Raimi’s adaptation of Marvel Comics’ ‘wall-crawler’ faithful to its source
In the early 1960s, a small comic book company with waning sales underwent what amounted to a veritable revolution. Under the guiding hands of writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Marvel Comics radically turned its declining sales around, such that within a couple of years the company was quickly overtaking its previously unassailable competitor, DC, and that company’s perennial top moneymakers, Batman and Superman.
Marvel accomplished this by presenting “super humans with human problems.” What this concept boiled down to was presenting the characters with believable mundane problems—bills to pay, ill relatives, jealous girlfriends, crummy jobs, tough teachers, and so forth—quite beyond whatever traumas they wrestled as “good guys” squaring off against “bad guys.”
It is with this well in mind that director Sam Raimi has delivered a damn good rendition of Spider-Man. Yes, I know “purists” may have countless gripes about changes made for the sake of cinematic art. But having been a reader of Spider-Man back in those formative years, I say to hell with the so-called purists. Many of these self-elected “keepers of the flame” were not even yet breathing when Spider-Man first appeared. Frankly, in terms of “super humans with human problems,” this is as faithful a representation of “Spidey” as anyone could hope for.
Peter Parker (portrayed by Tobey Maguire) is an awkward senior at a New York high school. He’s constantly belittled by macho dopes and generally passed over by dolls, such as his neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). That is until, while on a school field trip to a genetics research facility, Parker gets bitten by an enhanced “super” spider. Of course, the spider’s abilities are passed on to Parker, and it is from here that the tale and its conflicts develop.
The father of Parker’s best friend is working on various weapons for the U.S. military. When the military threatens to cut off funding due to lack of results, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) injects himself with a sort of “super-soldier” drug that not only makes him stronger, but also, unfortunately, drives him mad. This leads to Osborn assuming the identity of the Green Goblin, the film’s chief villain and Spidey’s nemesis.
While the effects are competent (the CGIed “Spidey"-effects occasionally border on annoying) and the action generally exciting, it is the blossoming relationship between Mary Jane and Peter that holds our interest. It is their fumbling through the murkiness of adolescent perception toward each other that gives the film its most enjoyable moments. That and the scenes where Parker stumblingly learns to utilize his new powers, finding out the hard way that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Hmmm. Maybe a few politicians could do with a good spider bite.