Directed by Sam Raimi. USA. 2002.

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Are there any pieces of brain waste more prevalent than theme songs? I think not. Your brain manages to store this sort of important information instead of, say, your blood type. I’d like a show of hands here. How many people out there can name the current Canadian minister of finance? Now, how many people out there can sing the theme song to Spider-Man

(All Together Now)

"Is he strong?
Listen Bud,
He’s got radioactive blood.
Can he swing
From a thread.
Take a Look overhead,
Hey there!
There goes a Spider-Man.”

I write a regular on-line column and with all the perks that I have noted being on the ‘net, (bigger audiences, great forums for sharing opinions) I have also managed to note that Internet fans can be….. A bit….. determined in their loyalties to certain subjects. Like Marvel Comics (I count myself among that particular group of admirers). I can only imagine the SPECTACULAR amount of pressure director Sam Raimi underwent when signing on the dotted line to take on this project. After all, he was bringing one of the most beloved characters in that universe to screen. There are those Internet folk out there who sincerely doubted his ability to do this in a manner that they felt their favourite hero deserved. If you think that’s bad, just imagine the stress placed squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Tobey Maguire, the (indie films aside) previously unknown actor embodying the renowned web slinger. Should you want to get just a brief glimpse of what Maguire had to work against, check out some of the sites dedicated to his casting as Spider-Man. They are mostly negative.

With the expectation that I was in for an evening of fun, but a movie without much plot, I strode into Spider-Man’s Halifax premiere. I took my seat, full of worry for Tobey, hope for Raimi, and was totally blown away.

Spider-Man chronicles the origin of this superhero, and his first battle with a super villain. For all those of you who don’t know the story…

Spider-Man. All rights Reserved.Peter Parker, is an unassuming and shy high school student. He’s a science whiz, with few friends (one, Harry Osborne) and has loved the same girl all his life (Mary Jane Watson). One fateful day, on a class field trip to Columbia University, Peter tried, once again, to get Mary Jane’s attention, and finally did; taking her picture beside a tank full of experimental spiders. As she turned to go Peter made an adrenaline-pumping discovery; one of the spiders had escaped, and had chosen the particular sanctuary of his hand. When Peter tried to shoo it off, the spider bit him, passing to Peter all of its’ characteristics. Now, empowered with speed, agility, and bravery, (not to mention the ability to shoot spiderwebs out of his wrists) Peter went out into the world, to see what these gifts could do.

Tobey Maguire (Wonder Boys, The Ice Storm) does an absolutely incredible job portraying Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I defy you to find one audience member who didn’t identify with Peter trying to get Mary Jane to notice him, or who didn’t want to step in when he was getting laughed at and pushed around by the school bullies. Maguire has made Peter Parker an extremely empathetic character. What’s more he’s successfully side-stepped the trap that more experienced actors than he have plunged into; taking all human aspects away from a superhero character making them unlikable, and unrealistic. George Clooney’s Batman was a two dimensional personality at best, having no spark at all. It seemed as though Clooney had forgotten the fact that his character had mounds of history. No where in that performance do you get a chance to see how Bruce Wayne turned into Batman. Nowhere in that performance do you get to see any sort of an amiable side to that dark knight. He made you feel distant from the character. Maguire on the other hand makes you feel as though you are standing beside him on-screen, watching as he discovers the ability to fight off his tormentors, uses his precognition for the first time, and uncovers his spider like qualities. Unlike Clooney’s morose turn, Maguire has scenes of taking pure joy in what he can now do. The smile on his face, as he climbs a wall for the very first time is absolutely irristable. It speaks volumes to Maguire’s capabilities as an actor that there are no moments in Spider-Man at all that feel forced or over the top. Everything from the shock on his face when his web shooting capabilities first show themselves, to the WOO HOO as he swings from building to building is one hundred percent genuine.

Willem Dafoe has turned in a bestial performance as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin. Norman Osborne, (father of Harry, Peter’s friend) is the owner of Osborne Industries, a scientific research company working on a government contract to manufacture a “performance enhancer” for the military. Norman thinks that he has discovered the perfect formula. This formula endows someone with an eight hundred percent increase in strength. There’s just one problem; those pesky insanity, homicidal tendencies, and death side-effects. Since the military will take their government funding elsewhere unless a successful human trial is completed Norman decides to take that on himself…Dafoe is stunning here, almost disappearing into both characters. My appreciation for Dafoe’s talent as an actor grew while watching a scene in which Norman Osborne talks to his alternate personality (The Green Goblin) in the mirror. Dafoe blends between one personality and another so effortlessly, one second the terrified Osborne, the next the powerful Goblin. Dafoe’s greatest power lies in the expressive capabilities of his eyes. There is a scene in which Peter and Harry invite Norman to their apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. Norman comes in, makes polite conversation, and then starts to carve the turkey. Innocent enough. Until I saw the close-up of the eyes, which are filled with such malice that I was suddenly filled with a raving case of the heebie-jeebies. 

Spider-Man. All Rights Reserved.The performances in Spider-Man alone are worth the price of admission, but even if Maguire and Dafoe weren’t up to snuff, the style of this film would be enough to recommend it. The opening credits are like nothing I’ve ever seen before; a constant interweaving of the Marvel comic, with CGI creations of spiderwebs, Spider-Man, and a sudden outline of the Green Goblin that will bring you out of your chair. Spider-Man creator Stan Lee’s influences run rampant throughout the entire film, from lines taken directly from the comic, to fades from scene to scene done through focusing on a drawing and wiping to a real life shot. The effects used to create Spider-Man’s swinging from place to place are so good, that you exit this movie wondering whether or not Tobey Maguire (or a stunt double) has in fact been bitten by a genetically altered spider. They are that well done. I would imagine that there are a lot of Internet folk having a lovely plate of crow right about now, because none of the flaws they expected to see in Spider-Man have shown themselves.

I have very clear memories of my first movie. I went to see The Empire Strikes Back with my Mom. To this day I can recall the colours on Han Solo’s winter hat that he wore on the ice planet Hoth, and being very curious as to what all of R2-D2’s bleeps and blurps amounted to in English. More than anything I remember the sense of absolute amazement, the feeling of wonder, of knowing that Hoth, the Empire, Luke, and Darth Vader probably did not exist, and yet this movie had the power to bring them to me. I was four years old then. I have since had twenty years of movie watching experience, and have seen thousands of films. Some have been very good. Some have been indescribably terrible. Some have been brilliant. None though, have ever managed to capture the magic I felt when watching a film for the first time. Until now.

Jen Johnston
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