Spider-Man  (2002)

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The record-setting blockbuster in the comic book category... and, for the moment, in the whole summer-movie category, at least if you don’t correct older sales figures for inflation. The teen geek angst element is taken straight out of the original Spidey-man story with no modernization, and as such comes off as cliché. Haven’t you guys heard that nerds are cool now? I guess not. And Peter Parker seems to accept and understand his suddenly superpowered state much too easily and cheerfully.

There are three strengths to this movie: one is that CGI super-action is now able to blend with live action without the seams showing too often (at least, it looks good until you start comparing it with its sequel), the second is that they put together a screenplay that treats the characters as real human beings, and the third is that they got a real actor (Tobey McGuire) instead of a generic Hollywood mannequin to play the lead. Call it the Reeve Rule: you can teach an actor to bodybuild easier than you can teach a bodybuilder to act. And they do a good job with developing Peter Parker’s realization that his job is to protect people rather than just, say, using his powers to make money.

There is some good action. The final battle is plenty rough. Unfortunately, the signature image of Spidey swinging through the city is rather spoiled by their attempts to replicate the movements and postures of the comic: the resulting moves often seem to violate conservation of angular momentum, and thereby end up unconvincing to the eye.

The bad guy, the Green Goblin, is a bit disappointing. He’s way toned down from the comic, and he displays plenty of evil but has no reason to be so evil. Worse, the otherwise excellent Willem Dafoe hams it up big time in the role. We’re talking the Denny’s “Just a Humongous Bucket of Eggs and Meat” ham lovers’ double ham slam breakfast special with extra ham.

There are many strong points, but in the end the thing is not, repeat not, an especially great comic book movie. It may be the most polished and flawless rendition of a superhero yet, but it’s formulaic. Everything it gives us appeared first in a comic book; nothing is really created anew. And the essential plot is no different from, say, Godzilla 2000: introduce one superpowered entity, introduce a second on a similar scale, make them fight. Just like Godzilla, in the next movie he’ll have to fight two or three monsters.