(out of 5)
Another comic book superhero finds his way to the big screen in this amiable high-flying adventure. Perpetually adorable Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker, a geeky high-school student with an aptitude for science who is one day bitten by a mutant spider while attending a field trip to Columbia University, and suddenly finds himself developing strange powers much like that of the offending arachnid. Suddenly graced with exceptionally quick reflexes, impressive strength, plus major webshooters biologically emitting from each wrist, Parker goes from quiet underachiever to the city’s hardest working crimefighter in no time flat. It seems his transformation couldn’t be more perfectly timed either, because a new brand of villain in the form of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) is intent on destroying human life to advance his personal breakthroughs in kinetic power. Kirsten Dunst does her best with the limp character of Mary Jane, a young woman who is constantly being victimized by one man or another, always playing the same pity-me note every time we see her; it’s no wonder Parker has been in love with her for so long, as it seems to be the most complimentary way to feel sorry for her. Lack of pretentiousness and an excellent first act in the screenplay by David Koepp, which allows for the best character development and personal conflict seen in a superhero movie since Michelle Pfeiffer played Catwoman, however, is what sets this thrilling adventure apart from most of the summer fare that audiences are forced to endure. There’s a lack of power to it as well, particularly in the second half, that keeps it from being totally engrossing. This is probably due to Sam Raimi’s decidedly uncommitted direction, but it also doesn’t help that Dafoe’s villain isn’t all that scary or dedicated to an easily palpable evil endeavour (his main purpose is to kill the board members who are planning to shut down his corporation, and then after that decides that Spider-Man is his only nemesis and so tries to hurt him through the people he loves). J.K. Simmons pays delightful tribute to the original animated program with his boisterous portrayal of Parker’s magazine editor, and Rosemary Harris is wonderful as Parker’s cookie-baking, patient and loving aunt. Look for cameos by Lucy Lawless, Macy Gray and Raimi mainstay Bruce Campbell in one of the film’s most delightful sequences.
Directed by Sam Raimi
Cinematography by Don Burgess
Music by Danny Elfman
Production Design by Neil Spisak
Costume Design by James Acheson