If Norman Rockwell would’ve thought to paint a superhero, then he most
certainly would’ve nabbed Peter Parker, and his slice of Comicana as his
At home with Uncle Ben, and Aunt May, the teen wonderkind is a
throwback to the jet set, rapid-fire, profanity-spewing antiheroes that
all too regularly traverse celluloid planes. While director Sam Raimi’s
set is injected with all the razzle dazzle nuances of the 21st century
(and a big budget), there’s a comforting simplicity to the coming-of-age
tale of a geek gone good -- especially in a set seemingly borrowed from
Pleasantville. Forget the gothic, and cartoonish contours, the land of
“Spider-Man” is as billowy as cotton candy.
In Peter Parker, the classic everyboy, we see shades of the innocence
that makes Uncle Ben’s trite, but apropos line, “With great power comes
great responsibility,” seem not only timely, but inevitable. There is a
subtle allegory in the tale of a boy victimized by a genetically
engineered spider. We can almost hear the monster’s stirring testament
to Frankenstein, “I am your Adam,” in Peter’s burgeoning awareness of his
newly formed, and found powers.
Just as Peter is transformed by the pressing, and expanding parameters
of technology -- so too is his nemesis -- the Green Goblin, whose
hamartia is his own rampant run for advances that, unfortunately, advance
miles ahead of an adequate morality. Willem Dafoe is spectacularly
nefarious as the green hued nuisance despite a costume that looks like
something out a bad episode of Power Rangers. Ultimately, the conflict
between the boy, and the slick villain is played out within the ambiguous
terrain of the morality of science, and while we could hardly fathom a
movie in which the bad guy wins, the predictability of Peter’s victory is
pleasing on a number of levels.
Tobey Maguire plays the angst-ridden superhero with a decided
understatedness. When Aunt May advises a worn out and stubborn Peter
with, “You’re not Superman,” both the crowd, and Maguire seem dutifully
In classic Oliver Twist style, Peter kick-starts the film with a
voice-over in which he notes that “like every good story, this one begins
with a girl.” As Parker’s love interest, Kirsten Dunst plays Mary Jane
with a zeal that seems to stretch the narrow seams of the role.
Unfortunately, the girl never seems much more than a placard
damsel-in-distress, which, oddly, doesn’t distract too much from the
point of the movie.
While not exactly Dostoevsky, there’s a bit of proletarian truth to
the reality of a teenage boy who stumbles into heroics only after
inadvertently trying to score a hot car to impress the popular girl.
Although the script teeters on cliche at key points, well choreographed
fight scenes, a 50s sentimentality, and a pulse on basic and
uncomplicated human desires make “Spider-Man” a triumph.