R043 Spider-Man

(2002, Action-Superhero, color)


Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

He has a sudden urge to save a runt pig.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

A bite from a genetically engineered arachnid turns a wimpy teen into a superhero.


[Insert arachnid-related wisecrack here.]Ninety-eight pound weakling Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) gains superhuman strength and agility overnight after he’s bitten by an escaped super-spider during a high school field trip. What to do with his newfound powers? His teenage logic breaks it down thusly: a) He wants a girl—specifically school hottie Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst); b) girls like cars; c) cars cost money; and d) professional wrestlers make money. He sews his own costume, calls himself The Amazing Spider-Man, and joins a cage match with a growling chunk of steroid-inflamed gristle named Bone Saw McGraw (Macho Man Randy Savage). Peter wins, of course, but he didn’t drag out the fight long enough, so the organizer refuses to pay him the promised fee. Peter takes revenge by refusing to stop the robber that steals the organizer’s evening take.

Karma’s got it in for our hero, though, because Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben happens to be waiting across the street to give him a ride home. The robber emerges from the building, sees a getaway vehicle, and kills Uncle Ben to get it. Peter chases the robber into an old warehouse and beats the crap out of him. The robber leaps out a window to escape, and dies three stories down. Peter vows never to turn his back on crime again.

This green stuff will prove my genius to the world!Peter grieves, graduates from high school, and begins a life of fighting crime while photographing himself fighting said crime for the local newspaper. Meanwhile, Peter’s best friend Harry (James Franco) has a wealthy scientist father named Norman (Willem Dafoe) who concocts super-soldier paraphernalia for the military. Threatened with funding cuts, he tests his latest experimental mixture on himself, emerging with super strength and a homicidal split personality. He dresses like a Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger, calls himself the Green Goblin, and murders everyone who ever slighted him. Of course it’s only a matter of time before he runs afoul of Spider-Man. They duel in a variety of public arenas, and Peter is forced to listen to a variety of stock villain speeches—such as the, “We’re Not So Different” speech, and the “Join Me, and We’ll Rule the City/World/Universe Together” speech.

Eventually, Norman learns Peter’s secret during an angst-filled Thanksgiving dinner, and proceeds to make Peter’s life a living hell. First, he attacks Aunt May during her prayers. Then he kidnaps Mary Jane and forces Peter to choose between saving her and saving a tram full of school kids. With a little help from the locals, Peter manages to save both, and then heads into another abandoned warehouse-type building for the Final Showdown. This ends when Norman accidentally skewers himself with his own rocket glider. Peter returns Norman’s corpse to his penthouse suite. Harry sees him and assumes that Spider-Man murdered his father. He swears revenge just in time for the sequel.


She should have worn a thicker shirt.Spider-Man is, perhaps, one of the purest superhero films ever made. It’s not particularly deep, attempts no twists, surprises, or other plot-related shenanigans. The fight choreography sticks with a simple punch-kick-and-jump routine, attempting nothing particularly fancy. It’s got the origin story, same as in the comic books and TV shows. It’s got the same (or as similar as makes no difference) standard villain spouting the same standard villain speeches you’ve heard many times over. It’s got shrieking girls in danger, threatened loved ones, tragic deaths, and so forth.

Reading the above, you might think that I don’t like this movie—but I do. It sticks to the basics and it does them right. It’s got suspense in all the right places, as well as romance, jealousy, and awkwardness where necessary. It’s exciting all through the exposition and right up to the end. If I have to register any complaints (and knowing me, I do) it would be about the fight sequences and web-swinging scenes, during which real world physics suddenly cease to apply every time we switch from actors to digital effects. This is a minor quibble, though; the rest of the film shines. Who cares that it’s essentially a movie-length cliché? It is a movie-length cliché with style.

Naturally, superhero = ridiculous regardless of quality (which is why we’re discussing it in the context of Rifftrax) and Mike, Bill, and Kevin are all on hand to point this out. During a sequence where Bill and Kevin point out all the incongruities of Peter’s spider powers, Mike silences them with, “Look, just because he can do whatever a spider can, doesn’t mean he’s limited to doing whatever a spider can.” When Green Goblin shows up in his stupid green outfit, Bill comments, “He’s Zippy the Pinhead’s evil green twin,” while Kevin notes, “A stoned Jim Carrey has more dignity.” Also notable is the question posed by the cartoon theme song, “Is he strong?” When asked of Mike, he shrieks, “Listen, Bud; he’s got radioactive blood!” and then flies into a violent rage. Both the action and the quips fly fast and furious, making this one of the funniest Rifftrax currently available.