Tobey Maguire
Willem Dafoe
Kirsten Dunst
James Franco
J.K. Simmons
Rosemary Harris
Cliff Robertson
Randy Poffo
Joe Manganiello
Michael Papajohn

Sam Raimi

"Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option."
Time: 125 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Official Website
Genre: Action/Romance/Super Hero

Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Visual Effects.
A long and beleaguered battle to the big screen ends in a flashy action debut for one of Marvel Comics most spectacular super heroes. Being a fan of Spider-Man, it's been hard to imagine how any film maker would be able to do justice to his character and special talents. Raimi manages to do just that with style, grace, romance and class. This story may be taken from the pages of a comic book, but it manages to transcend the usual flatness, making Spider-Man more than just a crime fighter. Maguire gives Spidey honesty, integrity and maturity, something most super heroes have been sorely lacking in their cinema adventures. It helps that Raimi has a great story and amazing special effects to fill out the bill. Of course, none of that would mean anything without Maguire's performance. He captures both the innate nerdiness and powerful physicality of Spider-Man to a tee. However, much like Mary Jane, we never get a decent glimpse of what's going on behind Peter's honest eyes.

Though more personal than most super hero films, the lack of emotional depth keeps this one from being truly great or worth an immediate second viewing. Clearly, he's a decent guy with his heart in the right place, but what he really thinks and feels about his new life remains fairly untouched. Like most initial forays of series cinema, Raimi et al. are forced to set the groundwork that future films will build upon, which unfortunately dilutes any chance at real character development. The casting of Maguire and Dunst, two young actors with immense talent, gives weight to roles that could easily have been forgettable. There are moments Maguire seems unsure of himself in the role of super hero, yet, since that's what his character is feeling his anxiety works for the role. By the end of the film, there's no doubt he's in control. Even though Mary Jane is almost constantly in need of saving, Dunst gives a lively, smart, touching performance as the girl of Spider-Man's dreams. There's a lot going on behind her eyes and she makes Mary Jane more than the sum of her pretty parts. Her final scene with Peter is so powerful it will break your heart.

Though marketed with a romantic edge, action fans need not fear. The main arc of the story centers on Peter's transformation from high school nerd to city super hero all thanks to the bite of a genetically altered spider. Mary Jane, the girl-next-door, is the main focus of his thoughts, until he discovers he has new abilities to explore. Some of the funniest scenes in the film, show him trying to master his web technique and how to swing from building to building. Unfortunately, like all super heroes, he soon learns a hard life lesson that teaches him that his power is a great responsibility not to be taken lightly. His crime fighting activities endear him to the people, but not the press or the police. Peter is disturbed his goodness is being questioned. He's also unhappy that his best friend/roommate Harry (Franco) is dating Mary Jane. Harry is the underachieving son of Norman Osborn (Dafoe), a millionaire scientist with secrets of his own.

Desperate to save his company, Osborn undergoes a radical experiment that transforms him into a super being, as well making him completely insane. No one can stop him from taking out his enemies and securing the future of his company. Except for Spider-Man. A battle royal set above a crowded outdoor concert places them both squarely in the menace department. Though not to Mary Jane whose life is saved by Spider-Man. The Green Goblin, as he's dubbed by the press, tries to lure Spidey to the dark side, but is met with firm rejection. Since the town's not big enough for both of them, the Green Goblin goes for the jugular, teaching Peter the meaning of hard choices and placing all those he loves in danger of their lives. Their final confrontation is a sight to behold as insanity takes on integrity in a mano e mano fight to the finish. In the end, the demise of the Green Goblin, brings death to Peter's dreams of a normal life and begins a vendetta that haunts his future.

Unlike most films based on comics, the look and feel of SPIDER-MAN is firmly based in reality, which is part of its biggest problem. The super hero/villain costumes and action sequences are highly-stylized, but since the rest of the film isn't, they seem out of place and silly in everyday environments. Watching Spider-Man swing from building to building is exhilarating, his crime fighting escapades fun and entertaining. Yet, when shown in the light of day – especially his first battle with the Green Goblin – the costumes and toys take on a cartoon quality that contradicts the normalcy of the other scenes. This is not an overtly dark tale, but the bright colors seem out of place, calling attention to the fact that every move made by both hero and villain is fake. Raimi should have stylized everything. The contrast breeds unbelievabilty. That being said, Maguire fills out the red and blue tights in admirable fashion. It's not hard to understand Mary Jane's fascination with our hero.

As the Green Goblin, Dafoe gives a slightly over-the-top performance with great gusto, but very little depth. The Goblin's main motivation is greed, which is old hat and not entirely interesting. He does have some pretty amusing dialogue and seems to enjoy playing a bastard, which gives the part a boost. Not the most compelling villain, but a good start for Spider-Man to cut his teeth on, so to speak. James Franco, on the other hand, is painful to watch. He certainly doesn't have the most exciting role in the film, but his woeful expressions and pouty delivery is beyond annoying. There's no way someone like Mary Jane would be interested in him, with or without the trust fund. He's better than the bully she dated in high school, but not by much. It seems like the only reason he wants to date her is to prove he can do something better than Peter. His vow to take revenge on Spider-Man for his father's death is laughable. Hopefully, his part in the next film will give him a chance to redeem himself.

The glue that holds this adventure together is the love story between Peter and Mary Jane. She's his inspiration to become a better man. Maguire and Dunst have amazing chemistry together and make the most of their onscreen moments. The upside-down kiss in the rain is sexy, sweet and intense. One of the best screen smooches in a very long time. Their friendship is what gives the film heart, making it more than just an action flick. Her role in the story is important, not merely the pretty girlfriend part. I can't wait to see how their relationship develops in future flicks. Despite it's obvious flaws, SPIDER-MAN delivers a good story, great action and a little romance to boot. Thankfully, screenwriter David Koepp steered clear of the cutsey one-liners that have ruined other super hero films. He stayed true to the voice of the comic, which makes this a unique and enjoyable experience. Hopefully, the other 2002 blockbusters live up to the standard provided here.