Cyberlizard goes to the movies
As Hollywood has turned to old comicbook classics before (Superman, X-Men), it was only a matter of time before someone had the idea of producing the Marvel Comic's Spiderman for the big screen.
Geeky shy-boy Peter Parker (Maguire, suspiciously reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker of Pulp) lives with his aunt and uncle and is the butt of his high-school peers' humour, befriended only by Harry Osborne, somewhat estranged son of millionaire scientist Norman Osborne (Defoe). He has been infatuated by the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst), who is the property of the boneheaded jock who makes Parker the brunt of his humour. While on a school visit to a university biology faculty, Parker is bitten by an escaped spider-hybrid bred by the faculty scientists. After a few hours of sickness he awakes to find himself the possessor not only of enhanced muscles but also of those arachnid-specific faculties that were incorporated in the spider-hybrid - web-spinning, the ability to leap great distances and climb sheer walls, and a strange pre-cognitive sense of events about to happen. Meanwhile Norman Osborne is under pressure to produce results for his performance-enhancer research project or have his funding totally cut off by the military. Despite evidence that the drugs cause aggression and insanity, in a fit of recklessness he forces his fellow scientist to administer the treatment. The drugs (in some ways a metaphor for amphetamine abuse) boost his powers but also have a terrible Jekyll and Hyde effect on him, causing him in his alter-ego as the Green Goblin to seek to destroy all who oppose him.
If this sounds like a standard storyline, in fact the story in Spiderman is a cut above the average. Both Parker and Osborne are essentially tragic figures. Parker is isolated first by his geekiness and lovelorn unattractiveness and then by the possession of his unique powers. Early on his uncle (Cliff Robertson) warns him that great power leads to great responsibility, and by the end of the film Parker realises to his sorrow that the possession of his powers, in his own words, are a gift and a curse - all who are near to him are paradoxically endangered. Osborne at the beginning is not an evil man, although somewhat flawed in his ambition. It is his hubris and recklessness which push him over the abyss and make him into a divided personality, although he struggles with his mania. At the beginning of the story he is as affectionate towards Parker as his own son. One can to a certain degree sympathise with his anger towards the board of directors who callously dump him, although it hardly justifies his subsequent terrible revenge.
The acting is uniformly good, although I felt James Franco became something of a cipher in some parts towards the end of the film. Toby Maguire gives the right amount of slightly cold-fish aloofness as the involuntary superhero, while Defoe is perfect rage and torment as the Green Goblin. Kirsten Dunst makes an attractive and winsome heroine. Interestingly (possibly because Sam Raimi directed the film) a couple of actors from the Hercules and Xena series, Lucy Lawless and Ted Raimi, get small parts in the movie. As might be expected, the special effects, especially the leaping and swinging through dizzying altitudes between tall buildings, are highly competent.
The ending of the film leaves it wide open for a sequel, and in this case it's justified. Of this year's blockbusters, Spiderman is so far the best this reviewer has seen.