A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Spider Man

March 25, 2011

Spider Man

This weekend we’re embarking on the Spider Man trilogy. More comic book movies. A trilogy of big budget summer blockbusters. Also a trilogy that is the most cartoonish and comic bookish of all the comic book movies we own.

I do actually enjoy Sam Raimi as a director. He has a fun, quirky and energetic style in general. Clearly it served him well in the making of these films. They’re such ridiculous blatant cheese though. Sam Raimi’s Spider Man movie is like the Spider Man costume: bold, outrageous, and striking.

In stark contrast to yesterday’s movie tonight’s is a strictly by-the-numbers super hero origin story. It details the events that turned mild-mannered high-school nerd Peter Parker into the amazing Spider Man. In the process it highlights Spider Man’s most appealing feature: he is just this kid with super powers thrust upon him. He’s relatable. The Peter Parker of this movie is a painfully shy nerd who is picked on by his classmates and can’t get up the courage to speak to the gorgeous girl who lives next door to him an upon whom he has had a vicious crush since they were seven years old.

The movie is none too subtle about its portrayal of Peter’s powers as analogous to the onset of puberty. Nor does it shy away from showing every awkward moment of teenage angst that Peter undergoes – laughed at and ridiculed as he is by everybody in his class except for his one friend, Harry Osborn. There are so many moments in this movie that are familiar to me from my own awkward teen years. Particularly the beat when Peter thinks for a moment that Mary Jane is waving to him and then realises that she’s waving to friends behind him. I’ve had that happen to me. As has probably every comic book reading nerd ever – which explains why this transparent and shallow movie enjoyed such success. It knows just who its audience is and it delivers a rousing story of vengeance and super powers.

Where this movie succeeds best is in showing the unbridled joy of being Spider Man. It’s got the trademark comic book quips. It’s got the wall crawling. And more than anything else it’s got the swooping, soaring, thrilling flight as Spidey figures out how to swing from his webs between the tall buildings of New York City.

Where it fails most is whenever it makes an attempt to show a darker side to Peter’s abilities. It tries to graft something onto the movie about how everybody who is close to Peter is going to be hurt so he feels the need to push everyone away. There’s also a plodding and irritating love triangle between Peter, his rich pal Harry and his crush Mary Jane. Fortunately for this movie it doesn’t linger too much on these moments. Aside from one lengthy scene in a hospital where Peter goes on for about three hours about his feelings for M.J. things move at a pretty good clip. I suppose it’s part of the whole wish fulfillment nature of the movie that Peter has to get the love of the beautiful girl, but it really feels like it slows things down.

Luckily he’s got a fantastic villain to help move things along whenever they start to get bogged down. William Dafoe is one of the best things in this movie as the laconic Green Goblin and as the tortured Norman Osborn who can feel his empire crumbling around him. (I was slightly disappointed that the corporation Oscorp is in danger of losing its military contracts to was not Stark Industries.) Every time the movie threatens to go off the rails with the romance plot he goes out and blows something up and it’s right back to the action adventure that is its strongest suit.

I had not realized quit how much this movie felt like a series of cliches held together by some thrilling CGI effects before tonight’s viewing. When peter gets on the school bus and nobody will let him sit with them I felt like I had slipped back in time to a Brady Bunch episode or something. Every crook in the movie wears black pants and a black sweater (I’m a little surprised they don’t have dynamo masks, striped shirts and sacks with dollar signs on them.) There’s a non-sensical parade with giant balloons in times square that has something to do with Oscorp. (It seems incongruous because I can’t think of any defense contractor that has a parade with balloons.)

I find however that I just don’t care. It’s a movie that is fully aware of how silly it is. Everybody in the cast seems to know exactly what kind of project they’re a part of. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy William Dafoe, but there’s also my favorite part of the entire movie: J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson the blowhard editor of the Daily Bugle. He’s just so much fun! Tobey Maguire is perfect for the role of the nerd who discovers that he’s a super hero. Kirsten Dunst is not really given much to do besides look cute and be endangered so Spider Man can rescue her, which is kind of sad but is consistent with Mary Jane from the comics. (I still have scars from reading Todd Mcfarlane’s first attempt as a writer when Mary Jane goes clubbing while Spidey gets beat up. That was his idea of showing her as something other than just a damsel in distress.)

In spite of the stupidity and the familiar and cliche feel to much of the movie I still find it fun to watch. Maybe it’s the nerd in me that just wants to fly, but the thrilling soundtrack and the sweeping camera moves and wonderful CGI of the web slinging segments somehow make all the movie’s many other faults simply disappear. Let’s see if when we watch the second movie tomorrow it lives up to my memories of it as being the best in the trilogy.

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March 25, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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