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Triumph of the Geeks
A review of Spider-Man
by J. D. Rummel

Saturday, my beautiful wife and I went to see the first Tobey Maguire Spider-man movie. That sentence contains a lot of information.

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris

Rating: PG-13

Release: 05-03-2002

Time: 121 minutes

Buy Movie at I qualify the movie as Tobey Maguire's Spider-man because like Christopher Reeve in tights, he now owns the character. The movie, when it succeeds, does so largely because of him. Yes, it has great effects, but the winning moments belong to Maguire playing off the situations and characters around him. Peter Parker's grief over his involvement in the death of his uncle never leaves us because of Maguire. The fantastic nature of the whole super hero concept is grounded by Maguire's performance. Neither he nor the scriptwriter let us lose sight of the fact that Spider-man is perhaps the most tragic of super heroes because he is so terribly misjudged and his luck is so staggeringly bad in everything he does. Maguire and Raimi bring this home time and again. Sam Raimi the director is said to love the Spider-man character, and it shows in every frame. A lot of super heroic flicks have simply insulted their source material and the people who love them. It was clear that the creators of the television Batman were embarrassed by its origins. Not so, with Raimi and his crew. This is a work of profound respect. Most of the changes are easily for the better. Things like the bio-web shooting, and the location change of Uncle Ben's tragic death are improvements on the classic story.

I have read criticisms of the films effects (!) Those are utterly unfounded. The movie brings us a web slinger and a wall crawler. Some segments are a little unreal, but we are talking about a fantasy here. Some of it should look fantastic. The effects rock, period. Move on.

But solid effects don't guarantee a solid film. The story is the thing here and much of this story is well told. Sadly, it is in editing and story that it stumbles. The first half of the film wherein Peter discovers who he is, is more solid than the Spider-man versus Goblin second half. Dialogue is sometimes poorly written, such as Peter's speech to Mary Jane in the hospital. Moreover the stitching and seams of the story telling can clearly be seen too often. (How does Norman Osborn greet Aunt May by name when we have never seen them together?)

I've also read criticism of the ending, why can't Parker be more than friends with Mary Jane? People who ask that question don't realize how faithful the filmmakers are being to the source material. The early Spider-man by Lee and Ditko was romantically doomed by the spider power.

In my opening paragraph I say first Spider-man film because this can only be the beginning. The film, while flawed takes its built-in audience and clearly has the momentum and material to be a franchise. It is fun on many levels, and tells the tragic side of super heroism very well. It is not perfect, but it stands with Batman , Blade and X-Men as an example of how to bring a comic book to the screen.

In the first sentence I also mention my beautiful wife because as a comic book geek that grew up in the sixties with Spider-man, I had no reason to believe I would ever have a beautiful wife. Growing up, I was Peter Parker. All too often I was tripped on the bus and brutalized by my classmates because I was different in some way. I would go home everyday and rebuild myself in comic books. That was the best part of Spider-man. I didn't come from Krypton, and I didn't have the discipline to be Batman, but if I could get bitten by a radioactive spider, I had a shot. Spider-man taught me so much about survival. I clung to those stories as surely as Parker to a wall. It was a thing of joy for me to sit in a theatre having survived and see that magic translated to the screen. It broke all standing box office records on its opening weekend and it deserved to. The geeks win this one.