Something for everyone
I’m like you in some ways. I get excited by the first blockbuster of the summer movie season too, if it’s halfway decent. Not The Scorpion King, which was almost as cheesy as Jason X; but Spider-Man, this “summer’s” first real blockbuster (and seven weeks before the solstice!).
If Sam Raimi had to make a big-budget fantasy-adventure, Spider-Man is probably the movie he was born to make. Like Superman and Batman, it sets up a premise to establish a franchise and leaves you wanting more.
Well, more of some things anyway. More villains like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and more effects sequences of Spidey (Tobey Maguire) swinging through the urban jungle from the web stuff he emits. But less romance; the triangular situation here is almost like Pearl Harbor all over again.
We’re eased into the story gradually. Peter Parker (Maguire) is a high school senior, the science geek all the kids but two make fun of. The exceptions are the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who doesn’t know Peter’s alive even though he’s been in love with her since they were six; and Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter’s best friend since flunking out of all the private schools his father’s (Dafoe) money could buy his way into.
On a field trip to a Columbia University exhibition, Peter is bitten by a genetically altered “super spider” and wakes up the next morning with super powers of his own that let him defeat the school bully with a “Crouching Spider, Hidden Matrix” routine. A scene where he enters a wrestling competition might have been inserted to mollify the demographic that expects to hear the songs from the “soundtrack” album in the actual movie, but it’s actually a clever way of introducing the Spider-Man costume and adds a funny twist to that.
In the meantime another transformation has taken place. Norman Osborn, Harry’s father, has tested a “performance enhancer” (no, not Viagra) on himself in an effort to get a military contract for his company, Oscorp. After nearly killing him, it leaves him with increased strength and a second personality, the evil Green Goblin.
Some of the most fun parts of the movie are when Peter becomes aware of his powers and tries them out for the first time. His uncle’s (Cliff Robertson) metaphor about growing into manhood would make more sense if Peter were five years younger.
Once Peter puts on the spandex and starts fighting crime, things become more routine, with Mary Jane (MJ to her friends) constantly needing rescuing but never recognizing Peter’s voice as it comes through Spider-Man’s mask. (No one recognizes the Green Goblin’s even more distinctive voice either, which strains credibility a bit, but you didn’t think you were watching a documentary, did you?)
Peter and Harry move in together after high school but keep secrets from each other. Harry doesn’t know Peter is Spider-Man, and Peter doesn’t know Harry is dating MJ. Hell, Norman keeps his dark side a secret from himself. This is a big movie for secrets.
“Like any story worth telling,” Peter tells us at the outset, “this one’s about a girl.” It remains to be seen whether potential Spider-Maniacs think it’s too much about a girl and not enough about kicking ass, but since there’s plenty of both, maybe everyone will be happy.