For a box-office record-breaker, this latest Marvel Comics motion picture doesn't have the style of Batman, nor the excitement of Superman. Even the story's rubbish.

Hollywood's love affair with special effects has reached its zenith when a computer-generated figure swinging from web strands above New York's bustling streets can stimulate the kind of interest that has caused gridlock at US multiplexes. The totally artificial sci-fi adventure, Final Fantasy, is more imaginative and the acrobatic martial arts modern classic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, infinitely more graceful.

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It starts slowly. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a younger Clark Kent - shy, bespectacled, bullied at school. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), otherwise known as MJ, lives next door. "She's the girl I loved before I even liked girls," Peter says. She doesn't look at him. Who would? He has the sex appeal of Barbie's carpet slippers.

One day, while on a science project, a spider bites him on the hand. He goes home feeling queasy and wakes up next morning with sticky fingers and big muscles. He doesn't need gig-lamps anymore. His eyes work properly. That's odd, he thinks.

Quite soon he's crawling up buildings and leaping great distances. He practices web work and learns to swing from vine to vine like Tarzan, except there are no vines, only spider silk. He designs a suit for himself and spends his free time doing Superman stuff - saving babies from fires, bonking baddies on the nut, preserving the peace. The difference is that the editor of the local rag considers him a menace, which is rather surprising.

His deadly enemy is The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), otherwise known as Norman Osborn - no relation to Ozzy - a megalomaniac scientist who has done a Jekyll & Hyde on himself. When he's Jekyll, he's a forward-looking industrialist who made a fortune from government defence contracts. When he's Hyde, he wears a metallic wolf mask and behaves like Al-Qaida on an airborne surfboard.

There are two plots. Peter, as Spider-Man, saves MJ's life a couple of times. He wants her to love dweeb Peter, not the hunk in the red suit. It's a tough one. The second plot is Goblin vs Spider-Man. This is confusing because you don't know what The Gob is up to. He attempts to wipe out the board of Osborn's company, which is understandable, since they have just sacked him as CEO. But why go after Spidey? He tries to persuade him to join forces so that they can rob the city between them, but that's so stupid, since the sticky guy's a comicbook superhero and, as such, incorruptible. Can't he read?

His son, Harry (James Franco) shares an apartment with Peter and is going steady with MJ. That's not right, either, because she's too sensible to be wasting emotional time with such a drip. Anyway, she's in love with Spider-Man. Whoever he is.

There is no humour to speak of. The romantic element is saved by Dunst, who gives the best performance. Maguire has been better (Pleasantville, The Cider House Rules) and Dafoe more menacing (Shadow Of The Vampire). Sam Raimi, whose claim to fame is The Evil Dead, directs by numbers. The guys in Effects call the shots. They do a good job. Pity about David Koepp, who wrote the script without realising the importance of creating a world in which language takes flight and action is glamour.

The 12-certificate seems severe. This is a kids movie if ever there was one. Near the end, Spidey and The Gob have a punch-up that goes on for ages, which might be considered disturbing. But is it any worse than the violence in video games? There is nothing to match the scary monsters in The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Time Machine, both PGs, let alone the nightmare-inducing T-Rex from Jurassic Park.

Reviewed on: 23 Apr 2002
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Bitten by a spider in a museum, a shy youth begins to develop strange abilities.
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Director: Sam Raimi

Writer: David Koepp, based on the comicbook by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Michael Papajohn, Randy Poffo, Joe Manganiello, Rosemary Harris, Ted Raimi, Cliff Robertson, Bill Nunn, Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee

Year: 2002

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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