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Votes: 12

 Four Spider-Man movies reviewed

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
May 07, 2002
Below, I summarize all four of the film treatments of the popular children's comic magazine Spider-Man that I have seen, including the recently released summer blockbuster. Comments addressing other Spider-Man movies are warmly invited.

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Spider-Man of The Desert (1965 Dir. Luis Bunuel) One of Bunuel's more difficult works to get a handle on, critics have long debated whether the decidedly unreligious Bunuel was here being sympathetic toward Christian attitudes or satirizing them. The film concerns Spider-Man, a superhero who spends his days on top of a stylite meditating on God and trying to free himself from worldly temptations. Periodically, some people from a nearby village stop by bringing food and water, and paying their respects to Spider-Man, who protects the village from rampaging supervillains.

Tension is introduced when Satan appears, in the guise of Meudsa, a supervillainess with ankle-length prehensile hair. Satan/Medusa torments Spider-man by pointing out what a bunch of hypocritical backsliders the villagers are, and trying to tempt him sexually, describing the erotic things she and her dextrous tresses are capable of. The climax of the film comes when Spider-man is forced to descend from his stylite to stop Electro, a supervillain capable of firing electrical blasts, from robbing the local goat-herder. Bunuel handles the battle between Spider-Man and Electro by intercutting brief, wobbly, off-focus action scenes of flailing limbs, electrical charges, and flying webs, with WWII newsreel footage and films of atomic bomb tests. In the end, Spider-Man defeats Electro, and returns to his stylite, where he is once again revisited by Satan/Medusa, who implies that environmental ruin will bring about armageddon.

Hidden Spider (1961 Dir. Yasujiro Ozu) This penetrating study of intergenerational relations in modern Kyoto involves an overworked businessman, his wife, a fastidious follower of traditional shinto religious practices, and their two children. The couple's son is beginning college, and while he is expected to study business and go to work for his father's company, the young man really wishes to study medicine, a profession it is implied he may not be ideally suited for. Meanwhile, the couple's daughter is bored with her entire family, and is contemplating a loveless marriage of convenience with a nerdish older man just to get out of the house. The very modern concerns of the father, son, and daughter are contrasted with the timeless shinto rituals, beautifully filmed, with which the mother spends much of her time.

Ozu's domestic drama is played out against the offstage exploits of Spideru-man a superhero with the powers of a spider, whose presence for most of the film takes the form of newspaper headlines, television and radio broadcasts, and the occasional mention of his deeds by family members. At the end of the film, during a heated argument between father and son, the Skorupionu, a supervillain armed with a deadly armored tail, bursts into the family's living room, with Spideru-man in pursuit. In the fight sequence that follows, the two manage two demolish the entire house before the Skorupionu is finally brought down. Some purists still scoff at Ozu's uncharacteristic use of action scenes at the end of Hidden Spider, but for most this film is considered along with Autumn Afternoon to exemplify the mastery that Ozu was able to achieve in his late work.

Spider, Man! (1988 Dir. Jim Jarmusch) Reuniting the cast of the underground hit Down By Law, Jarmusch's Spider, Man! is the story of Spider-Man (Tom Waits), not so much a superhero as a man wearing jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt with a spider printed on it, and aviator sunglasses. Spider-Man spends most of his time sitting next to the "Spider-Signal" (a decrepit pay phone) waiting for the "citizen's call for help", and telling strange stories to neighborhood urchins who stand around and gawk at him. Periodically, Spider-Man strolls over to the office of his friend J. Jonah Jameson (John Lurie, with a toothbrush moustache and all his hair combed straight up), and sponges money off him, which he uses to purchase beer, cigarettes, and corn chips.

Later in the movie, the villain Doctor Octopus (Roberto Bengini, wearing a lab coat and carrying a large cooler) walks into a local bank and attempts to rob it by threatening to hit everyone present with frozen squid. At one point during his flailing attempts to get the attention of the bank's patron's, Dr. Octopus drops his cooler on his foot, and while he is hopping around in pain, an alert loan officer puts in a call to Spider-Man, who leaps to the occasion ("hold my beer, kid!") and jogs, gasping, to the bank. Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus engage in some buffoonish grappling for a few minutes before managing to simultaneously knee each other in the crotch. The police arrive to collect to supine Dr. Octopus, and thank the equally floor-ridden Spider-Man, who manages a feeble wave. At the film's conclusion, Spider-Man, staggering gingerly out of the bank, is confronted by his long-suffering girlfriend, Gwen Stacey (Ellen Barkin), who loudly reprimands him for being a no-good bum, as the credits roll.

