dir. Sam Raimi
Now playing at various theaters.

As the evil Green Goblin sat astride his glider, zipping across the Manhattan skyline, tossing fire bombs at a crumbling skyscraper while terrified New Yorkers cowered below, September 11 jimmied its way into this summer's apparent blockbuster, Spider-Man. Rather than stitching any provocative fabric into the movie, though, this spooky dose of 9/11 reality simply unraveled David Koepp's fragile screenplay.

Had the unavoidably chilling moment existed in a smarter script, the scene would have somehow connected itself to the life of the film. But this is a lifeless movie.

As filmed by Sam Raimi, Spider-Man trots out a predictable (and cloyingly Victorian) boy-girl story that wastes Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) as a screaming damsel in distress, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) as a cackling villain, and Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) spouting a bunch of pre-fab platitudes. Gone are the vivid characters from the comic book: the sassy and comical proto-feminist Mary Jane Watson; slowly simmering Norman Osborn; and most of all, wise-cracking-Charlie-Chaplin-with-super-powers-meets-Charlie-Brown-with-a-draft-number Peter Parker. (I do tip my hat to Law & Order's J. K. Simmons, though, who plays Daily Bugle ingrate editor J. Jonah Jameson with an even sharper funny bone than exists in the finely crafted comic-book version.)

Ultimately, the beauty of the Amazing Spider-Man comic-book series was how solidly anchored it was in reality. Fuck Superman's otherworldly battles to save Metropolis; New Yorker Peter Parker lived in a Chelsea dump, failed classes at NYU, scrounged as a freelance photographer, and struggled through friendships, all against the backdrop of teenage riots, Vietnam, inflation, and Richard Nixon. Check out ASM #96-99, #121-122, and #136-137 (which the movie's plot is largely based on) for an idea of the material Raimi and Koepp squandered.

By presenting a non-sequitur film that seems to exist in a caricature of the world, Spider-Man goes through the motions of a summer blockbuster (acrobatic fist fights, bright orange explosions, cheap sentimentality) and misses an opportunity to make a good movie. And by the way, the herky-jerky special effects aren't even as good as some upscale car commercials.