World Wide Web

Spider-Man does whatever a spider can and much more

Though much of the web-slinging --especially the early, trial-and-error stuff -- is a hoot, the movie is grounded in intelligent characters and performances. Maguire is ideal for the role, working through vulnerability, smugness and guilt after he inadvertently allows the murder of a loved one. Dunst is equally suited to MJ, filling her role with stunning veracity (and yet another lesson: girls from abusive homes move to big cities to become actress-waitresses). She reveals so much potential here that one hopes she's allowed, in the sequels, to be less distressed and more proactive. As for Dafoe, though he sometimes channels Jack Nicholson's ill-cast Joker, his supernatural turn in Shadow of the Vampire has prepped him well; he definitely doesn't need the silly Goblin helmet to be scary (although the foppish purple cap is sorely missed).

Spider-Man amounts to a very strange amalgam, part Raimi movie (it happens to include cameos by his brother, Ted Raimi, and Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell), part marketing blitz for Marvel and Sony (singer Macy Gray shows up) and part nostalgia trip. Many of the elements -- including J.K. Simmons as bombastic Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson (whose action figure features "Desk Pounding Action") -- seem transplanted from a bygone era. Stick around through the end credits and you'll hear the awesome 1960s "Spider-Man" theme in all its hissy, unremixed glory.

Spidey life lesson no. 1: The superhero (Tobey Maguire) always gets the girl (Kirsten Dunst).
Columbia Pictures
Spidey life lesson no. 1: The superhero (Tobey Maguire) always gets the girl (Kirsten Dunst).


Rated PG-13

Indeed, Spider-Man spins like a dream, yet its fantasy has its limitations. There's a little too much manipulation in elements like a gang of baddie cholos or a conspicuous moment of flesh to keep fan sites buzzing. Furthermore, MJ becomes all too quickly enamored of Spidey's organic webshooter (if you know what I'm saying). Such quibbles aside, however, it's unlikely that too many romantic, coming-of-age, family-oriented, stridently patriotic, big-studio superhero movies will launch this year. If suchlike sounds appealing, swing by and marvel.

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