Saturday, May 26, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Spider-Man (2002) ***½

PG-13, 121 min.
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: David Koepp, Stan Lee (comic book), Steve Ditko (comic book)
Starring: Toby Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons

I remember showing “Spider-Man” to some people not long after it was released. They didn’t see what was so special about it.  What set “Spider-Man” apart from the comic book movies that came before it was that for the first time a movie got the hero character right.

“Batman” got the mood and the purpose of the comic book superhero right, to a certain degree. It unfortunately was quite inadequate in the character department. “X-Men” came closer with a whole world that matched the power and interaction of a comic book universe. Again it was a little short on character if only because of its ensemble nature. “Spider-Man”, however, is all Peter Parker.

Really, Peter Parker is a much better film subject than Bruce Wayne. Parker doesn’t know who he is. Batman is so self-defined; it is very difficult to get under the skin of Bruce Wayne. Parker on the other hand fights to define himself and doesn’t allow his superhero identity to do it for him.

It’s so easy for filmmakers to make superhero movies all about the super powers. Sam Raimi understood that was the wrong direction to go for Spider-Man. His superhero identity it so intrinsically locked into Parker’s personality. Spider-Man is not a put on for Parker. He’s a hero that acts just like they guy underneath the mask. The mask isn’t a new identity; it’s an extension of Parker.

Every aspect of this movie is about Parker, and that’s why it works. It does fall into some of the superhero movie problems. Green Goblin is little more than a caricature, even though Dafoe does everything he can with the role. Goblin’s costume is problematic and probably should’ve gone back to the drawing board before filming began. There’s little point to the villainous action of the movie other than to further define Parker and his close relationships. But, ultimately that’s what these stories are supposed to do anyway. “Spider-Man” explores a character rather than throwing a personality into a situation involving superpowers. That’s more interesting than half the stories floating around the box office on any given day.

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