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May 30, 2013

Spider-Man (2002)
Director: Sam Raimi
Actors: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe


Synopsis: Nerdy high school student Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) gets bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider while on a school field trip. As a result, overnight, Parker acquires spider-like skills: fantastic vision, a grip which enables him to climb buildings, the ability to spin huge, formidable webs, and a new, honed physique. Parker initially uses his physical metamorphosis glibly, to try to earn money and impress Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but admonished by his uncle – who later dies – Parker reconceives his ‘Spider-Man’ persona as a force for good in the community.

Review: Fun, but soft and ever-so-slightly shallow, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man couldn’t be more opposite in tone from the Batman brand of superhero that received its thematic apex in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy which pushed the noir, psychoanalytical feel of Batman to its logical conclusions. That’s not to damn Spider-Man, as Raimi creates a very frothy, cartoonish reverie to perhaps the most appealingly ordinary of superheroes.

In many ways, Spider-Man is apotheosis of a boy’s own fantasy projection of himself. In a witty opening skit, Raimi posits Parker as the sort of boy who misses the bus, clumsily drops his books, is utterly transparent to his object of affection, and lives in a humble, blue-collar neighbourhood out in Queens with his elderly aunt and uncle. But after his spider bite, Parker suddenly acquires alluring, super-human skills that make him stand out from the crowd (including beating up the school jock – a classic motif of movie Americana), and the literal ‘girl next door’, Mary-Jane Watson, begins to notice Parker.

The narrative itself, especially the obligatory villain origin subplot about a wealthy industrialist turning into the Green Goblin has a rather passé ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ feel about it, but it’s all lightly done, and Raimi never forgets his family-friendly, crowd-pleasing remit by making everything visually breezy and morally comprehensible. (May 2013)

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