out of five
: 120 mins
Terrifically entertaining blockbuster that, for once, gets everything right – an intelligent script, superb performances, a great cast, breath-taking effects, the right atmosphere, the lot. Come in Star Wars, your time is up…
As any comic-book fan will tell you, a movie version of Spider-Man has been a long, long time coming – indeed, it took several years to finally disentangle the legal rights to the film. Finally, however, the wait has ended and yes, it’s all been worth it. Director Sam Raimi (himself a Spider-Man comics fan) brings his trademark comic-book sensibility to the project and the result is the most enjoyable superhero movie since the original Superman.
The story cleverly blends two of the comic’s most famous stories –
Spider-Man’s origin and his clashes with arch-villain The Green Goblin.
Tobey Maguire plays Spider-Man’s alter ego, nerdy high-school student Peter Parker. While out on a science trip, he is accidentally bitten by a genetically mutated spider (times have moved on from the radioactive spider of the comics), and quickly discovers that he has extraordinary powers.
Initially, Parker tries to use his powers for his own personal gain (winning wrestling matches, impressing Kirsten Dunst’s girl-next-door Mary Jane etc), but a tragedy that he could have prevented soon shows him that “with great power comes great responsibility” and, lo, a superhero is born.
Meanwhile, Harry’s father, billionaire tycoon Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) is under pressure to test a body-enhancing gas for the government and ends up transforming himself into cackling psychopath The Green Goblin instead…
What makes the film work is that Raimi has put as much thought into
character and atmosphere as he has into the look of the film and the
effects. He was, in every way, the perfect choice for this – the film is comic-book-ish but in the way it should be. It never takes itself too seriously, but, crucially, it never dumbs it down or winks at the audience either.
Also, it has to be said, the effects that count (web-shooting, web-swinging, wall-crawling) are amazing. Admittedly, some of the CGI Goblin stuff is a bit disappointing and some of the 'jumping' scenes are, to coin a phrase, over-CGI'd, but overall it works beautifully. Raimi also pulls off some excellent 'shock-moments' that work really well.
As for the performances, they are perfect – if there were Oscars for casting directors, this would win hands-down. Maguire brings exactly the right combination of nerdy thoughtfulness and inner strength to the role and Dunst makes a heavenly Mary Jane – the already-famous ‘kissing in the rain’ scene alone should ensure that this has a very long shelf life on DVD.
Dafoe is also perfectly cast, eschewing out-and-out scenery chewing for something more complex and human – he has a terrifically chilling scene with a mirror image of himself that’s one of the film’s high-points.
Ultimately, though, blockbusters stand or fall on their set pieces and
Spider-Man is no exception. Highlights include: Peter discovering his Spidey-powers (the fact that it takes him a while to master his new skills is a nice touch); beating up school bully Flash Thompson; a spectacular chase scene; the first attack by the Goblin; the jaw-dropping bridge sequence and the extremely violent climactic fight scene (the reason the film is a 12 certificate).
Naturally, the film isn’t without flaws. For one thing, J.Jonah Jameson (a perfectly-cast JK Simmons) isn't in it enough, though he completely steals the few scenes he’s in – here’s hoping he'll have a bigger part in the sequel. Secondly, Danny Elfman’s score is disappointing and instantly forgettable.
Also, despite a lot of humour in the first half, it's not quite as funny as it should be (particularly in terms of Spiderman's trademark wise-cracks), although, given the much darker tone of the second half, it was probably the right decision.
In short, as good as X-Men was, there hasn’t been a superhero movie this good since Superman. The effects are spectacular, the cast is amazing, it’s faithful to the comics, it manages to be extremely dark in tone and it has a surprising ending that’s refreshingly different.
Plus, if you stay through the end credits, you’re rewarded with the theme tune from the original 1970s cartoon, which is guaranteed to send you out of the cinema grinning from ear to ear. Highly recommended.