The filmmakers destroy the fun implied by the sight of a shy young urban idealist suddenly endowed with the magical power of climbing, crawling, and swinging around the city in the webs he has spun.

SPIDER-MAN

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Before indulging my outrage at Spider-man, let’s take a look at the good points.  There are some, and it’s a shame they are entirely destroyed by Hollywood’s love of graphic excess.  Tobey Maguire, playing both Spider-man and Peter Parker, his civilian self, creates a thoroughly appealing everyman who uses his special powers to fight crime.  The movie is set in New York City, land of opportunity for such magic.  Great old-fashioned comic book premise.

                Raised by his adored Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), Peter is a science whiz at school, a shy academic who is bully bait for some rotten psychos who strut the high school halls.  On a class trip, a new species of spider bites Peter, giving him the gift of being able to scale Manhattan’s vertical walls and to soar throughout the city on his self-made webs.  Whenever Tobey Maguire is on screen as Peter Parker, the movie has a sweet innocence that makes the audience root for him in a good old-fashioned give-me-a-hero kind of way.   

                We are handed the requisite villain in Norman Osborn, a.k.a. The Green Goblin, (Willem Dafoe) a self-made CEO who dabbles in “human performance enhancer” drugs whose main side effects are “violence and insanity.”  Up to this point we have all the ingredients of the old comic books – a sympathetic good guy, a grisly villain, a sweet family, a pretty girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) and a plot of good vs. evil.  And look what Hollywood does with it.

                The schoolboy bullies are way beyond cruel; The man who swallows the performance enhancer suffers a visually terrifying, prolonged seizure; a professional wrestling match is fueled by the vicious encouragement of spectators; Peter is beaten with a metal chair and a golf club; Manhattan skyscrapers are blown up repeatedly in giant orange fireballs (so much for taste).

                This mean movie could have been the lyrical comic book fantasy it started out to be.  It could have been about wit and mystery and besting the bad guys in high comic book style.   Instead, the filmmakers use prolonged graphic brutality to destroy the fun implied by the sight of a shy young urban idealist suddenly endowed with the magical power of climbing, crawling, and swinging around the city in the webs he has spun.  They marinate us in gore.  This is Hollywood on its own human performance enhancers. 

Looking around a theater of 300 people, most of them under ten years old, I realized again that this is typical of the toxic cultural diet these kids ingest in some form – violent video games, television, movies - every day of their very young lives.  Spider-man, is an utterly needless and irresponsible addition to that outrage. 

Not one review I have read even mentions this violence, the implication being that all this is high camp and acceptably beyond reality.  High camp?  Try explaining that to a six year old. 

 


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