When word began to spread that Sony would be dipping back into Marvel's pool for a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, instead of a fresh sequel or a standalone offshoot, it generated a bit of head-scratching. Less than ten years after Sam Raimi propelled the series into a mostly well-regarded body of work (a hip-thrusting, sulking Peter Parker notwithstanding), and they're already anxious to rub it out and establish a new face for the web-slinger? Upon revisiting this Spider-Man, there's something to be (re)discovered: while it's exciting and magnetic as a high-brow superhero movie done by way of the director responsible for Evil Dead and Darkman, and you'll relish the flickers of creativity he injects, it's also rough around the edges in establishing the how and the why behind the origin of the classic character. Charisma and relative ingenuity go a long way in making Raimi's outlook a success, and it's the ways his cinematic genes splice with the slapdash writing that make it one not so easily dismissed, even in the current climate of stern-faced, pragmatic hero films. It can be done better, but it is done rather well here.
As with most superhero stories, Spider-Man's origin -- and Raimi's film -- can be stripped down to a succinct blurb. After a freak interaction with a genetically-altered spider, a weak yet intelligent high-school geek, do-gooder photographer Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), develops spider-like abilities that grant him the strength, agility, and perception to combat forces beyond human control. Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp use this as their foundation, and web it together with tried-and-true superhero tropes: developing strengths as a parallel to growing up; learning that power goes hand-in-hand with controlling and using it for good; and the idea that an out-of-reach love interest, crimson-haired wannabe actress Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), might be drawn to the charismatic hero before the man behind the mask. And, of course, they don't neglect Peter's relationship with his "adoptive" caregivers, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), and how he being an orphan plays into his blossoming start.
Spider-Man, as expected, leads into several by-the-numbers sequences where Peter discovers the extent of his spider-propelled powers, and it's here where Rami's film slouches into a breezy, partly-brainless slice of escapist confection. Koepp's script streamlines the "established" story into quicker, convenient answers for the reasons Spidey has his abilities, which occasionally lead into corny bridge-gapping exposition to keep the film gleefully skipping forward; the ultra-quick, mostly snag-free process in how Peter learns to use his inbuilt web-slinging shows a hankering for charm at the expense of practicality. Raimi makes it palatable by exploiting the visual ornaments he incorporates into the hero-development arc, from clever dutch-angle photography showing how Peter scales walls to the Evil-Dead-meets-comic-panel way that we witness his costume's origin. This is a director that emphasizes the zany and high-spirited before prudence, and it shows in this distilled, visually captivating method of conveying a hero's transformation.
That's not to say that darkness doesn't creep into Spider-Man, which it does -- mostly in the presence of the villain, The Green Goblin, where Raimi's creative inclinations find their firmest footing. Broad-market scientist Norman Osborne swimmingly fits within Willem Dafoe's spectrum of inflated dramatic spectacle and facial expressions, ramping up as the events that occur around Oscorp drive him over the edge of lunacy and into a hyper-exaggerated metallic suit outfitted with bombs, a jet-propelled glider, and a gargoyle-esque mask. The duality Osborne suffers, and how it plays into his relationship with his son Harry (James Franco), adds a subversive edge to the story; Norman's musings in front of a mirror and in the presence of the quasi-haunting mask make for tremendously entertaining displays of descents into mania, while also creating somewhat humanizing arch-villain sequences. While his overarching motives for being The Green Goblin devolve as the story progresses, Dafoe's abstract charisma picks up the slack for an underwritten Osborne.
Once Raimi finds his rhythm and throttles into the anticipated scope of a comic-book blockbuster, complete with rapid transitions through explosions and collapsing buildings for our hero to swing through, his resourcefulness as a director elevates the action sequences into polished, briskly-paced set pieces that sustain visceral and expressive energy. He borrows cues from the landmarks of superhero cinema that precede it, sure -- most noticeable being Tim Burton's Batman in the chaos of a parade and the hero dangling from a thin cord while holding another person, a fact not helped by the presence of Danny Elfman's score -- but Raimi manages to make them his own through signature aesthetic ideas and a quirky focus on Spidey's dialogue. He even finds a way to sneak in a Hollywood-caliber kiss in an inventive way, a scene that's embedded itself into pop-culture's annals. Excitement's to be found amid the angst-driven foundation, hitting expected but stimulating peaks and valleys once the hero meets his villain.
Raimi musters a measure of inspired ambition that perseveres in Spider-Man, injecting earnest doses of turmoil over loss, identity, and moral complexity into a two-hour summertime hero flick, one filled with product placements and convincing-yet-dated computer effects galore. That's nothing to sneeze at. His successes in achieving relative depth, along with lively performances from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (not to mention J.K. Simmons' brilliant turn as J. Jonah Jameson), make it easier to ignore the storytelling that conveniently moves from plot point to plot point. Everything loosely ties together into a coherent origin for the character among the red-and-blue blur of hero contrivances; his motivation, internal angst, and conflicted duality don't fall to the wayside, shirking opportunities where they very easily could. Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp achieved the rough idea behind a gripping origin comic-in-motion that both takes itself seriously and not too seriously, something they'd expound upon in the sequel.
For the full Blu-ray review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]