When the geek gets the girl, all is well

May 13, 2002|By KEVIN COWHERD

WENT TO SEE Spider-Man the other day -- a movie sets the one-day box office record of $39.3 million and grosses $114 million its first weekend, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

As I sat there in the darkened theater with my giant tub of popcorn and oil drum-sized Pepsi, it quickly became apparent why this movie is so huge.

For all its dazzling special effects and sledgehammer moralizing about good-vs.-evil, Spider-Man is, at its essence, the classic story of the geek who gets the girl -- well, sort of. (To say more would spoil the ending.)

And we Americans love geek-gets-girl stories.

From Jerry Lewis to Woody Allen to Adam Sandler, nebbishy guys with Coke-bottle glasses who triumph over long odds and their own lousy DNA to land the hot babe have always riveted moviegoers.

And that's basically what you have with Spider-Man -- when he isn't swinging through the streets of Manhattan and rounding up a slew of bad guys, including his arch-enemy, the Green Goblin, who packs more firepower than the 82nd Airborne.

If I have a quibble with the movie (and I realize this isn't Gandhi here; you have to be willing to suspend disbelief, accept some preposterous scenarios, etc.), it's with one of the opening scenes.

Our hero, nerdy Peter Parker (played by Tobey Maguire), is on a field trip to a research lab with his high school class when he's bitten by a genetically altered spider.

And he doesn't tell a soul about it.

Doesn't tell a teacher.

Doesn't tell a classmate.

Doesn't tell any of the 900 scientists hanging out in the lab.

Big, painful spider bite, doesn't say a word. Doesn`t even ask for a Band-Aid.

Doesn't even tell his beloved aunt and uncle when he finally arrives home from the field trip pale and shaking.

When they ask him how his day went, he doesn`t say: "Oh, it was fine until, you know, this genetically altered spider dropped down from the ceiling and bit me on the finger and left a welt the size of a boulder and now, to tell you the truth, I'm feeling a little funny inside, as if all these cataclysmic changes are about to occur to my body and psyche."

Nope, Peter Parker doesn't say anything.

All I know is, if that had been me bitten by the spider, you'd have heard me screaming in Guam.

I'd be writhing on the floor and holding my hand and shrieking: Look what that @#$%&* spider did to me!!

Are you kidding? I'd be screaming for paramedics and pulling out cell phones and speed-dialing lawyers.

But Peter, you see, is just a sweet, nerdy guy who doesn't want to bother anyone.

And so, of course, he suffers the inevitable fate that all sweet, nerdy guys suffer: He gets no respect.

He's constantly pushed around by bullies, especially a leather-jacketed thug named Flash, who looks like he answered an ad in Variety that said: "Paying top dollar for prototypical hoodlums!"

He's also invisible to girls, especially the girl of his dreams, the radiant Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who seems to appear on the grimy streets of New York like a vision.

And even though he's Mensa-club smart -- his best friend's dad (Willem Dafoe, who also plays the nefarious Green Goblin) tries to recruit him for his scientific consortium -- he's always late for the school bus, which necessitates a frantic three-block run alongside the bus and humiliating pleas to the driver to stop and let him on.

So imagine what it must be like for Peter Parker, this nerd, this poster boy for dweebs everywhere, to suddenly have the strength of 9 million spiders or whatever coursing through his body -- to be a superhero!

Imagine what it must be like to confront Flash, this glowering tough who looks like he's been shaving since the age of 6, and to send him hurtling into a row of lockers like a bowling ball.

Imagine what it must be like to scurry effortlessly up the sides of tall buildings like, well, a spider, to flick your wrist and shoot powerful, sticky streams of webbing that ensnare the bad guys, to somersault joyfully across the rooftops of tall buildings in the rose-colored dusk of Gotham.

Imagine what it must be like for poor Peter Parker, heretofore as invisible to women as a set of steel-belted radials, to win the heart of the gorgeous girl-next-door.

That's the beauty of Spider-Man . The geek triumphs.

It's a story that never, ever gets old.

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