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THE MORNING BUZZ: Caught In An Engaging Web

15 May, 2002 By: Joan Villa

With Spider-Man, Columbia has pulled off a rare feat: a comic book hero that appeals equally to both genders.

In fact, after perusing online reviews, I suspect that women ‘get' Spider-Man perhaps more than men. While many comic book adaptations have been pointless and even offensive, Spider-Man is refreshingly sweet and suspenseful at the same time. It tells a real story, seemingly aware that women make up half the population without forgetting the stuff that guys go to the movies to see.

A male friend offered this Spider-Man evaluation: ‘It was as good as could be expected from the genre.' He also thought it was a smart decision for the filmmakers to emphasize the love story.

More than that, however, the characters are layered and engaging: Tobey Maguire is a vulnerable, against-type hero and Kirsten Dunst is a real actress given a real role. She is simultaneously alluring, troubled, striving and beautiful, but not uncommonly so. She embodies, as the movie describes, the girl next door.

What a relief for women everywhere, who are offended by the revolving door of eye-candy ‘love interests' whose names we never remember after the closing credits. Those are the actresses whose biggest qualification is how they'll look in skimpy outfits. Worse, they play dumb and participate in mean-spirited plots, like the disturbing facial disfigurement carried out by Jack Nicholson's Joker in the 1989 Batman. Amazingly, the two movies received the same PG-13 rating but couldn't be further apart in sensibility or family appeal.

Why is it that filmmakers time and again present a male-only view, continually ignoring that women, too, go to the movies? It must be a little like what African Americans feel when films tell all-white stories with blacks playing thugs. You know it's only a movie, but after a while you just want to see something resembling yourself up there on the screen. Spider-Man may not have been a model for minority casting, but at least a black man (who spoke proper English, not ebonics) played the high-schoolers' intelligent science teacher.

Thanks to Sam Raimi's masterful directing, Spider-Man shows it's possible to appeal to a wide cross-section with a rewarding story true to the tone and time of the original comic books. Apparently audiences agree, since the film has reeled in $224 million at the box office after only two weekends. Again, Columbia was astute to beat the summer rush and position the title two weeks before Star Wars Episode II, claiming the mid-May time slot for itself.

But the studio also has a project it can be proud of. And when it arrives on video, Spider-Man will be the rare comic book adaptation that retailers can enthusiastically endorse for their entire customer base, not just half.

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