Web Designs
Tobey toughens up to tackle terror
By Rachel Deahl

Amid the swirl of disaster that recently befell New York City and the real-life heroes who were there to answer the call, there's still something quite comforting in knowing that a certain famous arachnid superhero is swinging from the skyscrapers ridding the metropolis of evildoers. In other words, there couldn't be a better time to welcome Spider-Man into theaters than now.

The first bonafide blockbuster of the summer season, the casting and directing choices surrounding this much anticipated and hyped adaptation of Stan Lee's beloved comic book series were all the talk when word got out that there was going to be a film based on the famous Spider-Man character.

Was Tobey Maguire, heretofore the nerdy darling of indie cinema, right to play Peter Parker, much less any superhero? Did Sam Raimi, most well known for helming the Evil Dead trilogy, seem like a logical choice to direct?

And finally, would Spider-Man be a satisfying and intelligently handled recreation of Stan Lee's vivid world or would it, like so many other cinematic adaptations of well-known comic books (Spawn, Judge Dred, Tank Girl to name a few), be a disappointing foray into the funnies.

As it turns out, Tobey Maguire was the perfect choice for the lead; Sam Raimi is brilliant behind the camera; and Spider-Man is a faithful and fun adaptation. (Though diehards complain about the fact that Maguire doesn't stir up his webs in the lab, as he does in the comic books. The webbing is just a superpower.)

It seems as though films based on comic books often fail in their recreation of the setting. Two of the best films based on famous comic books, Dick Tracy and Batman, do wonderfully vivid jobs with their disparate sets. From the corny, colorful world of big suits and kitschy 50s diners that Dick Tracy evokes to the dark, foreboding underworld that is Gotham in Batman, both films brilliantly personified the worlds they were depicting with their impeccable set design and costuming. And while Spider-Man doesn't leave its mark through its use of sets or costumes, it manages to set itself apart by becoming an unexpectedly attuned character study.

As Peter Parker, a nerdy high schooler who, after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider, gains superhuman powers, Tobey Maguire is the perfect blend of vulnerability, wide-eyed innocence, and charisma. Keeping uncannily true to Stan Lee's original storyline, Parker initially fumbles learning how to simply use his powers and then struggles more profoundly with the complex issues being a superhero brings with it. Not only does Raimi do a wonderful job showing how Parker must figure out how to move (the process of shooting webs out of your wrist and swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper is not nearly as convenient or easy as it looks), he also handles the more dramatic elements of his central character's transformation wonderfully.

Weighing in as the cantankerous villain, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, Willem Dafoe is delightfully over-the-top. As an ambitious businessman who, after testing his secret serum turns into a vengeful green monster with super human powers, Dafoe imbues his baddie with an amusing case of schizophrenia. Hearing his alter ego beckon him to perform evil acts in the mirror, Dafoe struts around with a fiendish grin one moment and a tormented mug the next. And Raimi does well in chronicling the parallel transformation both hero and villain endures as each learns to live with their newly formed better half.

Working off of the lighthearted tone of Stan Lee's comic, Spider-Man blends comedy and irony with great success. As Peter Parker/Spider-Man is out saving the city, will he make it to Thanksgiving dinner on time and avoid being found out by his frail Aunt May in the process? It's this type of scenario, combined with the more profound issue that Parker must sacrifice a normal life at great cost in order to be a superhero, that makes Spider-Man entertaining without feeling slight.