Spider-man (2002, Sam Raimi) I was concerned about the way a lot of icky people have waxed rhapsodical about this movie, but the actual flick is quite a lot of fun. Director Sam Raimi, he of the all-time classic Evil Dead "trilogy" (discriminating film lovers of course prefer think of all three films as one long movie, to be viewed in one sitting, one after the other) keeps things moving along briskly. Being a veteran action director, Raimi lends a giddy thrill to the web-swinging footage, and is savvy enough to stage fight scenes that actually look like two people beating the crap out of each other, rather than some prettified chop-socky ballet. Characters are well-defined, and the script nicely negotiates the fine line between banality and pretense without being top-heavy with dumb wisecracks.

The film is also expertly cast and well acted, with standout performances from Tobey "Smirkboy" McGuire (no, really!); Kirsten Dunst and her breasts; the guy who plays J. Jonah Jameson; and my new hero, Willem Dafoe, who, in a bravura role as the Green Goblin, singlehandedly devours enough scenery to stage an entire production of Les Miz. Not that the new Spider-Man movie is perfect: the kludgy cgi will annoy a lot of people, there are too many dorky speeches for my taste, and if you have adeep-seated hatred of all things nerdish, Spider-Man, 2002, won't change your attitude*. But if this movie is any indication, the Summer of 2002 is off to a rousing start. Who knows, at this rate, maybe Attack of The Clones will turn out to be good.


*The film also suffers from a disappointing lack of fucking and cannibalism.


Why I like Spider-Man. (5.00 / 3) (#1)
by elenchos on Tue May 7th, 2002 at 02:45:38 AM PST
Spider-Man still respects the use of the hyphen. Without it, you get these neologisms, Spiderman, or, worse, SpiderMan. These words are unintelligible. The vital hyphen is what makes the combination of "Spider" with "man" even possible.

I still don't like super-heroes, and I don't like films such as these that are not realisic. But the hyphenation is acceptable.

I do, I do, I do
--Bikini Kill

Actually... (none / 0) (#6)
by Chocolate Milkshake on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 01:10:44 AM PST
...I was going to use to the easier-to-type "Spiderman", but then I noticed that posts who neglect the hyphen and proper capitalization tend to attract angry responses like: "It's Spider-Man, dunce!!!! Were you raised by morlocks?!/!/!?!1!?!?!?" I'm getting too old to have to deal with that shit, lemme just say.

Do you have links? (none / 0) (#2)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue May 7th, 2002 at 03:07:37 AM PST
"Spider-Man of the Desert?" The other movies I can wholeheartedly believe exist (especially Spider, Man!- that sounds like Jarmusch, alright), but the first one? It sounds like one of those films that a comedian makes up to make fun of pretentious film school students. I also now want to desperately see it.

Sorry, (none / 0) (#8)
by Chocolate Milkshake on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 01:59:03 AM PST
Couldn't find any info on the internet, had to go off what I could remember from seeing the films, and a couple tattered back issues of Cineaste.

Instead, perhaps this link to El Topo director Alexandro Jodorowsky's oops-I-just-ate-the-brown-acid rant about his never-produced film version of Dune will cheer you up.

You are my hero... (3.00 / 1) (#3)
by hauntedattics on Tue May 7th, 2002 at 05:30:13 AM PST
mostly because you think like I do, but write it down about a million times better.

I think I have a crush.

Careful... (none / 0) (#4)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue May 7th, 2002 at 08:50:11 PM PST
You are still wearing that wedding band on your finger, right? :)

Yes. Yes I am. (none / 0) (#5)
by hauntedattics on Wed May 8th, 2002 at 05:45:51 AM PST
Your point being...?

*BLUSHES* (none / 0) (#7)
by Chocolate Milkshake on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 01:15:29 AM PST
We in your loyal AQ fanbase are still eagerly awaiting the next installment of your adventures in Brazil, by the way.

Apologies. (none / 0) (#10)
by hauntedattics on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 04:59:45 AM PST
I've been pretty busy at work, and got sidetracked by a local issue, as you can see in my last diary. In addition, the more distance I get from my trip to Rio, the sillier and less interesting my "adventure" there becomes. However, I may have the opportunity for further Brazilian adventures in June or July. Stay tuned.

Dear Mr. Milkshake, (none / 0) (#9)
by otak on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 04:28:29 AM PST
Please write a regular film review column for

That is all.


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