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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, quasi-realistic bent 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 alluringly acquires 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 necessary ‘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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