• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

Spider-Man

Spider-Man

Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring James Franco, Bruce Campbell, J.K. Simmons, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, Kirsten Dunst, Tobey Maguire. (2002, PG-13, 121 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 10, 2002

It must have seemed like a terrific gamble when the suits at Columbia elected to go with director Sam Raimi's first choice for the role of New York's finest webslinger. You can see the puzzled looks and a grimace or two if you squint your mind's eye; “Tobey Maguire? That Ice Storm kid? Are you nuts?” Thank goodness Raimi won that one, though. From his first scene on, Maguire owns the role, and thanks to a fine, goofily heartfelt script by David Koepp, and some restrained-yet-punchy direction on Raimi's part, this is perhaps the most spot-on film adaptation of a comic book superhero yet. Fans of Marvel Comics' beloved red, black, and blue arachnoid teenager should have a field day; Raimi perfectly captures the essence of the early Spider-Man issues, from Stan Lee's wise decision to make this high school outsider one with whom the kids could really identify instead of a galaxy-hopping Superman, to Steve Ditko's surreal, odd-angled panels and wild, action-crammed splash pages. Maguire, with his croaky, pubescent voice and hunchy science nerd charm, might as well have walked in from of one of Smilin' Jack Kirby's old issues -- he looks like the penultimate geek-cum-boy wonder, and when he is finally bitten by a genetically enhanced spider while on a school field trip (an amateur shutterbug, he spends the trip shooting pics and spouting off about the myriad unique properties of the spider exhibit around him, as if simply being a spotty-faced 98-pound weakling weren't trouble enough), the resulting transformation from gawky science whiz into spectacular spiderguy is all the more fascinating. Koepp's script excels in other ways, too: The film sets up a single arch-villain for our hero to vanquish. As the Green Goblin and his marginally more benign alter-ego, scientist Norman Osborn, Dafoe fluidly shifts among playing loving father to son Harry (Franco), ambitious Oscorp Industries CEO and chief scientist, and the armor-clad Goblin, who spends most of his screen time zooming around on his sporty hoversled and tossing exploding thingamajigs at all and sundry. What else is there to love about Spider-Man? How about Dunst's Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's one true love “since the fourth grade,” who, with her crinkley smile and pale redhead's skin tones, manages to look both alternately beatific and drop-dead gorgeous, often in the same sequence. There's also J.K. Simmons' note-perfect take on Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson. With the ever-present stogie clenched in his career newsman's lantern jaw, the salt-and-pepper flattop, and the rapid-fire, take-no-prisoners delivery, he's another Marvel archetype brought to thoroughly believable life. Spider-Man isn't perfect, but it's head and shoulders above so many other superhero flicks of the past 10 years. Raimi's ginger direction stops just shy of the apocalyptic knock-down, drag-out, battles royal of, say, Superman or The X-Men, and at times the film feels like it's holding back when it should be kicking out the proverbial jams. Still, there's a real joy and sense of exhilaration, though, to many of Spider-Man's CGI webslinging sequences, even if those computer graphics don't always live up to expectations. With centrifugal force on his side, Spider-Man dips, weaves, and whooshes past, up, and around the camera -- it's a rush, and it plasters a grin on your face even after you've left the theatre.

READ MORE
More Sam Raimi
Hitching the Movie Trailers at Super Bowl XLVII
Hitching the Movie Trailers at Super Bowl XLVII
Trailers for new 'Star Trek', 'Fast and Furious' break up game

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 4, 2013

Drag Me to Hell: The Wait Is Almost Over
Drag Me to Hell: The Wait Is Almost Over
Sam Raimi shows a work-in-progress print of his new horror film Drag Me to Hell at a SXSW midnight screening

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 16, 2009

More Sam Raimi Films
Oz the Great and Powerful
Neither a besmirching nor a instant classic, this sometimes clunky prequel in which James Franco plays the Wizard when he was a mere, young huckster also has Sam Raimi's ravishing visuals.

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 8, 2013

Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi makes a triumphant return to the "splatstick" horror genre he more or less invented with The Evil Dead and its two sequels.

Marc Savlov, May 29, 2009

More by Marc Savlov
Phantom Boy
Hand-drawn animation is the hallmark of this animated French film

July 29, 2016

Ice Age: Collision Course
Latest entry of the series is overstuffed and meandering

July 22, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Spider-Man, Sam Raimi, James Franco, Bruce Campbell, J.K. Simmons, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, Kirsten Dunst, Tobey Maguire

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)