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Spider-Man

Year: 2002
Studio: Columbia
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: David Koepp
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco
Much smarter than your average blockbuster, thanks to either Sam Raimi's indie background still working (a heritage Robert Rodriguez dropped like a stone with the atrocious Spy Kids) or current uber-scripter David Koepp.

In a big budget first, the money-shot special effects were there to deliver the story, not the other way around. Despite audiences already knowing all (like most superhero/TV show/cartoon/video game-turned-movie films), the plot managed to enthral the whole way through, despite long stretches with no special effects or merchandise tie-in material.

The story was solid and took itself seriously. In the end, Peter doesn't get the girl (MJ – Kirsten Dunst – who he's loved all his life and who finally declares her love for him), he realises that as long as he is powerful he will have enemies, and she'll be hurt to get at him. It could have been a pat horses and sunsets ending, but made all the difference.

There's a stronger than usual subtext – Parker's transformation and acceptance of what he's become (a superhero) parallels the path from geeky teenager to what Cliff Robertson's Uncle Ben calls 'the man you'll be for the rest of your life'.

Bitten by a genetically altered super-spider, nerd photographer Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) suddenly has super strength, agility, and perception and is able to shoot web from his wrists and swing through the skyscrapers of New York. So he puts on latex and takes his place beside Superman and the Hulk, fighting crime in the big bad city. His arch nemesis is a scientist driven mad with rage (from a secret formula) at all those in the way of his quest for power, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).

The story engages you so you're not just sitting through a lot of boring set-up to the next special effects sequence, and there are a couple of stand-out performances and scripting. Huckster Daily Bugle editor Jameson is a comic treat, and a rare barb is shot at modern corporate society in Osborne (Dafoe as the Green Goblin's alter ego) getting kicked off the board of the company he created.

The camerawork is exceptional – we follow Spider Man swinging through New York at crazy angles and directions like we're on a roller coaster with him. And the writing, thanks to Koepp, who's churning out some of Hollywood's best stuff right now, is classy, with little cliché or usual blockbuster dialogue fodder.

The climax was a bit small, so you didn't realise it had even been the climax until it was over, and the next step up in product placement was achieved in the appearance of Macy Gray.

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