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Reel Critics

Brandy Price

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

subject matter.


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.