'Spider-Man' a silky-smooth gem
Comic book adaptation top-notch
(CNN) -- "Spider-Man" is the best big-screen comic book adaptation since "Superman" in 1978.
To those unfamiliar with the legend of the superhero, Tobey Maguire may seem a strange choice for the role, but he fits the part like a spandex glove. More important, Maguire is perfect as Spidey alter ego Peter Parker, a mild-mannered high school student who borders on being a complete geek.
For the most part the film's script follows the 40-year-old comic's basic premise. Parker is an ordinary guy who is accidentally given extraordinary powers after being bitten by a genetically altered spider (one of the points in which the film differs from the comic books). He gains superhuman strength and a spider-like ability to cling to any surface, and becomes -- ta-da! -- Spider-Man.
His first reaction is to use this gift for profit, but soon learns that "with great power comes great responsibility." After his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) is killed in a carjacking, Peter -- aka Spider-Man -- vows to fight crime and avenge his uncle's death.
Friends and enemies
Peter's only friend at school is Harry Osborn (James Franco, who played the title role in TNT's "James Dean"). Harry is the one person who knows about Parker's secret crush on the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But Harry has problems of his own, namely his distant, brilliant, rich father Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe).
While Norman takes a special interest in Parker's future -- at the same time taking dangerous personal risks at work in order to secure a huge military contract -- Harry falls in love with Mary Jane.
At this point a villain, calling himself the Green Goblin, appears and the stage is set for an epic battle between good and evil.
Director Sam Raimi, whose films include "Darkman" (1990), "A Simple Plan" (1998), and the "Evil Dead" cult films, has been a lifelong fan of Spider-Man and it shows. Reportedly there is still a Spider-Man poster above Raimi's old bed in his childhood home. He apparently campaigned for the job and it's clear he had a vision for this adaptation from cartoon to big-screen, three-dimensional reality.
For the general audience, the transitions from Maguire to stunt men to the computer-generated images are seemingly flawless. Sure, if you want to look for flaws you'll find them, but you'll miss the movie itself. Overall, Raimi has created an amazing alternate reality with "Spider-Man."
Terrific effects -- and good acting
Maguire is known for playing introspective young men living on the outside of the worlds they inhabit -- characters such as Paul Hood, the teenager in "The Ice Storm" (1997), or the mild-mannered Homer Wells in "The Cider House Rules" (1999). Parker, in many ways, is simply an extension of Maguire's signature type roles.
That is not to imply that Maguire isn't an excellent young actor, or that he's simply playing variations of the same role. However, there is a certain sense of alienation in all these characters that seems to attract Maguire.
With this film, special kudos must go to the production design and special effects teams. Academy Award winner John Dykstra, who created effects for the "Star Wars" films, was one of the original founders of Industrial Light & Magic, along with George Lucas and Gary Kurtz. His expertise is all over this film with its outstanding visuals.
Costume designer James Acheson is a three-time Oscar winner and his costumes -- most notably the Spider-Man suit -- are remarkable. Production designer Neil Spisak has taken New York City and rearranged it with astounding results. The sets feel like New York but are enhanced in subtle ways that give the viewer a sense of fantasy that's still grounded in reality.
"Spider-Man" is exactly what it's supposed to be -- an escapist confection that's pure entertainment.
"Spider-Man" opens nationwide on Friday, May 3.
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
ENTERTAINMENT TOP STORIES:
Kate Winslet defies expectations
MSNBC axes Phil Donahue
60,000 Romans honor comedy hero
Potter author to appear on 'Simpsons'
Review: Chronicling Jordan's 'Last Shot'
|Back to the top|