Blockbuster movie adaptation of the Marvel comic strip. When high-school student Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically-altered spider while on a visit to a scientific institute, he soon begins to experience unusual side-effects - such as increased strength, enhanced wall-climbing skills, and the ability to spin webs out of his wrists. Peter first attempts to make use of these skills to impress girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but after his Uncle Ben is killed in an armed robbery, he is compelled to work for the greater good and reinvents himself as Spider-Man, the enemy of criminals everywhere. Meanwhile, arms manufacturer Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) transforms himself into the Green Goblin, begins to terrorize the city, and lays down the gauntlet to Spider-Man by abducting his beloved Mary Jane.
Marvel Comics fans have been waiting for this big-screen Spider-Man
since the character made his print debut in 1962, which attaches impossible expectations to a film that rates as a solid success without breaking out of the spandex ghetto in the way that Batman Returns
did. Tobey Maguire is ideally cast as speccy Peter Parker, a high school swot with personal problems. The suit and effects take over when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered (i.e., no longer radioactive) spider and transforms into a web-swinging superhero who finds that these super-powers don't really help him get close to the girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) or protect his elderly guardian (Cliff Robertson) from random violence. The villain of the peace is Peter's best friend's industrialist father (Willem Dafoe) who has dosed himself on an experimental serum which makes him go all Jekyll-and-Hyde and emerge as the cackling Green Goblin, who soon gets a grudge against Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi gives it all a bright, airy, kinetic feel, with wonderful aerial stuff as Spider-Man escapes from his troubles by swinging between skyscrapers, and the rethink of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's origin story is managed with a canny mix of faithfulness (JK Simmons' as the crass editor JJ Jameson is the image of the comic character) and send-up (after a big introduction, Spider-Man finally appears in a really rubbish first attempt at a spider costume). Maguire and the impossibly sweet Dunst make it work as a hesitant teen romance, but somehow the second half, which brings on the villain to give the hero someone to fight, is only exciting when it wants to be affecting too. --Kim Newman
On the DVD: Spider-Man's two-disc offering is nothing out of the ordinary, but fans will find some gems here including Stan Lee's thoughts, a gallery of comic cover art and profiles on the baddies. The two commentaries (cast and crew, and Special Effects) both have long periods with pauses, but the special effects guys are full of insight. The DVD-ROM section offers some of the more exciting features, including three comics transferred onto your computer, page by page, although be aware that the "Film to Comic" comparison is not for the original but for the new comic of the film. As you would expect from a blockbuster superhero film, the sound and vision are immaculate. --Nikki Disney