Spider-man (2002)

My Rating:

Action-packed realization of escapist comic-book fantasy.

Bitable Bytes:
"Your Senses Get Completely Filled Up!"
"Awesome Superheroes!"
"Action-Packed, Exciting Adventure!"
"As Much…As The Most Die-Hard Fan Could Want!"

What to do while watching:
A) You know nothing about Spider-man heretofore, so get into the archetypal good-vs.-evil story and all those great special effects. B) You used to collect Spider-man comic books, so wait impatiently while the movie catches up the newbies on his origins, then disparage the changes Sam Raimi made to the original plot.

What to eat while watching:
A TV dinner (while humming the ZZ Top song of the same name).

Well, folks, around the time of An Officer and a Gentleman, I was a comic-book collector and a nerd. I am no longer the former, and would like to think I'm not the latter either, in spite of the six large boxes of comics gradually amassing dust, faster than value, in my basement. As a pubescent boy, I enjoyed the escapist fantasies in comic books, especially in Spider-man, whose protagonist was a bookish nerd I could identify with. This nerd, played in 2002 by Tobey McGuire, is bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly given super powers reminiscent of arachnid capabilities. How I enjoyed identifying with that fantasy! Gosh! If it were me, I'd do a zillion pull-ups. I'd be first picked every time we played sports in PE I'd kick Fred Balow's butt for pushing me over that one time. And that's about it because where I grew up, there were no tall buildings and not much crime.

Nowadays, I'm fascinated by the way Marvel Comics has reinvented itself as a movie producer, now reaching a much wider audience in a medium even more capable of enabling escapism. Without getting too deep into a discussion of sequential art, the escapism in comics happens mainly in the imagination, as the reader interpolates the actions that fall between the frames of a comic-book sequence. A very well researched and fascinating book on the subject is Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

But movies leave nothing to the imagination. You sit back and your senses get completely filled up by sight and sound. It's no wonder the transition has been so successful, with X-Men a few years ago, then Spider-man soon after, Daredevil in theaters as this is written, and The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and X-Men 2 in the works. Of course, DC Comics was doing movies since the 1980s Superman series and Batman in the '90s. But DC Comics were always the out-of-style comics in my circle o' geeks, and Marvel definitely made the right choice to wait until the special effects were capable of supporting their awesome superheroes and their mighty powers! Marvel is way better! Way!

But, like Peter Parker breaking away from the tour group in the research facility, I digress. Spider-man, the movie, is an action-packed, exciting adventure about a young man who is given super powers and learns a heavy lesson about life. The plot is mainly a tale of good-guy Spidey versus bad-guy Green Goblin, but on top of this skeleton is the moral tone that always rang through the comics: "With great power comes great responsibility."

There's also a love story built in. Mary Jane Watson is the girl next door that Peter has the hots for, but who he eventually turns his back on for fear of endangering her.

The film well captures the sense of the comic books, from Spider-man's repartee to the physical stunts carried off with much digital animation. There's a simplicity, a mono-dimensionality, to all the characters that is very much like the simplistic scripting in comics. Apart from this, there's not a lot to say. Anyway, so many people have already seen this film that it now feels somewhat futile to review it so late after its release and over-hype.

Okay, I confess. I got the Spider-man DVD free from Blockbuster for buying a ten-rental card. Now I own the double-DVD set and no DVD player except the one in my computer. I tried to get through some of DVD #2, which contains extensive extras that fly in the face of the dictum "less is more." Here are interviews with the actors, the director, the composer. There are out-takes, trailers, making of's, as much information as the most die-hard fan could want (watch out for geekiness). On the other hand, there's a deficit of information on the past works of the creative team. No mention is made of director Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2, a cult masterpiece that satirizes the horror genre. Nor is there any mention of Oingo Boingo, composer Danny Elfman's band that got him positioned to do all the soundtracks he's gone on to do.

To sum up, if you haven't seen this film, you can believe the hype: it's exciting and full of special effects. For what it is, it's very good and could be a nice night's entertainment when you feel like shutting down the old mind. In conclusion, would anyone like to buy a like-new copy of the Spider-man DVD? Or about two hundred issues of the comic from the 1970s and '80s in fine to near mint condition? I have Daredevil too...and Fantastic Four...Anyone?

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For your collection: Spider-man (Full Screen Edition) (DVD), Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (VHS)

Gooden's Listening To: The Linda Berry Experience

Gooden's Reading: Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud

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