Spiderman (12)

Review by Jack Foley

WHILE Batman licks his wounds after suffering the Schumacher treatment, and Superman revisits his early years on the small screen, another superhero has been blowing out the cobwebs from the superheroes' Box Office.

Spiderman, Marvel's athletic webslinger, may have taken some 40 years to bring to the screen, but now that he has dropped by, the results are awesome. Sam Raimi's eagerly-anticipated movie has broken records in the States, captivated critics the world over and now looks set for continued greatness in the UK.

Even more amazingly, it is a blockbuster that is finally worth the hype. Spiderman manages to recapture the boyish sense of fun first experienced when audiences first witnessed Superman fly, while mixing in the dark elements that made Tim Burton's first two Batman movies so memorable.

What's more, it comes equipped with a terrific script, a knowing sense of humour and the type of performances not usually associated with such blockbuster fare - ie, you believe in, and root for, almost all of the characters.

Take Tobey Maguire's iconic hero, for example. The young actor has yet to make a bad film (witness The Cider House Rules, Ride With The Devil and Wonder Boys as examples), yet could so easily have been lost amid the special effects which so undermine the majority of most blockbuster performers.

Yet Raimi takes time to tell the story of Peter Parker's transition from geeky science student to muscle-bound superhero whose ability to sling cobwebs is as much of a curse as it is a skill. When we first meet Parker, he is nothing more than a bullied high-schooler with a crush on Kirsten Dunst's girl-next-door, Mary Jane Watson.

A chance encounter with a genetically-engineered spider at a museum, however, changes all that and, one bite later, Parker is able to climb walls, throw webs and dish out some long-overdue punishment to anyone who would hassle him.

Needless to say, Parker has tremendous fun exploiting his newfound potential and even enters a wrestling match against psycho Bone Saw McGraw in a bid to make the money needed to impress Mary Jane. But when his refusal to stop a thief at the wrestling match in question leads to the murder of his beloved uncle (Cliff Robertson), Parker finally understands that his destiny lies in assisting the helpless and, with his uncle's last words ringing loud in his ears ('with great power, comes great responsibility'), sets about righting the world's wrongs.

A superhero is only as good as his super-villain, however, and in Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, Maguire has more than a match. For while Parker spends time discovering his own destiny, Dafoe's workaholic scientist, Norman Osborn, is about to embark on his own trip to the Dark Side.

Desperate to produce a body-enhancing gas for the military, Osborn acts as a human guinea pig for the unfinished formula and unwittingly develops a split personality - part paternal Osborn, part murderous Goblin - which places him on a collision course with Spiderman.

Dafoe, like Maguire, manages to invest his character with a great deal of humanity, rising above his mask to present a conflicted villain who is as sympathetic, at times, as he is hissable.

And this is where Raimi's movie comes into its own in terms of all-round entertainment and quality. There are some tremendous set pieces, of course, but the interplay between the characters is just as rewarding. Maguire's relationship with Dunst, for instance, is believably played and never becomes corny, while the rivalry between Spiderman and the Green Goblin is nicely offset against the father-son relationship between Parker and Osborn (the father of Parker's best friend).

Raimi strikes a near-perfect balance between the fun and torment which follows, throwing in plenty of set pieces to keep things lively, some well-observed in-jokes (Parker's aunt dispenses a wonderful Superman quip at one point), and a tremendous finale which really will have you screaming out for the sequel (which is on its way already!).

Fans of the comics from which David Koepp's screenplay has been derived should also find very little to complain about (as Koepp has largely remained faithful), while blockbuster fans will no doubt delight in Danny 'Batman' Elfman's terrific score. This truly is the most fun you are likely to have in the cinema for a long, long time. In short, Spiderman is one to Marvel at many times over...

WEBLINKS (THE INDIELONDON SPIDER-FILES):
What makes a superhero succeed? Click here to find out...
Dunst confesses to getting the giggles. Click here...
It started with a kiss... Paying lip service to Spiderman. Click here...
Spiderman spins his magic in the West End. Click here for UK premiere news...