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Review written by: Alex Sandell (who actually thinks this movie is sorta okay, now)
Click here for the letters I've received from Spider-Fans about this review!
Are the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' villains
suddenly making a comeback?
Midway through Spider-Man, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) turns to her nephew, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and says, "you're not Superman, you know?" Under my breath I responded with a, "you could have fooled me." From beginning to end this movie "pays homage" to the 1978 Superman and all three of its sequels. The film is nearly a carbon-copy of the 1978 celluloid comic book classic. If this goes by unnoticed, I will forever lose faith in the movie going public. Unfortunately, I would have to spoil the entire Spider-Man movie if I listed everything that it stole from the Superman film that came before it. Maybe in a month or two, after the majority of people have watched the picture, I will write up a second review which will do a scene-by-scene comparison of the two films.
Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that the screenwriter (David Koepp) wasn't happy with only "paying homage" to the Superman film (although it was definitely his primary "inspiration"). There are scenes directly lifted from Batman, X-Men and The Matrix. It may be unfair to blame Koepp for The Matrix moment, because I'm guessing that it was Sam Raimi's direction that created this play-by-play of the popular cyber-punk film's most easily identifiable scene. The trademark Matrix scene where Neo (Keanu Reeves) bends over backward to dodge bullets is recreated in Spider-Man with the only variation being the hero that happens to be doing the dodging. It's shot in identical slow motion, has the CGI surrounding the items our hero must dodge as they cut through the air, and deserves a nice copyright infringement lawsuit. Did Sam Raimi forget how to direct an original film?
There was a time when Raimi appeared to be an extremely innovative director. He broke onto the scene with the low budget horror film, The Evil Dead. Sadly, he reached his peak only five years later with the wonderful Evil Dead II. Only the lackluster slapstick comedy, Crimewave came between the two Dead flicks. Raimi followed up the second Evil Dead with Darkman and the third in the Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness. It was with Army of Darkness, an excellent movie in its own right, that Raimi proved he wanted nothing more than to go mainstream. So he tried (The Quick and the Dead), and he tried, (A Simple Plan) and he kept trying (For Love of the Game), but nothing worked and the majority of audiences avoided his creations like an alter boy would avoid a horny priest. But Raimi wasn't giving up, and along came a Spider-Man. A lot of people have claimed that Raimi's creative dry spell would end with this film. He's supposedly a gigantic Spider-Man fan that would do the character justice. Not in this life! Raimi has done nothing but follow a patented paint-by-numbers superhero formula.
I admit that after Danny Elfman rehashes his Batman theme during the opening credits, the film begins with a little bit of promise. Although it's obvious from the start that the dialogue is going to be bad and that the product placements are going to be sickeningly overused (there's a "placement" for Dr. Pepper that is so in-your-face it made me want to vomit), there are a few funny moments, and it's neat to see Peter Parker, played to perfection by Maguire, exploring his newfound Spider abilities. It's not nearly as interesting as anything you'd see on any given episode of Smallville, but it has a little sparkle. It isn't until a rather interesting wrestling scene, featuring none other than Bruce "Ash" Campbell, comes to an end that the film really begins to drag itself down into the realm of mediocrity.
Sure, it's fun watching Spider-Man going on a crime-stopping spree, but didn't Superman do the same thing when he first took his powers out of the closet and into the public? Yes, it's enjoyable watching the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) soar over a parade in New York City, but didn't the same thing happen in Tim Burton's Batman, and was there any reason that the Goblin's grand entrance into public life had to be marred with a Cingular advertisement and Spider-Man soundtrack promotion featuring Macy Gray? What purpose was there in showing Peter Parker going through the effort of trying to design a costume for himself (one of my favorite scenes) only to have him suddenly appear in the costume with no explanation as to how it was finally created? Did he suddenly hire a costume designer, or did Aunt May whip something up for him? Oh, and since when did Peter Parker gain the ability to change clothes in a flash, like Superman? I actually enjoyed the romance between Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Parker ... back when Mary was Lois and Peter was Clark.
Maybe I wouldn't despise this copy-machine movie quite as much if it at least had its own unique "feel." Sadly, Sam Raimi is working so hard at mimicking every popular superhero franchise that preceded his, that he never takes the time to breathe life into his own. There's one scene in Spider-Man that had the old Raimi visual flair. After the Green Goblin blows up a building, the flying rubble turns into graduation caps being thrown into the air. Sure, this is nothing to write home about, but it's a small reminder of what could have been if Spider-Man would have stopped trying so hard to be everything that it wasn't.
I'm tired of feeling compelled to like a movie because it "looks cool." Spider-Man does not "look cool," no matter how many times the corporate television shows tell you that it does. It could have been the best time at the theater in ages. The thought of swinging high above the streets of New York would be a blast, if a competent director was behind the camera. What Raimi gives us instead of a roller coaster ride is poorly paced and repetitious scenes of a CGI character that isn't, for even one second, believable. The sets in the film, more often than not, look like sets, and the whole thing makes for quite an embarrassment when you consider the amount of money Sony has put into the movie's advertising campaign simply to try and create the illusion that this is some sort of "event."
Hype sells, and Spider-Man is going to open huge. Over and over again people line up for the next big "event" flick. Ironically, very few "event" films are worthy of "event" status. Spider-Man isn't even worthy of the Dr. Pepper bottles it's plastered across. Excess hype does not automatically make for a good movie, and stealing from the best doesn't make you anything more than a crook.
The filmmakers who took the time to craft an original comic book story with an original vision -- such as Richard Donner with Superman, or Tim Burton with Batman, or Bryan Singer with X-Men -- should feel robbed. Raimi, if you don't have any of your own ideas, retire. Koepp, if you can't write something original, or something a little less predictable, why not try writing nothing at all? Spider-Man is cinematic thievery, plain and simple.
If audience members out there have ANY respect for the directors Koepp and Raimi ripped-off, go rent their films, and leave this overblown Saturday Morning Cartoon where it belongs ... in the clearance bin at your local comic book store.
On a scale of 1-10?
2 (for the semi-interesting first 40 minutes)
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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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