The story goes that when Stan Lee wanted to produce the Spider-Man comic, the powers that be at Marvel Comics did not find a geeky teenager with superpowers enticing.
Yet Lee, along with co-creator and artist Steve Ditko, managed to get the story in a fantasy comic that was about to cease publication at Marvel. The rest, as they say, is history. Now “Spider-Man” joins other comics like Superman, Batman and the X-Men to make the leap to the big screen.
Many who loved the Spider-Man comic howled when Sam Raimi cast Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, the teenager who becomes Spider-Man. Yet Maguire seems a perfect fit. Others questioned whether the big screen would suit the mythic tale of a boy, bitten by an irradiated spider, turning into your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
It does seem that most comic adaptations lose something in the translation, but “Spider-Man” faithfully follows Lee and Ditko’s vision. We meet Peter as a high schooler, walking through the world in a trance, the object of scorn and ridicule.
Peter spends most of his days wondering how he can conquer his unrequited love of Mary Jane Watson. But things change for Peter when a genetically enhanced spider bites him. He develops the ability to cling to walls, shoot webbing and sense impending danger.
But he uses his newfound powers for personal gain. He takes on a wrestler to earn money to impress Mary Jane. His blind ambition comes back to haunt him when he has an indirect hand in the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. This tragedy convinces Peter that he must use his powers for the good of all, not just the one.
Running parallel with Peter’s development is entrepreneur Norman Osborn’s personal mission to use human gene enhancement to help him save his failing company. Instead of becoming a superhero, like Peter, Osborn becomes the Green Goblin. He flies around on a jet wing, wreaking havoc on the city.
All of this brings Spider-Man and the Green Goblin together for a climactic battle on the Queensboro Bridge.
What makes “Spider-Man” interesting is not the action. The special effects in the film, while nice and expensive, really add little to the story. And the scenes of Peter trying out his newfound powers are wonderful, but as time goes by even they drag.
What makes “Spider-Man” interesting is Peter’s everyman quality. The world sees one image, but most of us feel deep down that we are just nerds. Robert Burns wrote that the great gift we need from God is to be able to see ourselves as others do.
Peter, like us, never seems able to see himself as anything other than an outcast. But his powers offer a break from his reality, and he discovers a persona that does not have Peter’s baggage.
All of us long for that—to be somebody else for a while. Peter receives that gift, making “Spider-Man” appealing.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for stylized violence and action.
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Spider-Man/Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire; Green Goblin/ Norman Osborn: Willem Dafoe; Mary Jane: Kirsten Dunst; Harry Osborn: James Franco; Ben Parker: Cliff Robertson; May Parker: Rosemary Harris.