a super-hero flick? Well, there's two basic
ways to go about it. The first is the Superman
route, wherein the humble beginnings and awkward growing
period of our soon-to-be bad-ass are addressed sequentially,
from childhood to super-adulthood. The second is the Batman
route, wherein we jump right into the action, and
the "how I got this way" back-story is later revealed
as part of the hero's mysterious past.
opts for the lighter, simpler Superman route. Even
better, Spider-Man never really strays from the
"humble beginnings" partit could've easily been
titled "I Was a Teen-Aged Spider-Man." It's almost solely
about learning how to BE a super-hero, and this gives
the movie a pleasant edge of doubtnot only is this
super-hero fallible, but he hardly knows how to work his
Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy high school loser who
gets bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider and develops
arachnid capabilities. To this movie's credit, this preposterous
genesis is quickly forgottenokay, now he's Spider-Man,
great. Let's get on with it.
move on it does, with an easy-going, unpretentious attitude
courtesy of cult director Sam Raimi. Raimi cut his teeth
on comic-book horror films (the Evil Dead trilogy,
Darkman) and was the ideal candidate for Spider-Man.
At one point in time, James Cameron (The Terminator,
Titanic) was attached to the project; thankfully,
instead of Cameron's cold, awe-inspiring "vision" we are
treated to Raimi's warm, bubble-gum pop sensibilities.
This is Spider-Man like we remember himfast, colorful,
don't come much more low-key than the baby-faced Maguire,
who mumbled his sleepy way through indie films like The
Ice Storm and Cider House Rules and, in this
movie, seems honestly amused to be around. He's way
out of place as an action hero, which is exactly why he's
inspired castingPeter is a geek who isn't SUPPOSED
to be a crime-fighting stud. In fact, he's more like "Underwear
Boy" for a while, making do with a hilarious red shirt
and slacks before creating the eventual, far more impressive
fun as Maguire is to root for, you never really believe
that he's the guy swinging through the city like Tarzan.
In no way does his body language hint at any sort of physical
ability and when we cut to a close-up of Maguire wearing
a Spider-Man costume, that's exactly what it feels like"Okay,
bring in Maguire for the close-up. Van Damme, take five."
is partly because the digital Spider-Man effects are pretty
poor. There's not one instance where you mistake the computer-Spidey
with the real Spidey. Raimi knows this and tries to keep
the action moving so fast that you never get a clear look
at the characters, but it doesn't work. What we end up
with is a really good movie spliced together with a half-way
decent video game.
this doesn't matter that much. One of the first lines
of the movie is "This is a story about a girl," and it
succinctly outlines where Raimi's real interests lienot
in redundant shots of a computer-generated acrobat, but
in the juicy, timeless story about a boy going through
"changes" and falling in love with a girl.
Dunst plays the girl in question, Mary, and she's as welcome
a surprise as Maguire is. Finally, a female lead that
isn't required to wear the feminist weight of the world
on her backMary isn't a powerful, successful super-model
like one of those hideous Charlie's Angels robots. Instead,
she's a sweet, unassuming waitress who refrains from making
even one ugly sarcastic comment. Both she and Peter seem
like genuinely good people who deserve each other and
Raimi decides that this is enough to make us care. Who
needs the usual "Evil That Threatens All Of Mankind!"
when you've got two believable, loveable leads?
big trick for Raimi will be pulling off the inevitable
sequels without wringing all the juice from this wonderful
romantic tension. His action sequences will by necessity
grow larger and, for better or for worse, they have never
been Raimi's strong suit. Spider-Man, for all its
innocent charm and exciting, Frankensteinian "creation"
sequences, is little more than a Saturday afternoon reading
a comic book, and that's exactly as it should be. Once
it starts taking itself too seriously, the delicate web
on which it's balanced may break with the added weight.
Kraus is a syndicated columnist and filmmaker. Information
on his newest film, "Ball of Wax", can be found at www.ballofwaxmovie.com.