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<i>Spider-Man</i> Movie Pays Homage to Comic Book Superhero - 2002-05-03


A comic book superhero enjoyed by readers worldwide for the past 40 years finally swings onto the big screen in a super-charged action blockbuster. Alan Silverman has a look at Spider-Man.

As Marvel comic book fans around the world know, teenager Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, gains superhuman strength and agility, but still has to deal with the angst and anxiety of adolescence. In the long-awaited film version, it's updated to a bite from a genetically engineered spider that gives young Peter his powers. There are other changes, but director Sam Raimi says his goals were to make an entertaining film and to stay true to the spirit of the original.

"We were just trying to take the things we so loved from the 40-years of Spider-Man comic books and really translate them to the big screen," he explains. "I think inherent in those comic books is, they are stories of real people with real problems, exciting conflicts and the story of one young boy who struggles to become a hero. We didn't feel we had two concerns, we had just one concern: taking all that fine material and making a good picture out of it."

Raimi cast Tobey Maguire as the hero, who first appears as a reed-thin, glasses-wearing weakling, always the target for abuse by his muscular classmates. After the fateful spider bite, he squeezes into a skin-tight red-and-blue bodysuit and mask to become New York's ultimate swinger: literally swinging through the city on strands of super-strong spider web that his genetically changed body now produces. Although much of the web swinging is computer-enhanced or performed by stunt doubles, Maguire says he felt it was important that he be in the Spider-Man suit and mask as much as possible when the character is on screen.

"It's important to me, even when I'm watching the film, to feel like it was me; but it's also important because I'm creating the character from the beginning," he says. " The stunt men did a great job with what they had to do and a lot of times they would be helping me with my 'Spidey' poses, because these guys are gymnasts and dancers and maybe have more flexibility than I do and certainly more ability in some areas. So they would help me out a lot of the times; but when they're getting into triple-twisting somersaults, I just defer to them. I can't even begin to attempt that."

Of course, the other familiar comic book characters are all here: Rosemary Harris as Aunt May and Cliff Robertson plays gentle Uncle Ben; J.K. Simmons is J. Jonah Jamieson, the blowhard editor of the tabloid Daily Bugle; Kirsten Dunst dons a red wig to play Peter's sexy girlfriend Mary Jane "M.J." Watson.

"I find Spider-Man is the most relatable superhero, because he's really a normal guy," she says. "He's charming and a little 'dorky' and you have the love story. There are great dynamics between the characters and there are places for us to go and grow in the next movie. I think that this is very based in reality. Even though it has a fantastical thing about it, it really is about these human beings and their relationships."

There are plenty of high-energy action scenes and fights, but director Raimi, a longtime fan of the comic book, says he was always conscious of the young audience.

"I didn't want to have too much bad language or violence in the picture, " he says. "I knew it was a big superhero picture and, good or bad, I knew that millions of children would go to this movie and point at the guy in the mask and want to be like him; so we would have all this unearned admiration for the person on the screen. I felt a tremendous amount of responsibility to provide somebody on the screen.... a character... worthy of that admiration," he stresses. "I not only wanted to make the parents feel okay about it, I also did not want to provide a disservice to the children by providing a bad role model. I actually wanted to have somebody worthy of their respect and admiration."

It wouldn't be Spider-Man without a fantastical villain and drama veteran Willem Dafoe fills that spandex suit as the megalomaniac "Green Goblin."