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"Spider-Man"

Directed by Sam Raimi.
Written by David Koepp.  Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and others. 
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  5/6/02 

Folks-- 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the summer movie season has begun!

As long-time Bellviewers know, originally this column only reviewed movies released between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Now, as a full-time operation, I still love summers best because there really is something for everyone.  Action, adventure, romance, comedy, and the depressing drug-fueled drama film all show up in one form or another during the summer.  And, after the summer of 2001—for my money, the worst set of movies released during the summer since the summer event film idea began in the mid-70s, highlighted by war-crime bad “Moulin Rouge”—I was very excited for this summer since I knew we had another “Star Wars” film, “Men in Black 2”, and pretty much every major star except for Schwarzenegger showing up in something this year:  Gibson, Ford, Cruise, Hanks and more are back.

But, the first film on the docket looks like it will be the one that gives “Star Wars” the biggest run for box office dollars:  “Spider-Man.”  Ever since James Cameron (the director of the “Terminator” films) optioned this project after he directed “Titanic” (when Nicolas Cage was set to star as Peter Parker), it has been one of those projects that everyone wanted to make.  Finally, it is here, but with a team that is much less heralded than before:  no A-list stars, and a director that is famous only if you have seen his collaborations with B-lister Bruce Campbell, the star behind the “Evil Dead”/”Army of Darkness” films.  Would a group without any big names be able to pull a mega-blockbuster off?

Yes, yes, yes!  Save for the “Lord of the Rings” film from last year, it has been a few years since the hype has been equaled by a quality production.  But, almost everything about “Spider-Man” is perfect.  From the score by vet Danny Elfman, to the casting of Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe, to the special effects, to the pacing, to a romance that is cheesy, not sappy-romantic-cheesy...this movie has the goods.  I won’t even bother with summarizing the story here, since many of you know it and the rest of you saw this movie over the weekend.

So, what’s to love?  First and foremost, I found that the film makes for a near-perfect mix of hero time versus peon time.  The Peter Parker scenes are nicely done, but there are plenty of scenes where Maguire as Spidey is flying all over town with his new abilities, breaking up a robbery or fighting with the Green Goblin.  Not too many, though.  And, when Spidey is onscreen, he’s doing the things that we always wanted to see him do...flying all over the city, kicking the ass of multiple bad guys, and LOTS of shooting web out of those slingers on his wrists.  This is the one of the two areas where “Spider-Man” is better than my favorite comic book translation, “Batman”...I always wanted them to include more scenes of Batman driving into the Batcave, or using gadgets on his utility belt.  For Batman, it’s ALL about the gadgets, and even though the movie is genius, you gotta throw more bones to the hardcore fans that show up.  I think in “Spider-Man” the hard-core comic fan will not be disappointed.

The other area where “Spider-Man” is better comes from my sister Cate.  We were talking today, and it’s amazing to get perspective sometimes from someone half your age.  Many people wonder why the filmmakers chose to make The Green Goblin Spidey’s first rival in the movies, as opposed to the multitude of other criminals (mostly, Venom is the one I have heard fans mention) that could make for better onscreen battles.  I think that picking Goblin first makes great sense, mostly because I think that that is the biggest failing of the “Batman” film franchise.  By disposing of The Joker in the first film, then long-time faves Catwoman and Penguin in “Batman Returns”, we were left with a decreasing interest in his other foes in the third and fourth films (Mr. Freeze?  He has a pitiful backstory.  And, don’t even get me started on Two-Face, whom the filmmakers cast as a black guy in the first “Batman” (Billy Dee Williams) and then as a younger white guy (Tommy Lee Jones) in the third film!  Atrocious.  With this film, “Spider-Man” sets us up with better and better bad guys to fight in the next two or three films, if it goes that far.

Dafoe is spectacular in this role as the bad guy.  Is there a stranger looking actor available to us?  When I first heard that Dafoe got this role, I thought that it was the worst casting move of all time.  After seeing this movie, I am having steamed crow for dinner.  Just watching his face, and those messed-up teeth from behind the Goblin’s menacing mask, he IS Goblin.  Raimi scored a coup on this one.  And, the support by JK Simmons (as the Daily Bugle’s editor), James Franco and a cameo by Cliff Robertson (Uncle Ben) is fantastic.

Maguire, though, might be the one that sees the biggest upside to working in this production.  Much like Christopher Reeve back in the first couple of “Superman” films, he plays stiff quite well, but turns around and plays an asskicker comfortably when forced.  When he breaks into a smile during “Spider-Man” you get behind him, and he has a charisma here that you never saw in his last major film, “Wonder Boys.”  It’ll be fun to see where he takes this character in what looks to be at least a couple of sequels in the next five years.  Kirsten Dunst is good in this film as well, but one wonders how much her character will have to do while Spidey fights other menaces in future movies.  My guess is that she will be Mrs. John McClane by the next film (Bonnie Bedelia, the “Die Hard” trilogy; if you’ve seen the films, you know what I mean!).

Overall, “Spider-Man” is a great introduction to what looks to be a great summer of films.

Rating:  $9.00 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09