By Herb Kane | May 13, 2002

CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Leonard Maltin (hottickettv.com), Glenn Whipp (u.dailynews.com), Owen Gleiberman (ew.com), Ron Wells (filmthreat.com), James Berardinelli (reelview.net), Moira Macdonald (seattletimes.com), Forrest Hartman (rgj.com), Roger Ebert (suntimes.com), Harry Knowles (aint-it-cool-news.com), Rob Blackwelder (splicedwire.com), Susan Stark (detnews.com), Betty Jo Tucker (reeltalkmovies.com), E! Online (eonline.com), Mark Caro (chicagotribune.com), Joyce Kulhawik (hottickettv.com), Holly McClure (crosswalk.com), Margaret McGurk (cincinnati.com) ^ * * * * * out of 5 stars (PG-13)
I always thought the idea of Spider-Man was stupid, so I never read the comic-books. Will the new Spider-Man movie finally draw me into his web? Spider-Man is about Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), a smart geek who gets bitten by a genetically altered spider. Parker soon learns he has superhuman strength; he can climb walls, shoot a spider-web from his wrists and swing like Tarzan from skyscraper to skyscraper in New York. He keeps his powers a secret, hides in a full-body spider costume (he created) and saves people’s lives. Thus we have “Spider-Man.”
Leonard Maltin (“Hot Ticket”) said on his show, “All the human stuff in the film works. But when he becomes Spider-Man and starts bouncing around, he’s bouncing in such a cartooney way that I felt completely distant.”
Glenn Whipp (Daily News Los Angeles) also complains, “The movie’s special effects are largely a disappointment.Unable to really convey what a thrill it would be for Spider-Man to swing from New York skyscraper to skyscraper on a web rope, Raimi ultimately caves and settles for a standard good-vs.-evil scenario that is conservatively derivative and generally dully rendered.”
Maltin and Whipp have cobwebs in their eyes. Listen: I’m obviously no big comic-book fan, but anyone who saw the various Spider-Man poses in drawings can see how perfectly director Sam Raimi transformed this superhero into film. Some reviews say the CGI effects were too obvious, but in this movie – it shouldn’t matter!
Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) got it right: “The fact that the digital seams sometimes show is hardly a problem. If anything, it mirrors the crude vitality of the Spidey drawings in the Marvel comics — the sense of a twitchy, light-bodied avenger slipping, and sticking, around a city of skyscrapers; he’s in the world but not quite of it. Freed from the usual actor-flying-in-a-big-cape chicanery, the movie brings the physical iconography of a comic superhero alive before our eyes.”
Ron Wells (filmthreat.com) said, “Dafoe is way too over-the-top crazy through nearly his entire performance, which is itself given way too much screen time. I don’t want to sound like one of those nitpicking fans, but when the character first appeared in print…” STOP! Ron, you sound like one of those nitpicking fans. The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) may not be perfect (his mask is too lifeless), but Dafoe’s portrayal of Norman Osborn’s alter ego is beautifully psychotic and evil – in a comic book way. In fact, Dafoe is scary enough without that ridiculous mask!
James Berardinelli (reelview.net) got it right: “Willem Dafoe overacts, but not to the point where it’s embarrassing, and he isn’t given enough screen time to overshadow Peter’s story.” Moira Macdonald (seattletimes.com) adds, “Whether zooming on his Goblin Glider into Times Square like the Wicked Witch of the West, or cackling naughtily into a mirror as he addresses his alter ego, businessman Norman Osborn, he’s thoroughly yummy in his evilness.”
Comic-book fans should try to put aside trivial details and just escape into this movie. Forrest Hartman (Reno Gazette-Journal) said, “Legions of comic book readers have been following Spidey’s exploits for years, but for most of America, Raimi’s movie will become the definitive look. It treats the comic respectfully, but not reverentially. That means we get a picture that captures the spirit of the comic without bogging us in details that wouldn’t transfer to film.”
