The new Spider-Man movie finally arrives in theaters after nearly a decade of planning. Starting it was the hardest part, and problems included the bankruptcy and reorganization of Marvel Comics and the revolving door of talent behind the scenes, including, most notably, director James Cameron. This movie marks also cements the idea that Marvel can mine its large library of characters into virtually assured movie franchises. After failed adaptations, Marvel rebounded with Blade, X-Men, and is prepping The Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and, hopefully, a better Punisher. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Spider-Man character way back in 1962, and it has made appearances on the big and small screen in various incarnations over the years. Spider-Man was such a popular figure because he was one of the first 'ordinary' heroes. Unlike larger-than-life characters like Superman or Batman, Spider-Man was Peter Parker, high school nerd. He was the guy that everybody picked on and ignored, and he never got the girl. Everybody can relate to the Parker character somehow.

Which is why Tobey Maguire (Cats & Dogs, Wonder Boys) makes sense as Peter Parker. Initially, it seems odd to cast him, but he specializes in playing the wimp, sort of off-kilter loner. He comes across convincingly as a nerd, and even buffed up for spandex scenes. As Parker, Maguire is unsure and hesitant. When he gets his powers, this hesitation takes over, but soon a sense of freedom and exhilaration replaces it. He is free from the bias everybody has against him, and acts like a different person, quipping with opponents and flirting with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst, crazy/beautiful, The Cat's Meow), the literal and figurative girl-next-door that Peter pined for for over a decade. A genetically engineered spider bit Parker on the arm during a field trip, giving him the proportionate powers of a spider. He can shoot webs out of his arms, has tremendous strength, and can stick to walls. Initially, he has no idea what to do with these powers, a carjacker kills his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson, Falcon Down, Mach 2). Earlier, Parker had the power to stop this carjacker, and therefore could have prevented his uncle's death. The guilt causes him to decide to use his powers to help people (following his uncle's words "with great power comes great responsibility")

The adaptation by self-proclaimed Spider-Man fanatic director Sam Raimi (The Gift, For Love of the Game) and writer David Koepp (Panic Room, Stir of Echoes) successfully updates the origin story while remaining true to the source material. They infuse the script with a comic-book sensibility, not taking the characters too seriously at times, and filling the movie with thrilling action sequences. When he's swinging across New York on his webs, Spider-man is computer generated, but looks decently real. Watching Maguire experimenting with his powers is freeing. A good reason for Spider-man's continuing popularity is his colorful cast of supporting characters and villains. Here, the bad guy is the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe, Pavilion of Women, Shadow of the Vampire). He also happens to be rich industrialist Norman Osborn, father of Harry (James Franco, Blind Spot, Mean People Suck), one of Peter's only friends. Because of Peter's reluctance to pursue a relationship with Mary Jane, Norman steps in.

Like most comic book adaptations, looking closely yields a lack of story. Things are on a more superficial level. Spider-Man follows Parker's story from when he receives his powers to what some can consider his first serious victory. It also follows him as he graduates from high school and moves into an apartment in New York with Harry. Both mark a turning point for Parker. The move out of his Aunt May's (Rosemary Harris, Blow Dry, The Gift) house, the death of Uncle Ben, and the new powers prompt him to reevaluate his life, leading to his eventual decision to become a superhero. Norman Osborn becomes the Green Goblin after testing performance-enhancing chemicals on himself. His company, Oscorp, is in danger of losing a government contract. The chemicals give him enhanced strength as well as a maniacal new personality. Because Peter lives with Harry and Harry is dating Mary Jane, she soon conveniently becomes the damsel in distress. But this movie is less about story and more about the characters, and Raimi does a good job of presenting his vision of Peter Parker and his world. Well, Spider-Man is also about sequels, and this first film does a decent job of setting up future, inevitable films.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 1 minute, Rated PG-13 for stylized violence and action.

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