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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spider-Man's PG-13 rating comes from a couple of swear words, a clingy wet T-shirt, and -- particularly -- a great deal of comic book-style violence. It can get very intense and includes not just fires and explosions, but people getting vaporized, shot (off-camera), and impaled. Characters lose people close to them; a group of schoolchildren is in peril; and parents emotionally abuse their children. But the movie's core messages about empathy and responsibility are strong, and Peter Parker is one of the comic book world's more thoughtful heroes.
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What's the story?
In SPIDER-MAN, Toby Maguire stars as Peter Parker, a brilliant and sensitive high school student who's so deeply in love with his next-door neighbor Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) that he can barely bring himself to say hello to her. On a school field trip, he's bitten by a genetically engineered spider; the next morning he wakes up with some distinctly arachnid-like qualities: He can see without his glasses, climb walls, eject webbing with the swinging power of rope and the strength of steel, and anticipate danger. Peter plays around with his newfound superpowers but quickly learns that power comes with great responsibility. Great risk comes as well: Everyone Peter cares about is put in danger because of who he is. Meanwhile, Peter's best friend's father, industrialist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), has decided to try out his company's new product on himself. He, too, develops extraordinary power -- and a mad fury. His new alter ego is dubbed the Green Goblin for his bizarre armor-like covering.
Is it any good?
Maguire is just right as Peter, the supporting cast is great, and the script is excellent, striking just the right note of respect and affection for the source material. Spider-Man has a contemporary feel without being showily post-modern or ironic. The special effects are thrilling. New York City is brilliantly stylized. Peter's relationship with MJ is sweetly romantic. The movie's weakest point is that it fails in the single most important requirement for a comic book-based movie: The villain isn't unforgettably crazy or evil or larger-than-life. Dafoe is a brilliant actor, but the part of Osborn/Green just isn't interesting enough to be truly scary.
Parents who are struggling with whether this movie is appropriate for kids under 13 should know that it's at about the same level as the X-Men movies. Keep in mind that just because kids can repeat after you that "it's only pretend" doesn't mean that they fully understand what that means until they're 10 or even older. Some kids may see the movie and appear to have no problems with it but later act out in other ways. Be watchful for kids who respond by desensitizing themselves to violence or re-enacting it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Uncle Ben's influence on Peter Parker in Spider-Man. What role does he play in Peter's life?
What does "with great power comes great responsibility" mean? Can you think of other superhero movies that tackle that theme?
Also, do you agree that people "love to see a hero fail"?
How do you think this live-action film compares with Spider-Man comics or the other Spider-Man films?
- In theaters: May 3, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: November 1, 2002
- Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes, Adventures, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence.
- Last updated: December 4, 2019
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