In the final scene Parker tells the girl he loves, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), he just wants to be friends and said, “That’s all I have to give.” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) is perturbed and asks his readers, “How so? Impotent? Spidey-sense has skewed his sexual instincts? Afraid his hands will get stuck?”
Afraid his hands might get stuck? For the love of God, Roger! This movie is rated “PG-13,” not “NC-17!” That scene wasn’t about sex. It was about Spider-Man’s real love for Mary Jane. I’d elaborate more, but an online critic answered your questions perfectly.
Harry Knowles (aint-it-cool-news.com) responds directly to Ebert: “Roger Ebert… Ok, why doesn’t Peter Parker just drop Mary Jane on the Cemetery grounds and f–k her? Why can he not be her boyfriend? NO, it isn’t that he’s impotent, Mr. Sensitivity. But I’d be wagering a guess, that Harry Osborn, whose father Parker had just killed and whose funeral they were all at btw, had just told him he was the only family he had left, and the idea of hooking up with Harry’s girlfriend (ex or otherwise) at his Father’s funeral would be… Inappropriate. Oh… And then there is the knowledge that every superhero has, that anyone close to them will be used against them, so you can’t allow anyone close, because you would be putting them in danger.”
Knowles nailed it! You see, Parker learned something important in life from his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson): “With great power comes great responsibility.” This, Mr. Ebert, is in essence a superhero – and Tobey Maguire was perfect! The majority of film critics agree:
“Raimi couldn’t have chosen a better young actor than Maguire for the role of Peter Parker.” ^ – Rob Blackwelder (splicedwire.com)
“It is just impossible to overstate his importance to the success of the picture. He’s the true, seductively credible point of emotional contact for viewers who know the Spider-Man comics and for those who don’t.” ^ – Susan Stark (Detroit News)
“‘Spider-Man’s’ greatest strength is Tobey Maguire.” ^ – James Berardinelli (reelviews.net)
“After seeing Tobey Maguire play the popular cartoon icon on the big screen, I’m caught in the web of this wide-eyed actor’s surprising talent.” ^ – Betty Jo Tucker (reeltalkmovies.com)
“With the right balance of sweet shyness as Peter Parker and confidence under the mask, Tobey Maguire makes a darn good swing kid.” ^ – E! Online (eonline.com)
“Not since, you guessed it, Christopher Reeves’ Superman, have we seen an actor infuse a superhuman figure with such vulnerability.” ^ – Forrest Hartman (Reno Gazette-Journal)
J.K. Simmons is hilarious as the cigar-puffing newspaper editor. He literally stole scenes! Kirsten Dunst is irresistible as Mary Jane. Mark Caro (Chicago Tribune) said, “Mary Jane’s thank-you kiss to an upside-down Spider-Man is one of the most winning romantic moments of a superhero movie.”
Caro couldn’t be more wrong. I adore Dunst, but I must say this is the ugliest kiss in cinema history! Just plain weird. All I could see was Tobey’s huge upside-down chin (larger than life on big screen) rubbing on Kirsten’s nose. Nonethless, this movie is great – and with great movies comes great reviews:
“It’s a comic book come to life!” ^ – Joyce Kulhawik (hottickettv.com)
“I can wholeheartedly recommend it to not only comic fans but to anyone who enjoys exciting action and adventure. This is a masterpiece that appeals to the kid in all of us.” ^ – Holly McClure (crosswalk.com)
“Spider-Man’ is an adventure with heart and brains. It’s everything a summer movie should be.” ^ – Margaret McGurk (Cincinnati Enquirer)
“This has been the superhero film I’ve been dreaming of for years. My whole life. This is the first one that even approached my dreams of what the comic felt like in my brain.” ^ – Harry Knowles (aint-it-cool-news.com)
This movie won me over – PERIOD. I can now take pleasure in what comic-book fans have been enjoying for all these years – a story about a superhero – “Just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!” ^ –CRITIC DOCTOR
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