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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Spider-Man

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe
Director: Sam Raimi
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: May 2002
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Joe Manganiello, Ted Raimi, Randy Savage, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Cliff Robertson

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

What never ceases to amaze me is that human begins became lords of all living creatures. Yeah, I know that the bible grants us dominionl, but look at how we can be snapped like at a twig in the hands of an ape; how the most muttish dog can run faster than we can and have a sense of smell a hundred times more acute than those of our own species; how little chamelons and change colors; and most of all how even the lowly flea, the ugly pigeon and the beautiful butterfly alike can fly under their own power.

That's what might come to your mind when you see "Spider- Man," David Koepp's snappy adaptation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Marvel Comic Book series of the same name directed by Sam Raimi whose gift for imaginative, even surreal cinema has been proven by his helming of "The Hudsucker Proxy," "The Gift," and "Darkman." Whether or not you're a fan of the 40- year-old Marvel comic or what we used to call joke-books in general, you'll marvel at the way a nerdy lad, given some of the gifts of the lowly spider, is able to conquer evil through his ability to spin webs, climb buildings, and swing like Tarzan from Manhattan skyscrapers to the roofs of residences in his own Queens, New York nabe.

Choosing wisely, Raimi has put Tobey Maguire in the title role. Maguire, so good in roles of a smart young guy who is nonetheless deferential to those who are older ("Wonder Boys," "Cider House Rules"), is an orphan being raised in a lower- middle-class area of Queens by his Uncle Ben (played in an appropriately avuncular manner by Cliff Robertson) and doting Aunt May (Rosemary Harris, known to arthouse audiences in such works as "Tom and Viv," "Sunshine" and "Crossing Delancey," Now in high school, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has had a crush on the girl next door since fourth grade, though you might wonder why, since hair stylist Janice Alexander took away the short blond mane that made Kirsten Dunst the cat's meow in the Peter Bogdonavich picture, replacing it with a cheap reddish tint that presumably fits a kid from a working- class, Woodhaven Boulevard row-house.

Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), known here as M.J., has her eyes on Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of the rich industrialist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), scarcely looking at the heartsick Peter Parker, who is pushed around by high- school classmates who consider Peter a freak. When Peter is accidentally bitten by a genetically altered spider while on a field trip, he pulls a Jeff Goldblum. But since Sam Raimi is not David Cronenberg and David Koepp remains true to the comic book, Peter remains thoroughly human but with powers that could turn any criminal that gets in his way into an arachnophobe. The violent death of Uncle Ben turns the high-school senior into a crime fighter. Selecting his targets, he cleans up whatever violators of the social contract remain in the Big Apple that Rudy Giuliani missed, but meets his match at the hands of the Green Goblin who is none other than industrialist Norman Osborn, victim of an experiment gone awry which turns the stable Jekyll into a criminally insane Hyde who must fight against the domination of his evil side like a crack addict battling a force greater than himself.

"Spider-Man" is full of comedy, particularly in the person of J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), an editor of a local tabloid, who fires orders to this cowed staff and suggests as tabloids would be wont to do that Spider-Man and The Green Goblin are somehow working together. Raimi has balanced the comic- book ambience with a down-to-earth cinematic style, avoiding the look of a Japanese anime and the morbid look that an Alex Proyas ("Dark City") might have preferred. Action scenes are intersperced with the activities of just plain folks, comic activity with occasional poignance. The reliabe Danny Elfman contributes an appropriate, unobtrusive score. When we sit at the edge of our seats, as we may occasionally do, it's not because we're caught up in some Hitchcokian suspense thriller, but because we're wondering if or when the Clark Kentish Spider-Man will reveal his identity to the Lois Lane-like Mary Jane. The answer is revealed in a heartbreaking scene near the conclusion, setting us up for a sequel or two to which we will happily look forward.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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