thing; his experiment is being threatened so he injects himself and starts going psychotic (and has super strength), and then goes after his fellow board members and eventually Spider-Man. But there is no reasoning behind the Green Goblin's attacks except for to kill Spider-Man, and there really needs to be something more than that to carry a movie. I really saw the opportunity for Spider-Man to have a storyline similar to Tim Burton's Batman, where the Joker is formed by falling into a vat of chemicals and goes crazy, and then takes over a crime syndicate. The Green Goblin isn't that much different, except that the movie doesn't explain why he is doing what he is doing. Again, I realize that he is crazy, but he still needs to have a purpose.
I like Sam Raimi as a director. Though on the cheap side, the Evil Dead movies are fun (and will always be what he is attributed to). A Simple Plan showed his range as a director. And though he is a self-proclaimed "Spider-Man" fan, I think he messed up somewhere along in the way in the creation of this movie. The whole feel of the film seems wrong. Everything is too light. Spider-Man obviously does not need to be as dark as Batman, but it should have learned from movies like that, or even X-Men, that when you are trying to be serious, you have to be realistic. Spider-Man just doesn't feel realistic, whether our hero is jumping from building to building or getting into a fight at school. Treat the action seriously, treat the storyline seriously (while still throwing in jokes along the way), and treat the look of the movie seriously and you'll be okay. Obviously, Raimi was trying to stay true to the comics a little too much; he decided to copy the color scheme as well. It just doesn't work.
As an action movie, Spider-Man isn't anything to scream about. Most of the action scenes are a little too short to draw people into them. The Green Goblin comes, attacks, and then runs away. You never once fear for Spider-Man, Mary Jane, or anyone else; you don't even begin to wonder how they'll get out of a certain situation. When that happens, you know you're in trouble. There are two other reasons why it is hard to take the action seriously: One, the Green Goblin looks cheesy. That's a fact. Two, the visual effects in the movie are just plain bad.
I realize that to make Spider-Man leap from building to building and swing down city streets is challenging, but in this day and age the graphics have to look better than they do in Spider-Man. Not once did it look real as he "flew" through the city, or when he was fighting the Green Goblin, or when he was doing anything else. Whoever did the graphics for this film should be shot.
As far as acting goes, I think the script held the actors down. Tobey Maguire is surprisingly good as our hero, able to pull off a nerdy young kid (which he has done before) and a superhero at the same time. It was a little questionable when he spoke with the mask on, but he really didn't talk that much. Willem Dafoe should have had the most character depth out of anyone in the film, as we basically get to see him go psychotic, but I really never felt as though the transition was very good. And, as already mentioned, he looks really dumb in a big metal grinning mask. As for Kirsten Dunst, she really got screwed with dialogue, because, as good as an actress as she is, her character is pretty weak.
I've criticized Spider-Man a lot, and maybe part of that is due to the fact that I was expecting a lot more from this movie. It's not bad as much as it is disappointing; as I watched the movie, I saw so much potential for it to be so much more. When all is said and done, despite all its flaws, Spider-Man is a fun and entertaining movie. The scenes where Parker first realizes what he has become are quite entertaining, and the rest of the movie moves quickly enough to never bore the audience. This definitely lowered my expectations for Sam Raimi, but I'll give him credit for making a movie that, though slightly cheesy and having a bad script, no plot, and horrid visual effects, might be fun to watch even a second or third time.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.