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Spider-man (***)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by David Koepp

Principal Cast
Tobey Maguire -- Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Willem Dafoe -- Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin
Kirsten Dunst -- Mary Jane "M.J." Watson
James Franco -- Harry Osborn
Cliff Robertson -- Ben Parker
Rosemary Harris -- Aunt May
J.K. Simmons -- J. Jonah Jameson
Joe Manganiello -- Flash Thompson
Gerry Becker -- Maximillian Fargas
Bill Nunn -- Joseph 'Robbie' Robertson
Jack Betts -- Henry Balkan
Stanley Anderson -- General Slocum
Ron Perkins -- Dr. Mendel Stromm
K.K. Dodds -- Simkins
Ted Raimi -- Hoffman
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Much of the appeal of super-hero films is seeing the non-super-powered characters brought to life: Perry White, Alfred, and now J. Jonah Jameson. In all respects, the script by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible) recreates the feel of the Stan Lee issues of The Amazing Spider-man, with a Steve Ditko origin story and a John Romita Mary Jane. Ditko and Lee get screen credit. Romita does not. I hope Ditko gets some money out of the film. (I know Stan Lee will, though probably not enough. Why is he selling off his comic book collection?)

There are a couple of big changes from the Amazing Fantasy/Amazing Spider-man story. First, the film entirely skips Gwen Stacy, which I was sorry to see. Second, Spidey's webs are sent out as part of the spider-bite mutation rather than by web-shooters invented by Peter Parker -- a change for the better, I think.

The film is true to the spirit of the original comic book. Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker is the John Romita version, a sweet, intelligent kid, picked on by jocks because he has brains instead of muscles. Steve Ditko's Peter Parker was a skinny dweeb who got picked on by jocks because he wore a sign on his back that said, "Pick on me." The look of the film owes at least as much to Romita as it does to Ditko.

But the important thing is that Stan Lee's words are intact. If Stan ever makes Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, it will certainly be for the line "With great power comes great responsibility."

Surprisingly, the place where the film falls short of the standard set by Superman, Batman, and The X-Men is in the action sequences. They are always technically competent. You can see the almost subliminal moments when Peter pushes his wrist with two fingers to shoot his web fluid as he swings from building to building. But the action is not thrilling.

Part of the problem is that instead of Ditko's wizened, cackling Green Goblin we have the Green Goblin as a muscle-bound Transformer. But really the problem isn't that there is anything wrong with the super-hero action. The problem is that Sam Raimi is not Ang Lee. He does the best he can, and it is a very creditable job. But I expect The Incredible Hulk will be even better.

Roger Ebert doesn't understand why Peter walks away at the end. I'm sure you do. One of you explain it to him, will you?

Copyright © 2002 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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