Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Joe Manganiello, Rosemary Harris
Duration: 112 minutes
The decision to cast Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, the bashful Queens High School student who turns into Spider-Man after being bitten by a wayward insect of the species, proves to be spot on, setting the DVD version off and running toward its instant popularity. Maguire has a winning personality and the best part of the ambitious screen production based on the popular comic book is getting to know Peter and watching his gradual acquisition of his spider-like abilities. Adults as well as youngsters can get a kick out of seeing the shy young man turn into the agile crusader who climbs buildings, leaps between them, casts his webs and keeps the special effects experts busy.
It also helps in the adaptation of the creation by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to have Kirsten Dunst on hand as the girl next door and the object of his concealed affections. Her role as Mary Jane doesn't require the kind of complex performance she gives as Marion Davies in The Cat's Meow, but she is so fetching and warm that she lights up the screen whenever she appears. Given the phenomenal success of the film in both cinemas and on DVD, being co-starred should be a boon for her future in other major roles.
But what can screenwriter David Koepp and director Sam Raimi do once Peter does become Spider-Man? The genre doesn't allow much choice other than to pile on the violence and technical effects as Peter goes through his battles against assorted bad guys, especially the number one nemesis Green Goblin/Norman Osborn, played with requisite evil by Willem Dafoe. Some of the attacks that Spider-Man must counter are unsettling reminders of the terrorism that struck the Big Apple. But that's not the problem. The accentuated, numbing violence is.
The dictates of such action movies, from comic books or otherwise, are assumed to call for violent confrontations that the public devours. On the one hand it is fun to see Spider-Man heroically best his adversaries. But the violence associated with his exploits gets to a point where one wonders about the wisdom of subjecting so many young children to so much of it. The marketing leads parents to take eager offspring who are really too young for this sort of thing but clamour to go, which may be the fault of parents more than the filmmakers.
Besides, so much is piled on that there are diminishing returns, although every once in a while something special occurs to provide a clever high-tech lift. The dazzling look of the film is no surprise. But Spider-Man sags a bit from the human motivation stuff, such as the death of Peter's uncle (Cliff Robertson) and the attack against his aunt (Rosemary Harris), who recovers in time to provide romantic encouragement to Peter in his feelings for Mary Jane.
The best of the human touches occur when Mary Jane is either with Peter or with Peter in his Spider-Man guise, which leaves him a mystery man in her life. Maguire and Dunst are ultra appealing together. Would a less violent, more playful film be a possibility? Or would that be a pipe dream given the nature of the material and the blockbuster quest? Naturally, the film ends on a note that leaves everything open for the sequel. Given the tremendous success of this film in the cinemas (£90 million during its first weekend of release in the United States) and on DVD (the third bestselling DVD of all time in the UK), the sequel is eagerly anticipated by millions. One hopes it will have more substance and less violence than the original.
Disc One: Commentary with director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, star Kirsten Dunst, and co-producer Grant Curtis SFX commetary with special-effects designer John Dykstra and visual-effects crew Branching Web-i-sodes Trailers and TV spots Filmographies and character files Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott Hero music video Sum 41 What We're all About music video DVD-ROM features: comic-to-feature comparison, record your own commentary, countdown to Spider-Man 2, and Weblinks
Disc Two: HBO Making-of Spider-Man, Spider-Mania E! Entertainment Special Director Profile: Sam Raimi Toby Maguire, J.K. Simmons, and CGI Spider-Man screen tests Costume and Makeup tests Gag/Outtake reel Conceptual art and production design gallery Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century historical documentary Spider-Man comic book archives Rogues gallery The Loves of Peter Parker Comic book artist pin-up gallery Hints and tips for the Activision game DVD-ROM: Playable Act