Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Adapting a popular story for another medium is rarely done very well, but 2002's Spider-Man really gets it.

Mainly, I think, because it aims to get in everything.

A great deal of the classic comic series' history gets compressed into just two hours here, right down to supporting role Harry Osborn's (James Franco) relationships with his father (Willem Dafoe) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). J K Simmons as the larger-than-life J Jonah Jameson exactly treads the line between character and comedy, and even Cliff Robertson gives Ben Parker such presence that after his carjacking the second half of the film painfully misses him.

That reworked murder also represents the rest of what goes well for this adaptation - all the new stuff. In the original strip, Ben got shot by a burglar at home one night, but the updating of his murder to a more modern method, in the same style, enables this film the retain the comic's sense of telling a fresh story.

And Ben's death is arguably the most pivotal event in Peter Parker's time-honoured hero's journey. When Pete earlier lets the thief get away, sealing his uncle's fate, even though I already knew the story, I sat there in the cinema knowing that I would have made the same deadly mistake.

Which brings us to how well this movie gets Peter Parker.

Tobey Macguire is excellent in the role, realising the hapless bookworm so effectively that it's no wonder they dropped his alter ego's penchant for wisecracks. Somehow, the two personas just wouldn't have seemed like the same guy on film.

Not to say that this movie consequently lacks comedy. The ogres on show when Parker enters the wrestling match are hilarious because they are so extreme.

Where, for me, the film falls shortest would be in its melodramatic dialogue, particularly Ben and May's (Rosemary Harris) scenes. While so much exposition out loud of how the plot is developing is may be another symptom of following the comicbooks' lead, some of it did make me feel as though I was watching a play.

Another example of this hurried narrative would be Spider-Man's saving Mary Jane from being attacked at knifepoint, following which she passionately kisses him before he swings off leaving her behind in the same alley, with at least one of her assailants apparently still there. The scene had served its purpose and that, apparently, was all that was required of it.

Likewise, the film's topical elements didn't sit well in 2002, and today are the only components that date it. I'm referring to the sudden brief appearance of a singer character named Macy Gray, portrayed serendipitously by actress Macy Gray.

Also that added-in post 9/11 remark "We're New Yorkers man - you mess with one of us, you mess with all!" Uh, yeah, tell that to Uncle Ben's murderer. (New Yorker) And Mary Jane's attackers. (New Yorkers) And the guy who you're actually speaking to - the Green Goblin. (New Yorker) Oh, you did.

Overall though, Spider-Man does its job very well, telling its similar story in a similar style.

Best of all though, it features a nameless old guy in shades saving a child from some falling masonry.

Now there goes a real hero.

With thanks to Herschel.

Available here.
Review of Spider-Man 2 here.
Review of Spider-Man 3 here.

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