It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing
Whilst I won't claim to be an aficionado on Spider-Man, or any other comic book super hero for that matter, out of all these champions of justice which I grew up with, Spider-Man was always my favourite. Although Superman could fly and Batman had the coolest gadgets, Spider-Man could climb, swing, and jump, some might even say he was the inspiration behind Parkour, free running to you and me. So when back in 2002 "Spider-Man" the movie was made all about my childhood super hero, I eagerly waited to be entertained and I certainly wasn't disappointed.
When Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire - The Cider House Rules) is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider during a school field trip, he suddenly develops some surprising abilities which include climbing buildings and spinning webs. But it is not until a family disaster strikes that he decides to use his new found abilities for the good of all and sets about fighting crime under the alias of Spider-Man. When the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe - Speed 2: Cruise Control) starts wreaking havoc through out New York and puts Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst - Wag the Dog), Peter's neighbour and the girl he secretly loves, in danger. Spider-Man steps up to the mark and takes on this evil nemesis.
What is quite surprising about "Spider-Man" is that it has a hugely detailed storyline, and although heavily laden with wonderfully shot action sequences and special effects, it never strays from focussing on the plot. Being the first live action "Spider-Man" movie that I can remember it is no surprise that they decided to start at the beginning covering the way in which Peter Parker miraculously gets his amazing powers. This intro is brilliant for anyone who is unfamiliar with the comics as whilst moving at quite a pace it delivers enough information that you understand how and why Peter parker is suddenly able to climb buildings and swing from roof top to roof top. The actual scenes where he discovers these abilities are both funny as well as clever and whilst I cannot say how true these are to the comic books I am lead to believe that they have managed to cram several issues of the comic into to just the first half hour of the movie.
As well as teaching us all about his special abilities, "Spider-Man" also sets up other elements which are hugely important to the rest of the movie. We are introduced to his Uncle Ben and Aunt May who he lives with as well as Mary Jane his next door neighbour who he secretly loves. Both these elements are extremely important to later storylines as is his relationship with Harry Osborn a rich kid who is his best friend at school.
Following on from this brilliant introduction to Peter Parker "Spider-Man" continues with the recap by showing us why and how he became the crime fighting vigilante Spider-Man. Again as in the first half hour, director Sam Raimi has managed to mix factual information from the comics with humour to make this feel like part of the drama rather than just a history lesson. For me the best part of this second section has to be when he dons the Spider-Man outfit for the first time, not wanting to sound sad, it did send shivers through out my body as it is just how I imagined it should be.
It is actually in this second part where a lot of effort has gone in to building up the relationships between all the key people and this really helps you understand not only what motivates Peter but also other key characters, such as Harry Osborne and his father Norman. Whilst those who are familiar with the Spider-man back story may feel a little disappointed that over half the movie was given to providing this background, I personally found it really good as it helped me remember things I had forgotten and of course would help anyone who was unaware of the Spider-Man story. It is no surprise after having given us so much back history that a sequel was made and now a third is about to hit our screens, as you get a real sense that they were planning ahead with several elements which were included in this first "Spider-Man" movie.
Having spent over half the movie giving us the back history, "Spider-Man" then seems to switch into over drive as we get to the battle between Spider-man and the Green Goblin. What is particularly great about this second half is they keep up with what they had started in the first half and that is putting most of the emphasis on the plot rather than just throwing action and special effects at us at every opportunity. It is no surprise that this second half seems to follow the now tried and tested route where are two main focuses, good and evil, have several minor scrapes before battling it out in a huge climax. Not that I am complaining, as this route although predictable is hugely enjoyable and the final battle is an absolute joy to watch.
It is also in this second half where the romantic storyline which had been smouldering in the background gets more screen time. Whilst not your traditional romantic plot, it adds more meaning as well as depth to the story and also paves the way for a scene between Spider-Man and Mary Jane which whilst not explicit or erotic is amazingly sensual in the way it is shot.
Again, it is no surprise that being an action movie that "Spider-Man" is steeped in special effects and whilst some of them look amazing others are spectacularly bad. The scenes later on in the movie which sees Spider-Man pitied against the Green Goblin are not only brilliantly choreographed action sequences but the use of CGI is seamlessly incorporated without you really noticing when real life becomes pixels. But then if you look at the earlier scenes which see Peter Parker exploring his new found abilities by leaping from building to building they look terribly fake and rather disappointing to be honest. Not that these scenes really spoil the overall entertaining effect of "Spider-Man" but do seem strangely out of place in what otherwise is an exceptionally well crafted movie.
One of the most critical aspects of making "Spider-Man" the great movie that it is has to be in the casting and even down to the tiniest parts the director and casting team have done a superb job. Most notably the casting of Tobey Maguire in the role of Peter Parker/ Spider-Man is for me spot on. His early transformation from weedy school geek to toned super hero is surprisingly effective but it is also in Maguire's mannerisms which really make his performance perfect for me. From the pining look on his face when ever he is around Mary Jane, too the joy and bewilderment when he discovers his super powers, everything is spot on.
Whilst I was not overly familiar with the character of Mary Jane from the comics, the casting of Kirsten Dunst for me was a great choice and the chemistry between Dunst and Maguire on the screen was a surprising bonus. To be honest I cannot fault a single performance or choice of actor from Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, James Franco as Harry Osborn and even Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, every single one fitted my ideas of the character perfectly and helped bring the movie to life. But one actor does deserve a special mention and that is J.K. Simmons as Newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson, whose performance is not only exceptional but also the fact the way he brought the character to life on the big screen was exactly how I imagined it to be and he pretty much steals the show in every scene he appears.
It would be wrong to not mention the sterling work that director Sam Raimi has done in bringing Spider-Man to the big screen. Despite a couple of issues with the special effects everything else he has done with "Spider-Man" is spot on and is truly a pleasure to watch. The thing which stands out the most for me was the brilliant way he managed to include so much back history into the story with out making seem dull and boring. It would have been quite easy to make "Spider-Man" to comical as in the likes of "Batman and Robin" or too serious as in "Batman Begins", but he has found the perfect middle ground providing humour as well as drama in a true comic sense.
What this all boils down to is that I am impressed with "Spider-Man" and whilst it does have a few faults which prevent it from being 100% perfect, for me it is one of the better transfers of a comic book hero to the big screen. The plot behind the movie not only introduces the character of Spider-Man to a new generation but also provides a decent action storyline for those who already know it. The smouldering romantic plot between Peter and Mary Jane works brilliantly throughout the entire movie and also gives us one very sensual and memorable scene. Most importantly, and as you would expect, "Spider-Man" has some brilliant action sequences which whilst being realistic do not really dwell on the violence aspect of the fights making this a more family orientated movie, well it has a 12 certificate.