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Spider-Man (PG-13)
Columbia Pictures

Didn't like Spider-Man. And yet: didn't dislike Spider-Man. It was, uh... shruggable. And now for one of the most daunting tasks that can ever face your friendly neighborhood critic: explaining utter indifference.

OK, let's start off with one of the movie's central moral taglines: "With great power comes great responsibility." Peter Parker's (Tobey Maguire's) Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) passes ye olde wisdom along as Peter begins to discover his superpowers after being bitten by a genetically mutated spider (you know the story, hopefully). It's fine and dandy to ask superheroes to uphold this axiom, but how about studio executives, producers, directors and actors? From the script to the editing and acting, everything was just ... just so enh. Tobey Maguire, for example, though eternally cute and cuddly, just acted too hard. Maguire, the star of Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, was way over-cast for the two-dimensionality required by Peter Parker/Spider-Man, as was Willem Defoe (Green Goblin). Both actors were actually trying to inhabit their characters while their character conflicts were so cartoonishly transparent! You don't need big guns for this kind of schlock when the Spider-Man name alone has enough pop cache to pack the theaters. Bad calls in the upper echelons. Sometimes people are just too good. (Oh, and Kirsten Dunst does look quite lovely in a wet tanktop!).

Let's move on to effects. The whole computer-generated running-around-on walls-and-across-roof-tops effect worked for me in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But it just didn't fly in Spider-Man. What was it? Too realistic again? Or just not hokey enough for a comic-book movie? Yeah, give me the hokey-pokey of a blue screen any day. I had the same problem with The Phantom Menace. George Lucas' original blue screen effects for Star Wars were spectacular precisely because you could see the blurry lines around the Millennium Falcon and the Star Destroyers. Superman also had the same off-the-charts schlock factor. With computers, the charming reality of human error is all but lost and just feels too sterile. Suspension of disbelief requires the disbelief, not just "How in the hell did they do that?" bafflement.

Costumes: also too techno and annoyingly overwrought like those new Chevy Avalanches and the muscle modification suits used by Tim Burton in the Batman movies. Gone are the days when tights were just tights.

There are some clever cameos and campy nods to film history. Ex-Xena Lucy Lawless shows up as a daft punk on the streets during a news reality moment, and Randy Savage plays a version of himself as Bone Saw McGraw in the wrestling scene.

"I was concerned about treading on sacred ground with Spider-Man," said director Sam Raimi, "I feel a terrific responsibility as a longtime fan myself ... to tell the best story we possibly could."

Sorry, Sam, but your great responsibility was wasted on mediocre powers.

-- Noel Black

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