THAT WAS SO COOL! HE SHOT WEBS FROM HIS WRISTS.. AND AND AND... HE SWUNG THROUGH THE STREETS... AND AND AND... HE WAS SO... SO... COOL!
<stuffs his inner fanboy back inside, clears his throat, and tries again>
Ahem. Sorry. Spiderman was the first comic I ever collected when I was young, and although I haven't collected comics for over 20 years now, I still remember how entranced I was by Spiderman, and the teen angst of Peter Parker, and how I dreamed of someday becoming a super-hero too. I've grown out of that now, settling for someday becoming a Ph.D., but a part of me, the part that got out up there, still remembers that dream, and for two hours tonight, I got to live that dream again. Don't worry, I've crammed him back into his mental hiding hole, we shan't be hearing from him again.
But it was a really good movie.
From start to finish, it was a story that left nothing behind if you hadn't read the comic book, pleased you immensely if you had, and fulfilled the "hot summer movie" quota for everyone who sees it. The casting worked, the special effects were the best I've seen (although not quite good enough), the cinematography was stupendous, the music was amazing, and most of all... the movie was affecting as well as being fun! Read on, true believer, and I'll explain in some detail!
The simple synopsis: A young man named Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered "super spider" and the venom in the spider causes a mutation in Peter's body, giving him amazing powers. He tries to cash in on his newfound success, learns a valuable lesson, meets his arch-nemesis, and discovers the hidden hero within himself.
That's all I'm willing to put out there. If you want to know more, there's bound to be a theatre close to you, and I would hate myself if I spoiled it for anyone. However, story aside, there are things I want to mention that I think need to be mentioned. The cast, the story, the continuity from comic book to film, and the inside jokes that I so enjoyed.
Tobey McGuire played Peter Parker/Spiderman to a "T". As the geeky adolescent yearning for acceptance, he embodied the pain, insecurity and angst of everyone who yearns to be one of the "in crowd" but will never be. His depth of emotion is remarkable, from yearning for his "girl next door", to his anger at being abused, to his sadness at the tragedies he endures, to the anger and determination apparent when he comes to his decision gate late in the film... it all comes across earnest and real, and not contrived or staged. You feel what he feels. One scene actually had me close to tears, in a super-hero movie. Batman never made me want to cry, well not until Clooney put on the tights, but that's another story.
William DeFoe is a fine actor, and this was excellent casting, picking him to portray Normal Osborne/The Green Goblin. He does a remarkable job of shifting mental and emotional (and sanity) gears in an instant, lending credence to the idea that he is of two minds about his life later on in the film. Again, a tremendous range of emotions is displayed that allows the audience something it rarely gets: the chance to really sympathize with the "villain" of the film.
For supporting cast, Kirsten Dunst is an affable Mary Jane Watson, but the trademark attitude and swagger that I remember from the comics is absent. Perhaps we'll see more of that in the next film which, by the way, Sam Raimi has said is already being written. Rosemary Harris is a wonderful Aunt May Parker, and Cliff Robertson is absolutely dead-on as Peter's Uncle Ben Parker. James Franco does an excellent job of playing Harry Osborne, the conflicted son of DeFoe's character. But in the supporting roles, I was absolutely bowled over by J. K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson, the head of the Daily Bugle. Of all the characters, this was the one that I could find nothing wrong with, not one tiny little thing. He was perfect. Better than the cartoons over the years, better than the live-action series in the late 70's, almost better than the comic books.
The cinematography was excellent, and the direction was what I hoped it would be. I've been a fan of Sam Raimi's since Evil Dead, and a dearly departed friend's uncle was in Army of Darkness, which I also loved. Raimi has an... ability... to evoke what he wants from an audience through his films, but this may be his most powerful and successful venture to date. With this film, he's put himself right up there with Bryan Singer and James Cameron as directors to be reckoned with, and I think it will suit him well. It's long overdue in my opinion.
And the little inside jokes I alluded to earlier... well... having Randy "Macho Man" Savage play Bone Saw McGraw was great. Having Uncle Ben driving "the car", the one that's been in every Raimi film yet, was continuity that I appreciated. But the winner for best inside bit for the whole film has to be the inclusion of Bruce Campbell as the ring announcer, the first person to coin the phrase "The Amazing Spiderman" in the film. What a great thrill it was to see Bruce in his cheesy, smarmy best, once again. Here's another hand raised to ask Raimi if, after he rakes in all the money he's going to make from this movie, he wouldn't consider teaming up with Campbell for an Evil Dead 4 or perhaps an Army of Darkness 2. Wouldja? Huh? I'll help...
Now, the music. It was Danny Elfman. Usually, that would be enough, and no further comment would be needed, but this was even better than normal. Of late, I'd begun to notice that all Elfman's scores had started to sound like variations on the same themes. I could tell, within a few bars, if it was one of his or not. This one though... when his name came up on the credits, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised that I hadn't heard the same themes and chordal progressions again. This was new, unique, special, and oh-so interlocking with the film that I could think of no other music that would have worked better.
Now, my one disappointment, it's not really the fault of anyone connected to the film, it's just a shortcoming with the technology available: CGI has come a long way from the days of Tron, and it's visually stunning, but it was the one point where I was jolted out of my "willing suspension of disbelief" during the running of the movie. They (in this case, "they" being the special effects houses who do all the CGI stuff for Hollywood) have given us some amazing things, but the one hurdle they have yet to get over is the ability to realistically render the human body and its movements. When the CGI Spiderman flips or swings or lands, it is evident to me which is the CGI and which is the "real thing" still. Soon, we will get to the point where one can truly seamlessly blend reality and CGI together and audiences will lose the ability to tell which is which. I look forward to that day.
Overall, this film gets an enthusiastic A+ from me... both the young comic-loving fanboy me and the adult movie-loving me. "We" thought it was probably the best two hours spend in a theatre in a long, long time. Bravo to everyone responsible, and in the words of Spiderman creator Stan "The Man" Lee: EXCELSIOR!