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Webs of Steel 

Spider-Man uses his superhuman strength to fight crime, stand for justice and entertain moviegoers.

In the new film Spider-Man, the titular character is distinguished by the fact that he can do virtually whatever a spider can. For example, he can spin a web of any size, and he catches thieves in a manner that could be metaphorized to the manner in which a spider catches flies. In short: look out, here comes the Spider-Man.

The question remains, of course, as to whether these attributes in a lead character are enough to create a compelling cinematic experience. Bear with me, and we'll explore just that question in the following expository work that I like to call "a movie review."

The film centers its narrative, and, indeed, its very narrativity, upon the unlikely occurrence of a genetically modified arachnid imparting its enhanced capabilities upon an ectomorphic adolescent by means of its venomous bite. If cinema fans, who are now used to such fantastic concepts as Wars which take place amongst the Stars, little boys who possess the capacity to perform thaumaturgical wizardry, and "holding companies" that serve as mere shuttling points for the conversion of debt into profit, can countenance such a far-fetched premise, then the rest of the film should in no way strain their suspension of disbelief.

The adolescent in question is the alliteratively named Peter Parker, who, prior to becoming the hero Spider-Man, is notable in that he is unloved by his more sexually appealing peers even though he excels in the study of the sciences. The existence of a sexually undesirable individual who delights in intellectual pursuits may seem too odd to deserve classification, but indeed there exists the term "nerd" to designate those with such an unlikely confluence of attributes.

Thus, this "nerd" Parker has but one friend, the wealthy and strangely handsome Harry Osbourne. Like Parker, Osbourne is less interested in sublimating his homosexual interests by means of team athletics than he is in mooning over the attractive young Mary Jane Watson.

Ms. Watson is played by the fetching ingénue Kirsten Dunst, well known for her performance as a leader of cheers in the film Bring it On. In Spider-Man she indeed "brings it on," assuming that "it" is a combination of a fine performance and a really nice pair.

Of course, Ms. Dunst's work would be nothing if there were no "chemistry" between her and Tobey Maguire, the thespian who enacts the part of Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man.

And, indeed, part of Spider-Man's $120 million budget seems to have gone to the chemistry department at some prestigious east coast university, as there is indeed a sense of romantic tension between these two young players.

Unfortunately, the quality of a film is not simply founded on the performances of its lead parts. No, there must also be what film "wallahs" call "special effects." These, indeed, are the lifeblood of the modern movie, and are what separate such masterpieces as Star Wars: Episode 1--The Phantom Menace from such pedestrian efforts as That Movie Without Explosions.

Now, speaking only for myself, I am inclined to say that the special effects in Spider-Man were deliciously expensive, though not always in good taste. For example, and I mention this only because I fear young children may see this film and then ask embarrassing questions, there is a sequence wherein young Parker, like most adolescent males, discovers that he has the ability to shoot a sticky white substance from his body. He then, in a manner well known to those who have discovered this talent, spends many days in his room practicing this ability, until the walls are completely covered with what he likes to call his "webs."

However, when Parker, as Spider-Man, uses these webs to swing from building to building, well, here the effects are as delightful as springtime in England. Director Sam Raimi smartly has Parker's early efforts at "web-slinging" seem clumsy and out-of-control. We watch, mesmerized, as he barely makes each leap and dive, and are pleased to see him improve his skills throughout the film's two-hour run time.

This, though, is the one true weak point of Spider-Man: it feels a bit long. Whenever Parker has the mask of the Spider-Man on, things go swimmingly. The battle between Spider-Man and his nemesis the Green Goblin is by far the best-filmed superhero action sequence in post-war cinema. However, some of the non-costumed scenes are poorly scripted, with extended expository dialogues that could simply have been edited away, their contents already well told in the more active moments of the film.

The worst of the expository sequences involve Willem Dafoe playing the Green Goblin. While it is patently obvious that Dafoe's Norman Osbourne is leading a double life as the chartreuse villain, there is nonetheless an extended scene explaining this by means of an unnecessary monologue.

If Raimi had cut out that sequence, and a few other needlessly wordy bits, a perfectly pleasing picture of 90 minutes length would have resulted. Still, one can hardly dismiss the film in its entirety for its failure to attain the level of exquisite compactness seen so rarely outside of televised beer advertisements.

On the whole, then, I would place a single thumb in the air indicating approval for this work, though not such unreserved approval that I would add an additional thumb to the one already suspended before me. In sum, a fine outing in the genre of films featuring humans with fantastically enhanced abilities who choose to use those abilities to fight crime, uphold righteousness, and entertain the average movie-going American.

Spider-Man
Rated NR

More by James DiGiovanna

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