Monday, July 2, 2012

Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002) Review

There's a reboot among us! It's not this one though. This is the classic (and by classic I mean from ten years ago) Sam Raimi Spider-Man. You know, the one with  Tobey Maguire that started off great but ruined itself with the third film. Well this is the first one of that series. Released near the start of the comic book era of films (which is STILL going!) that is now it's own genre, Spider-Man is an adaptation of the legendary comic book series that has reached it's 50th anniversary. Is the film a worthy adaptation? Let's find out.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy, shy high school student who lives with his aunt and uncle and also has a crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). On a school trip to a genetics laboratory, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider that escaped. It seems nothing first. He learns that he has great reflexes, can climb walls, has increased strength and can even shoot webs out of his wrist but with great power comes great responsibility as Peter's uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson) is shot and killed by a car jacker. He decides to use his power to protect the city from evil. Meanwhile, the scientific mastermind Norman Osbourne (Willem Defoe) has developed a new formula which he tests on himself...with disastrous consequences.

What sets this film among previous comic book films is that it manages to balance a serious tone with comic book aspects. Before this, it was either one or the other. The writing for the film conveys a very comic book style (such as Spider-Man calling Green Goblin "Gobby" and also "We'll meet again, Spider-Man!") but it contrasts the very serious tone of the narrative. It teaches a good moral about power and responsibility but there are some moments that you just can't help but laugh at...whether or not it was intentional.

The cast is mixed. While Tobey Maguire is a great Peter Parker, he isn't really the best Spider-Man in the world. He's a bit too wimpy to pass off as a super hero. Kirsten Dunst is actually pretty good as Mary Jane and creates a great damsel in distress character. Willem Dafoe is a great pick for the Green Goblin but his execution of the role was...questionable. He works well of James Franco (playing Norman's son Harry) but it's when he becomes Goblin is when things get...weird. He is so over the top that it sort of doesn't belong here. Personally I love over the top villains like the Riddler in Batman Forever or Moriarty in Sherlock but's just out of place. That's the main cast but there is one person I must address: J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Simmons was BORN for this role. He is absoluley perfect for the role and is one of the best parts of the whole trilogy. His absence in the reboot is just devastating.

Spider-Man is a great comic book film that works well on both sides of the spectrem, it's both serious and silly at the same time. It doesn't take itself too seriously and I respect that. While this may not please some people who are expecting a very serious film like The Dark Knight, they will have to wait for The Amazing Spider-Man which is shaping up to be an even better adaptation.

It's what it should be: a comic book film that doesn't take it's self too seriously.

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