Spider-man (2002)

Directed by Sam Raimi

We’re in the season of big hype DVD releases (because Christmas is around the corner). As the annual hype machine begins to hit its stride, Spider-man has been released in a 2 disc edition.

After shoveling through all the hype, it turns out we’ve got a pretty good movie. Not great, but pretty good.

Let’s get the negative part out of the way first …

I think the movie may be about 30 minutes too long. The first part is great, and it moves along quite well, but somewhere in the middle it starts to sag. And I think I know why, or at least where it starts to lose me.

The film starts by showing us Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) as something of a bullied nerd. The film sets him up as a sweet loser – he can’t get the girl (Kirsten Dunst), cruel jokes are played on him, and so on.

Then there is an accident and he starts to change. He begins to become Spider-man. It’s this part of the movie that really excels because it shows something of the fear and excitement felt in such a change then, once adjusted to, the joy in exploring what these powers can do.

It’s also done with great humour, and it works terrifically.

I think where the movie starts to run out of momentum is when we begin switching to the Green Goblin character (Willem Dafoe) and the battle between him and Spider-man.

It’s as if the closer the film gets to the heroic aspects of Spider-man, rather than the Peter Parker identity, the more it gets lost in a pretty standard comic book storyline of heroes and villains.

You can’t really fault the film for this, though. This is what a comic book is about and the film is trying to be true to the Spider-man character and story. But for me, the more comic book it became the less it held my interest.

But then I’ve never been a big fan of comic books.

On the upside, however, is the first hour or so when Peter Parker is exploring and coming to terms with his new powers. And the overall look of the film, and its general pacing, are great. One of the things I most enjoy about the film is how it goes in the opposite direction of most films of this kind as they’re being made today (perhaps established by Tim Burton’s Batman).

It’s not afraid to shoot action in daylight – in fact, it thoroughly enjoys it and the way it allows for fabulous, rich colour. It also resists the current obsession with emphasizing the drama by giving us an endlessly oppressive dark look – shadows everywhere, audience squinting to see what the hell is going on. It has enough confidence in its story to actually show it to you.

In fact, I think its the use of colour combined with some intriguing angles and apparent swooshing tracking shots that communicate the comic book roots of the film. In this sense, it’s a brilliantly put together movie.

If I was more of a fan of comic books, particularly Spider-man, I think I would have loved this movie. As it is, I like it a lot but found some of the necessary comic book story elements less than interesting. It is, however, a lot of fun (if a bit long).

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