An overdue big screen take on a renowned comic book. When a high school photographer is bitten by a genetically-altered spider, he gains arachnid-esque powers and becomes a crime-fighter.
With a $100 million-plus budget and a comic book legend comes great responsibility, and Sam Raimi has not fumbled. A perfect melding of director and subject, this supremely entertaining take on the worldwide web-slinger pulls off the nifty trick of satisfying the fanboy geeks, the Raimi freaks, and the movie thrill-seeker in one sublime swoop.
Outstripping last summer’s blockbusters, what’s great about Spider-Man is its ability to hold onto seemingly obsolete values — characters you can root for, plotting that makes sense — while still delivering maximum bang for the buck.
In a leisurely opening more reminiscent of Superman than anything by Simon West, Raimi sketches Peter Parker’s geek credentials with telling character beats. Once the spider skills have been acquired — Maguire brings an endearing goofiness to his first attempts at web-slinging — the script (although lacking trademark Spidey oneliners) strikes a streamlined simplicity: it’s Spidey vs. Green Goblin. No masterplans to freeze the city, just showdown after beautiful showdown.
Amid all the comic book action, however, Raimi preserves Spider-Man’s (both character and movie) humanity. Maguire effortlessly makes the transition from alpha-nerd to action man with skill and aplomb; playing niftily on his indie film persona, he invests Peter with a winning warmth while remaining believable as someone uneasy in the confines of his own skin.
His relationship with small town love Mary Jane (Dunst, appealing in a poorly-conceived role) is sweet and endearing, adding an emotional element missing from many blockbusters. Staying the right side of hammy, Dafoe is brooding with intensity as mad scientist Norman Osborn, and brimming with evil glee as his alter-ego, Green Goblin.
If occasionally a dodgy CGI shot slips through the net, the realisation of Spider-Man cavorting through a bustling metropolis, barely in control of his own trajectory, is a spandex ballet so exuberant and damn-right cool that it doesn’t matter.
Be it the sight of Spidey swinging round flagpoles or landing on balconies, exhilaration outstrips execution to make neck hairs stand to attention.
For all Spider-Man’s reputation as the gaudy, sunny side of superherodom, Raimi manages to syringe some darkness into the mix. There’s the genuinely unnerving moment when Norman, taunted by the Goblin’s cackles, goes searching for the source, only to be confronted by his own face in the mirror.
Or the fantastic image of Parker’s face glimpsed through the ripped Spider-Man’s mask, capturing the warped duality of the character. And the final Spidey/ Goblin showdown has a stylised brutality that’s more punishing than any cert. 12 has the right to be.
Despite a below-par Danny Elfman score, Raimi’s direction is marked by a craftsmanship that befits blockbuster prestige but still retains his unique sensibility. When the genetically-modified spider bites into Parker, the camera is total Raimi with its twists and spirals.
Even more impressive, an impressionistic montage depicting Parker dreaming up the Spidey suit and the Matrix-esque portrayal of his emerging spider-sense rank among cinema’s greatest renderings of purely comic book conceits. Much like the movie itself.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man does whatever a spider can — and much more. Practically pitch-perfect summer entertainment.
Reviewed by Ian Freer