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the spirit of the original

First things first - Toby Maguire as Spider-Man has to be quite the goofiest and most endearing superhero of all time. Spider-Man was always the most realistic and down-to-earth of all the great comic book heroes, and the Sam Raimi-directed movie version is charmingly faithful to the original. Raimi actually went back and read the original Marvel comics from the fifties, and it shows. The movie perfectly captures the spirit of the original comics. This is not Superman, square-jawed and invincible. Peter Parker is a nerd. He's a shy, geeky teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider on a school field trip and starts to develop some very strange quirks - little hairs on the palms of his hands which enable him to scale walls, a newly buff physique, the ability to spit webs from his wrists. The scenes in which Peter discovers his newfound abilities are some of the best in the movie. He's so sincere, so completely absorbed in the possibilities offered by the new science experiment that he has unwittingly become a part of, that the audience can't help but empathize with him.

Maguire, with his strange husky voice that always sounds like it's on the verge of breaking, his big clear blue eyes and his smart-ass grin is a perfect Peter Parker. The eyes and the voice are key, given that they're the only features available to convey the personality of the character when he's in costume, and Maguire does a great job of making you believe that there's a real guy behind the mask. The movie also makes excellent use of his vulnerability. Peter Parker is a regular guy he gets beaten up, crashes headlong into buildings while learning to use his spider webs, and shows all the fear and heartache and adolescent awkwardness that made Spider-Man such a lovable character in the first place.

The rest of the cast is solid, striking just the right balance between cartoonish comic-book mayhem and simple humanity. Willem Dafoe is wonderful as the Green Goblin, and a surprisingly sexy Kirsten Dunst is perfect as Mary Jane, the girl next door who Parker has adored since childhood. The evolving relationship between Maguire and Dunst carries the movie, and provides its best scene, in which Spider-Man hangs upside down in a rainy alley after having saved Mary Jane from a gang of thugs, while she peels back his mask in order to give him a slow thank-you kiss. It's probably the most genuinely erotic moment ever in a comic book-based movie, and you can't help but wish that Ramie had made more use of the chemistry between Maguire and Dunst.

The most overwhelming characteristic of Spider-Man is its sweetness, its sincerity. The storyline is simple but universal, and has just enough depth and complex enough characters to keep the audience interested. This movie lacks the baroque grandeur of Batman, or the dark political undertones of X-Men, but it has a quirky charm of its own. The CGI special effects occasionally fall a little flat, and the movie would benefit from a few more dramatic visual moments, but Raimi's characteristic sense of humor and the sheer charm of the two leads carry the movie. After all, who can help cheering for the sweet, goofy smart guy and hoping that he finally gets the girl?


Rated PG-13
2 hours 1 minute

Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
Willem Dafoe
James Franco
J.K. Simmons