Monday, 22 September 2014

Spider-Man (2002)

I was heavily into comics in the early-mid 90s, at a time when the idea of superheroes dominating the cinema landscape seemed pretty ludicrous.  Sure, we'd had the Batman films, but that franchise had gone seriously awry in the 3rd and 4th films, much like the earlier Superman movies.  The idea that Hollywood could make films about the spandex set without seeming embarrassed by its own source material seemed pretty unlikely.  Even 2000's X-Men, while a decent film, toned down the costume element pretty sharply.

Which is probably why Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was such a breath of fresh air, as it shows none of that self-consciousness.  This perhaps should not have been a surprise, given Raimi's earlier tilt at the genre with his own creation Darkman, but it certainly was a pleasant one for me.

High School outcast Peter Parker lives with his aunt and uncle and pines for the girl next door.  Bright, but of small stature and lacking in confidence, Peter is picked on by his class mates (except for his love interest and his one male friend).  Everything changes when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider and develops super-powers: heightened strength, speed and resilience, a sixth sense for danger, and the ability to scale walls and produce web from his wrists.

While he's basically a good kid, Peter's first thought for using his powers is to make some money so he can buy a car and impress the girl he likes.  Which is a refreshing 'normal' response to sudden opportunity.  Even when confronted with a chance to use his powers to stop a crime, he steps aside instead.  This is nicely done, as the victim of the crime has just stiffed him on their deal, so it's easy to sympathise with Peter's choice.

Alas, as Peter has already been told in the film: "with power comes responsibility". The crook goes on to murder Peter's uncle, catapulting the remorseful young man into the role of masked crime-fighter. I trust I'm not spoiling anything by telling you this, since Spider-man's been around for over 50 years.

In any case, the yin to Peter's yang is Norman Osborne, father of Peter's only friend, whose scientific experiments have given birth to his own costumed alter ego: a sociopath known as the Green Goblin.  The film nicely juxtaposes the two characters, with Peter's "power brings responsibility" philosophy directly opposed by the Goblin's "might makes right".  I don't know the original comics well enough to say if that's original to the film or not, but it is cool in any case.

The cast of the film is good, with Tobey Maguire doing a good job as both the awkward Peter Parker and the confident, wise-cracking Spider-man.  There are some hokey bits in the script that will probably trigger giggles rather than the pathos intended, but on the whole it is quite serviceable.  Action-wise, it hasn't quite got the scope and inventiveness of later superhero movies (including its own sequel) but it holds its own.

Spider-Man is not a flawless film, but it's an engaging and entertaining one.  Unless you're pathologically opposed to watching a 'comic book movie', it is probably worth your time to see.

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