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A Sticky Show Of Patriotism

By Daniel Dock


Written by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Directed by Sam Raimi

Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Cliff Roberston

Rated PG-13

Peter Parker, played by an effeminate Tobey Maguire, is the social outcast of his high school. The establishing shot of the film consists of Parker chasing the school bus that refuses to stop for him -- much to the delight of everyone in the bus, including the driver. The film progresses quite rapidly as the character Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), or MJ as she is called in the film, is introduced as Parker’s life-long love, even though Parker has never really talked to her.

Parker is bitten by a spider genetically altered with “Transfer RNA” and decides to sleep off the insidious bite, refusing to eat the meal his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) had prepared and causing his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) worry. Coincidentally, that same night, Norman Osborne (Willem Defoe), the father of Parker’s only friend, exposes himself to his own experimental gas that gives him superhuman abilities and drives him insane.

Parker awakes the next day with bulging muscles, perfect vision, and sticky hands. Not worried by his metamorphosis, he trots off to school, where uses his newly acquired abilities to thwart the school bully, who happens to be MJ’s boyfriend. Parker realizes the rest of his abilities -- wall climbing, web slinging, and spider sense -- to great delight.

A tragedy brings about Uncle Ben’s death and Parker, feeling responsible, begins his crusade against crime as Spiderman. About the same time, Norman Osborne, now known as the Green Goblin, begins his reign of terror. The struggle between Spiderman and the Green Goblin is a stalemate until Thanksgiving dinner, where Norman Osborne notices something that puts Parker -- and everyone he loves -- in danger.

The film succeeds in portraying the development of Spiderman’s abilities, but unrealistic CG sequences cause the viewer to lose interest. Despite the film’s best efforts it never seems that Spiderman is contending with the force of gravity -- exaggerated in a scene in which Spiderman must choose between saving a trolley car full of children or MJ. The live-action scenes with the Green Goblin are reminiscent of old Ultraman episodes and almost laughable. Even after Parker’s transformation into Spiderman, he lacks enough masculinity to be considered a hero, illustrating a sort of impotence shared by many protagonists of late films noir -- something that should not be true of any superhero.

Despite the film’s best efforts to paint MJ in a good light, she comes off as nothing but shallow, which may be a by-product of Dunst’s own sense of self-satisfaction throughout the film. This film promises to be as memorable as the first Superman movie and perhaps one day will be played on TNT during Patriot’s Day weekend.

Quite frankly the director, Sam Raimi, did his job well as a craftsman of this film. Despite an opening reminiscent of Tim Burton’s opening to Batman, the film proves to less memorable than Batman because there was adequate acting and little substance.

Perhaps the film’s worst additions were the obligatory displays of patriotism. The film ends with Spiderman on a flagpole high atop a New York skyscraper. In another scene the people of New York stand by Spiderman and exclaim, “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.” Perhaps former Mayor Guiliani will be nominated for an Academy Award.