A review of  Spider-Man” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for violence, very intense situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes



“Spider-Man” has a lot going for it before opening frame.  Marvel Comics hero Spider-Man, the hip alternative to stodgy superheroes Superman and Batman.  Sam Raimi, the off-kilter genius who has demonstrated remarkable range by helming such sophisticated fare as “A Simple Plan” and cult classics like “The Evil Dead”. Two of the hottest young actors in the business (Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst) in full-steam romance-and-adventure mode. But all that can truly be asked of the first entry into the summer blockbuster sweepstakes is that it spin a web of dazzling entertainment.

Dazzling may be overstating it, but “Spider” certainly delivers the goods. Talented young Maguire is Peter Parker, a bashful, bespectacled high-school senior who gets picked on by the BMOCs and perpetually pines for pretty redhead Mary Jane Watson (Dunst), the unattainable girl-next-door.  An unexpected mutant spider bite alters Parker’s universe, transforming him from campus geek into an ultra-buff idealist who can leap tall buildings in a single bound by spinning cool, tensile strength webs.

From do-gooder to superhero in an arachnid nanosecond.  Parker’s emotional renovation is aided in part by the untimely death of his uncle, a devastating event that propels Parker on a personal mission to dispatch New York City’s most wicked adversaries.  Top of the list is the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), the armor-plated alter-ego of power executive Norman Osborn, who doubles as daddy-by-day to Parker’s best buddy Harry (Palo Alto’s very own James Franco).

Parker’s Spider-Man swings into vigilante-mode (“with great power comes great responsibility!”) with relative ease, swooping and spinning through the city with refreshing soulful abandon.  The heavily clichéd comic-bookness of warring superheroes in the film’s second hour is a clunky counterpart to the sweetness and light that is Parker and Mary Jane’s continuous mating dance.  Coupled with Parker’s engaging confidence, born of the self-discovery of his spidery super-powers, the human element is a welcome relief from the jerky, high-octane fight sequences.

Maguire is perfectly cast as Peter Parker, breathing glorious 3-D life into his colorful pen-and-ink counterpart.  His scenes with Dunst sizzle with chemistry, especially apparent during a naughty, upside-down kiss on a dark and rainy night.  Franco fares well enough as the poor little rich boy who yearns for daddy’s approval, while Rosemary Harris delights as Parker’s wise old aunt.  Dafoe is seriously miscast, all cardboard comic book and no humanity. Stuck behind his tinny mask, he’s given little chance emote beyond the traditional villain routine.  Solid direction, punchy Danny Elfman (!) score,  New York as a visceral state of mind – check, check, and check.

A human creepy-crawler with heart. Legions of “Spider-Man” comic-book fans happy at last.  Here comes summer.