'Spider-Man' Set To Spin Its Web

Comic-book superhero "Spider-Man", Columbia Movie
AP/COLUMBIA
To hear the makers of the film tell it, getting the new "Spider-Man" movie made was as sticky and tangled as any web the superhero shoots from his wrist.

For more than a decade, the film was mired in bankruptcies, lawsuits, director changes and even a Sept. 11 controversy over advertisements showing the World Trade Center twin towers.

But on Friday, the red- and blue-suited crime fighter finally makes his movie debut weaving the same adventurous tales for moviegoers that he has for Marvel comic book fans for 40 years. The makers of the film say the wait may have been a good thing after all - good for them, good for the movie.

So good, in fact, they are already planning a sequel.

"You couldn't have made it 15 years ago," said Avi Arad, executive producer and Marvel Studios chief. "It needed special effects that weren't in place until, probably, 'Terminator 2 (Judgment Day, 1992).'"

The wait brought about the assignment of director Sam Raimi, whose taste for the cinematic arts varies from science-fiction thriller "Darkman" to independent hit "A Simple Plan" with its tale of modern-day greed among ordinary people.

As a Spider-man fan himself, Raime told CBS News' Laurie Hibbard he was intimdated at the thought of trying to please all the web-slingers other fans.

"Spider-Man has a tremendous fan base. And all the fans have opinions about what I should or shouldn't do in the picture. They didn't like some of the casting choices I made. Some didn't like the story choices I made. And more than anything, I wanted to please these fans," says Raimi.

"But finally, I told myself I just should shut that off, not listen because the best way to please the fans would be to follow what, in my heart, I loved about the Spider-Man character. And bring that to the screen. And in so doing, try and please them in that way."

It is Raimi's combining of the type of dizzying special effects needed for sci-fi thrillers with the humanity of a film like the critically acclaimed "Simple Plan" that is fueling strong, early word-of-mouth for "Spider-Man" in Hollywood.

Raimi, 42, campaigned hard for the job because he grew up reading the Spider-Man comics and felt he knew what Spider-Man's alter-ego, the young Peter Parker, was all about.

The delays also gave time for actor Tobey Maguire, 26, to mature in films such as 1997's "The Ice Storm" and 1999's Oscar-nominated "The Cider House Rules." He became the kind of actor who could inject a heart into Spider-Man and add some soul to all the muscle-flexing that goes into action flicks.

Parker, Raimi said, was raised in a working-class family, never gets the girl, is really uncool, and lies awake at night wondering if all this superhero stuff is worth it.

"Peter Parker, unlike Superman, is really one of us," said Raimi," referring to that faster-than-a-speeding-bullet fellow from the planet Krypton.

Spider-Man does not soar through the air using otherworldly powers. He swings from a series of super-strong and sticky web-like strings he shoots from his genetically altered body.

He's sort of like Tarzan swinging through the jungle on vines, although in Spider-Man's case, the jungle is New York and the trees are skyscrapers.

Many things have changed since Spider-Man first appeared in 1962 in the Marvel comic "Amazing Fantasy." For one, nuclear radiation is now less an everyday concern among people than crazy scientists who change the DNA of animals and humans.

So, one invention of the film's makers over the long process of getting "Spider-Man" made was to change the way Peter Parker is given his powers -- super strength, speed, agility and the web-making material his body produces.

In the comic, he was bitten by a radioactive spider. For the film, Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, which overnight transforms him.

He is not the only one who finds his body changed by science. His best friend's father, wealthy inventor Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), takes a serum meant to boost his own powers, but instead turns into the dark murderer, The Green Goblin, thus setting up the movie's principal rivalry between the good Spider-Man and the evil Green Goblin.

"To fight somebody who happens to be your best friend's dad gives (the movie) drama, and I wanted it to have dramatic underpinnings," Raimi said. "I wanted to make it about Peter Parker, not about Spider-Man."

Raimi's "Spider-Man" is all about that basic instinct that drives all young men and thrills young women. Parker just wants to score a date with the girl of his dreams. In this case, it is high-school sweetheart and red-haired flame Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst.

"I usually don't like these kinds of movies, but this one has a good heart and a good romance and a good superhero," Dunst said. "He's, like, still charming and dorky ... and he's not like a super-hunk."

Ah, but Parker wishes he were.

When he first wields his super powers, it's not as part of a quest to rid New York of the Green Goblin. Rather, he beats up Mary Jane's boyfriend who, until now, has picked on Parker.

His second chance to show his stuff is wrestling "Bone Saw McGraw" to win $3,000. Why? Well, $3,000 buys him the car that should impress the girl and score him the date.

Parker's real problems arise when Spider-Man catches his first villain, and a newspaper editor asks whether he's doing it for the city or for his own glory. That makes Parker consider his own motives and whether they are pure.

It's not that "Spider-Man" does not have any action. There is plenty of that. Also, it's not like "Spider-Man" does not have a lot of cool special effects. It has those.

"Ironically, it's when 'Spider-Man' sticks to simple human interaction that the film breathes and ingratiates itself," wrote Todd McCarthy, critic for show biz paper Daily Variety.

In other words, Parker in "Spider-Man" is not like assassin Mathayus in the current hit "Scorpion King." He doesn't charge into battles and swing swords without having much to say.

Nor is he Anakin Skywalker, facing the ominous "Dark Side" in yet another mission to save the universe, as in the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones."

No, Parker is just a young guy with a crush on a girl who finds himself one day with the super-cool powers he thinks he needs to woo her.

But he learns that what he once thought would be so cool, in fact, lands him in some sticky situations. What he believed were fairly straightforward friendships turn into a tangled web of relationships aimed at cross purposes. It's kind of like being a movie producer.

Life is not all so easy and uncomplicated, Parker learns, even for a superhero like Spider-Man.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.