Spider-man, Spider-man. Sam Raimi, Spider-Man. Bruce Campbell cameos. Spider-man. Spider-man. That is a song I Wrote.
Anyway. This is a picture by Mr. Sam Raimi only it is based on the popular children’s comic strip, “SPIDER-MAN”. If I remember right what that was about was a nerdy kid who gets bit by a magic spider so he puts on a red and blue bodysuit and swings around on webs saving people. This works on account of he now has magic spider powers to climb up buildings, make wisecracks, etc. My internet research indicates that the webs actually did not shoot out of his wrists, as any logical person might assume, in fact they were shot by mechanical laser watches or some stupid shit that Peter Parker invented and this apparently is the building block on which all Marvel Comics are built and should never be altered if Sam Raimi doesn’t want to face a fate similar to that of Salman Rushdie (i.e. years of fear and hiding, followed by a cameo in Bridget Jones’s Diary).
There is a dash between Spider and Man apparently, you gotta be careful with that one on the internet. Again, Salman Rushdie.
Other than changing the web lasers this one appears to be very faithful to the juvenile picture books it is based on and that is where the charm is. It seems to me that most of these funny books are based around outlandish costumes, and at the same time the outlandish costumes cause the biggest dilemmas when adapting to the legitimate artistic medium of Film. I mean do you really want to have a guy wearing that kind of shit or not, that is the big question. In the case of Super-Man they said yes, he’ll wear the exact same thing that he wears in the drawings. And America loved it.
But that was the 1970s or 80s, a simpler time. Then there was Viet-Nam. Well, Viet-Nam had already happened but then there was a series of movies about Viet-Nam. So America was changed forever. I don’t know.
So by the time of the year 1989 and BAT-MAN (1989), nobody wanted to see that kind of dress in public. It made people uncomfortable. People were not as accepting of that kind of alternative lifestyle and did not want anyone dressed like that around their children. We fear what we don’t understand and in the ’89s we did not understand a guy swingin on a rope wearing tights and a cape. One of the biggest concerns by all involved (those making the movie, those watching the advertising) was that it would be like the old tv show from the ’60s, and nobody would take it seriously. Their solution – no bat-man costume, put im in rubber armor. And it worked. Audiences were immediately won over by the gloomy, serious approach, and although the movie is considered pretty boring by today’s lower standards of summer entertainment I would argue that it turned out to be one of the most influential movies of that decade. Even the topic of discussion this evening, SAM RAIMI’S SPIDER MOTHERFUCKIN MAN, by Sam Raimi, fits a bit into the Bat-Man template (spider-man confronting the killer of his guardian, danny elfman score, big showdown at community event featuring large inflatable characters).
THE X-MEN starring 2000 Outlaw Award Winner Hugh Jack-Man as Young Clint Eastwood also took the embarassed approach to costuming. They not only abandoned the colorful costumes from the children’s booklet series but had the characters joke about how asinine it would be to wear costumes like that. The best comic book movie franchise ever, BLADE, features fashion that might be considered eccentric but that at least passes as an outfit rather than a costume, and which is not based on the colorful costumes he apparently wore in the ’70s strips.
But Sam Raimi is an old fashioned gentlemen. He wears a suit and tie on set as an homage to Alfred Hitch-Cock. He creates imaginative horror masterpieces and then claims the inspiration is all 3 Stooges. He swears he really wants to be making boring movies about baseball. He starred in a movie as a manson like killer vietnam vet but he is in a pre-Vietnam film mentality. He is not the kind of guy that is gonna put Spiderman in black leather with some kind of infra-red goggles or some shit like that.
I mean maybe Spider-man is different. It’s hard to imagine what else you could do with him other than put a Spider-man costume on him. So that’s what he did. If you remember what Spider-man looks like, yeah, that’s what you see in the movie. Just, some guy wearing a Spider-man costume.
And I gotta be honest, the costume works, and so does the casting, and the effects. Together, they create exactly the comic book world that Mr. Raimi must remember reading from when he was child, and was able to still read comic books. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco are all perfect for their characters. It is easy to get wrapped up in the story as Peter Parker discovers his powers, uses them to deal with his nerdy teenage problems, than finds a greater purpose for them.
What really makes the movie work though is all the swingin around. I mean it was pretty cool in Sam Raimi’s THE AMAZING DARK-MAN when Dark-Man was hanging off a helicopter, but now computers can do all this swinging shit. Spider-Man just flops around all over the place, swings and swooshes and floopty floops. He jumps from buildings, kicks people across rooms. He does MATRIXY spider-dodges, and BLADE 2-esque computer jumps. And it’s all spectacular to watch, a real good time at the movies. To be honest it makes Super-Man, flying around in straight lines, look like a fuckin baby. Is that all you can do is fly, you fuckin cape wearin pussy? Spider-Man can flip, and stick to walls, and hang upside down. He has little pointy bug leg things that come out of his fingers, for christ’s sake. Can you compete with that? I don’t think so. Go home Super-Man. You can’t save the day, why don’t you go do a visa commercial with the guy from Seinfeld, asswipe.
You know what in all seriousness though, Christopher Reeve is the real Super-Man. Because he’s in a wheelchair.
Another thing Spider-Man does that most of the other comic book movies don’t bother with, he saves a bunch of people. Gals, babies, you name it. Not just a few cursory establishing heroics, they seem to make up the bulk of his daily activities. But there is a main villain, and that’s where the problem comes.
Willem Dafoe is pretty great as Norman Osborne, a scientist trying to get money from the military, who makes that classic Dr. Jekyll mistake of testing on himself and getting all Hyded up. Next thing you know he’s in a room by himself talking to a mask sitting on a chair that he thinks is telling him to kill people. Which, I mean, it’s time for some therapy there dude. He starts flying around on a magic jetboard wearing green armor and a mask, and throwing bombs at people and laughing. They call him the Green Goblin, I guess because he’s green.
I don’t know what it is but I completely accepted Toby Maguire flingin himself all over the city in a fancy molded Spider-Man costume. I wondered where in fuck’s name he GOT this costume but I had no problem watching him wear it. But then the second you have him standing on a rooftop talking to a guy in green armor, the whole thing seems pretty silly. They make a good joke about it, having Green Goblin lean up all casual and talk buddy buddy with Spider-Man. But until their final showdown (which for some reason reminded me of a scene in the Raimi executive produced HARD TARGET) you have a hard time taking things seriously any time the two costumes are in the shot together. I mean, jesus. Put some real clothes on, people. You can still be evil wearing, say, a hat.
So yeah, the villain is pretty stupid, but when he’s just Norman Osborne he works. His son Harry is Peter’s best friend and roommate. He treats his son coldly but gets excited around Peter because of his knack for science. And of course this makes things uncomfortable between the boys. I mean there are actual characters and relationships in this movie, melodramatic but interesting, and they set up many possibilities for sequels. It’s a good story, good characters, only one stupid costume, and good action scenes.
One word of warning to the hardcore comic strip enthusiasts. The pig version of Spider-man, Peter Porker the Amazing Spider-Ham, does not appear in this picture. He is apparently being saved for the sequel. I enjoyed this picture though thanks.
APPENDIX. RAIMI TOUCHES OF NOTE: Cameos by Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Lucy Lawless. We learn of Peter’s future powers via guided student tour of laboratories (as in Dark-Man). Green Goblin talks to evil version of himself in mirror (as in EVIL DEAD 2: HIS BEST SO FAR). Ends with corny shot of Spider-Man in front of American flag, which I’d guess is how FOR LOVE OF THE GAME probaly ends, but I haven’t seen it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.