Spider-Man the Movie
NOTE: There aren't any spoilers for the film within, so if you haven't seen it have no fear.
Movie critics never seem to have the same tastes as the hoi polloi, though they always want to tell you whether a film is worth seeing. We all know that no matter what the critics say, you've already made up your mind whether or not to go because of the actors, effects, story or from your friends. This isn't a review to tell you whether you should see the new Spider-Man movie or not, you've already decided. It's a review to tell you why I liked it and some of the minutiae you may want to look for.
But do we want you to see it? Of course we do, and there's more than just the satisfaction from seeing a Star Wars movie be the 2nd (or worse) ranked movie in a year by box office, but also the totally selfish desire to see more. More, as in a sequel, which is well under way since when you break just about every record on your opening weekend, you just can't make a sequel fast enough.
If you need only one reason to see the movie, it has to be Spider-Man. While more need not be said, more shall be said, in the mighty Marvel Manner! There are two kinds of people in this world, those who like Marvel better than DC, and the other misguided souls who think the other way. You can cop out with the old 'I like them both the same' line, but deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me , err. Deep down you have to pick sides, just because you really can't like two things exactly the same. But, keep that neutral front (it's worked so far for Switzerland), even though you know the real answer inside.
I think it's clear which person I am - Marvel through and through. It isn't that I dislike DC - I don't. DC does some great stuff, and I generally feel they have better writers at DC more often than at Marvel. But what Marvel does better than anyone else is the characters and the universe. I like Batman, but I just don't relate so well to a billionaire who likes to dress up and run around at night. It isn't that I don't want to, but he just isn't a regular guy. Superman? He isn't even a guy (speaking as a human, that is).
Now Spider-man, or Peter Parker (don't you just love alliterated names?), he's a regular guy. Well, not really. See, he isn't even a regular guy. He has trouble with girls, he's poor, he's a geek and he just doesn't fit in. He's about two shoe sizes short of regular, just like most of us. I can identify with Peter, as most of us can throughout our lives.
But the thing that really gets me is why he's Spider-man. Not the why of physically what makes him Spidey, but the psychological reason for it. It's very simple, but extremely powerful - guilt. That's what is the heart of the character, and to me that makes him morally superior to Batman or Superman or even Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman does things out of duty, Superman because he doesn't know any other way. You may say Batman operates from guilt, but I disagree. He is driven by vengeance because he can't have guilt over something that happened that he could not prevent. Guilt is when you feel bad because you aren't as good a person as you know you can be. We all make mistakes, and Peter's mistake costs more than most of ours do, and the punishment is guilt.
Another thing about Marvel is that Spider-Man lives in New York City. Not Metropolis, or Gotham, or Hub City or any of many other cities that only exist in my imagination. I've been to New York, and walked the streets (which seem o make my feet tired even thinking of them). When in New York, even though I know it won't happen, I still believe that I could see Spider-Man swinging by, because I know it's his home.
If you've made it this far, you're either a masochist, stuck at work with nothing better to do on the boss's time, or maybe you're curious if I will ever actually talk about the film! If you've stopped reading I could make fun of you, but it really isn't worth it. It's like picking on the Amish on the internet - they'll never see these words so why bother?
Is the acting good? I thought so. I believed that Tobey Maguire was Peter Parker. I believed that JK Simmons was J. Jonah Jameson. I believed that Willem Dafoe was nuts, though I would have loved for him to have that funky Ditko hair (in the curly little rows). Kirsten Dunst wasn't bad, but she just isn't my idea of MJ. Chalk it up to personal preference.
While this film has this dark feeling of guilt that runs as an undercurrent, it's still bright and happy for most of the journey. It isn't art in the sense that Citizen Kane or Casablanca are, but it is fun. It's a summer popcorn movie where you can go and watch for two hours, forget about the world around you and maybe come out with something to think about, but at least you'll have a smile on your face.
There have been some complaints that the story is derivative, and largely they are correct. The movie is directly based on earlier comics work so it is meant to be derivative of that prior work. Spider-Man's origin is almost verbatim from his origin story, which proves that a good story is a good story, regardless of the medium. Variations on a theme is simply what stories are all about, and there probably hasn't been a story told in centuries that isn't derivative in some sense.
The special effects have been well done, and for much of the film they suspend belief. Even though I knew they were effects and that some scenes were done with computers, I still impressed with what they've been able to do. The effects weren't overwhelming and they helped tell the story, and they weren't the story of the film. There are some that looked obvious, but for most you should be satisfied.
I wanted to see more of Harry and Peter as friends, but I understand trying to fit years of continuity into a two hour movie. And my own familiarity with the characters led me to want to see more because these were people I've known for years. It's the film version, so I understand the need to trim and just keep the things that move the story ahead.
What should you get from the film? Two hours of fun, or at least the feeling that your money was well-spent. If you've been with Peter for years as I have, you had a chance to see him truly personified. If you just remember the character, now could be the chance to renew your relationship with him. Check your local comics shop, they'll be glad to help you see that Peter Parker is alive and kicking.
There are also many toys from the movie that are hitting stores. A Spotlight on the first series action figures has been done, and the second series will appear later this week (including the Mary Jane figure variant). There are 12" figures, and many other related toys that are in our Toy Fair coverage, so take a look.
Throughout the film there are a few smaller things that you might miss, so if you haven't seen it yet (or will be going again, just like me) keep an eye out for the following:
- They mention (but don't show) Eddie Brock, who later becomes Venom.
- Bruce Campbell (the hero from the Evil Dead movies) is the ring announcer.
- Randy 'Macho Man' Savage is Bonesaw McGraw, the wrestler.
- Lucy Lawless (Xena) makes a cameo as a 'woman on the street' (with the punk look).
- Jonah's secretary is Betty Brant (Peter's first girlfriend in the comics).
- Peter works for Dr. Conner, a reference to the Lizard's alter-ego.
- The spider that bites Peter is red and blue, like his costume.
- The Daily Bugle building is none other than the Flatiron building in New York, which is just down the street from the International Toy Center.
- Stan Lee is in the crowd scene at the festival mid-way through the film.
- Steve Ditko cannot be found in the film (except the opening credits where he is listed as the co-creator of Spider-Man). Steve likes his privacy!