Sunday, July 04, 2004

Spider-Man 2
Review by Sombrero Grande

In both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, director Sam Raimi’s love and respect for the titicular web-slinging superhero is clearly evident. There’s a lot of care that’s been taken to ensure that Peter Parker, his relationships and his world are multi-dimensional; a lot of “quiet” moments in Spider-Man 2 prove to be just as tense as the action sequences because of this. At Peter’s birthday party, there’s lots of great tension between Pete, Aunt May, Mary Jane and Harry not because anyone’s life is being threatened or some explosion is about to happen, but because of what’s going on between the characters, Peter’s inner turmoil and the secrets he’s keeping from his friends.

There’s a lot that’s done very well in Spider-Man 2, but there are also some missteps. I won’t go into a great deal of detail here--I’ll save that for the spoiler section below--so that those of you out there who don’t want to know a lot about the movie beforehand won’t have anything ruined for you just so that I can make a point. Earlier this week at a bookstore I had to keep walking away from the aisle I wanted to browse in because of some jackass there who was point-by-point retelling the entire plot of the film to his friend, so I feel for all you “don’t tell me; I haven’t seen it yet!” people out there. Sombrero Grande’s got your back.

The special effects and acting are great again in Spider-Man 2. Doc Ock’s robotic arms are marvelously visualized and animated and I was particularly impressed by their serpentine traits when “talking” to the Doc. I thought Alfred Molina was really great as Doc Ock and J.K. Simmons continues to be the quintessential J. Jonah Jameson. I love his portrayal and fortunately J.J.J. gets quite a bit more screen time in the sequel.

My only real complaint with the original Spider-Man was that I never was terribly interested in the villain. Pete’s story was much more engaging and interesting, which I guess is how it should be considering he’s the protagonist; perhaps I’m just a little too used to the Batman movies where the actors playing the villains get top billing above the hero. I just couldn’t get into the Green Goblin. His persona, his motives, his gadgets, his costume, even his origin story just didn’t do anything for me. Again, maybe I’m just too used to great villains like the Joker, the Penguin, etc. and was expecting too much. Sombrero Grande’s not much of a comic book reader so I can’t vouch for how accurate any of this is, but I’ve been told that Spider-Man overall doesn’t have as great of villains as some of the other comic superheroes. So when Doc Ock first is revealed as a nice guy who gets “brainwashed” by the A.I. in his mechanical arms I thought, “oh great, another dual-personality villain who’s gonna regret his actions.” I really want to see Spider-Man tackle a villain who’s just plain evil one of these days, not another Jekyll/Hyde type. That being said, I think Doc Ock is at least eight giant steps in the right direction from the Green Goblin. The Doc’s actually rather cool once he succumbs to the will of the arms. His motives still feel a bit off from “evil”--wanting to continue in his life’s work building the generator--but at least he’s not wearing a goofy green suit, throwing “pumpkin” bombs which are never explained or wearing (as “Weird Al” Yankovic put it in his funny “Ode to a Superhero” song about the original film) “that dumb Power Rangers mask.”

Even with all the obvious care that’s gone into crafting fully dimensional characters and a smart story, the film experiences a few annoying slow spots, especially in the middle when Peter decides to give up being Spider-Man for a while (it was in the trailer so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here). In fact the pacing seems to slow down so much that some knuckle-dragger sitting behind me very loudly asserted, “this movie’s boring,” for the benefit of anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting within earshot. Thanks, pal, but if I want to hear a commentary I’ll buy the DVD. Seriously, Sombrero Grande is courteous enough to remove his hat while in the theater for the benefit of those sitting behind him; how freakin’ hard is it to keep your damn mouths shut while the film is running? Still, perhaps he had a point other than the one on the top of his head. All this was happening while Doc Ock was loose in the city, so thinking back on it I’m very surprised by how quiet and plodding everything seemed.

Despite some missteps (which I’ll detail more in the spoiler section) and the slow pacing halfway through, Spider-Man 2 is still much smarter and more enjoyable than the usual summer blockbuster. If you liked the first one, you shouldn’t miss it.


Okay, this is the part of the review where I get into details that could very well spoil many moments in the film, especially those at the end. That’s right, I’m going to talk about the ending. You’ve been warned.

One of my favorite moments in Spider-Man 2 comes right after Doc Ock kidnaps Mary Jane. Peter puts on his glasses and finds he can’t see through them. He takes them off and then sees perfectly. This is an excellent example of making a point cinematically in a clever way. Pete realizes here that he’s no longer “Peter Parker,” the nerd who wears glasses--he IS Spider-Man. I wish that several other moments in the film could have been handled with as much cinematic subtlety as this. It would have been so easy to avoid Doc Ock’s cheesy “there’s a voice in my head” monologue with something like this. Instead of him TELLING the audience what’s going on, all Sam Raimi needed to do was have the Doc feel the back of his neck, realize and convey through facial expressions that the chip at the top of the mechanical “spine” was broken and slowly the Doc’s look of fear would dissolve into an evil smirk as the serpentine claws “whispered” to him and took control.

The scene where Pete talks with Uncle Ben felt entirely unnecessary. We’d already seen plenty of ammunition for both sides of the argument should he or shouldn’t be remain Spider-Man, so this scene just made it feel like he was betraying Uncle Ben instead of doing what he felt was right at the time. This scene felt like it was trying too hard to jerk some tears, while other scenes invoked emotion so much more effectively and simply. I have to admit I got a “salty one” in the corner of my eye when the two kids on the train handed Spider-Man his mask and said, “we won’t tell anyone.” *Sniffle* THAT was great.

At first I was a little upset with the ending--it seemed that just as things were really getting back into full swing, it was all over--but the more I thought about it the more I liked it. I really liked that the secret room where Norman Osborne kept all his Green Goblin equipment was behind the mirror that he would often argue with his other personality through. It’s as though the Green Goblin did truly exist on the other side of that mirror--a nice touch. It had never occurred to me while watching the first movie that we didn’t know how or where Norman was hiding all his “pumpkin” bombs, etc., but now we know. It all sets up Harry to assume the role of the Green Goblin in the next movie (or one down the line since I read there are a total of six Spider-Man movies planned) but after thinking about it I’m not so sure it does. We never see Harry’s face reacting to it all, so it’s hard to tell if he was amazed that now he has a means of finally destroying Spider-Man and avenging his fathers’ death, or if he’s shocked to discover the true reason Spider-Man killed his father...’cause Norman Osborne was the Green Goblin. In a way, I don’t want to know which way he was feeling--it’s more fun not knowing--but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough when the publicity starts for Spider-Man 3 and they announce who the next villain will be. I’m actually hoping that Harry doesn’t turn into the Green Goblin Version 2.0, not only because I’d rather not see that dorky costume again, but also because I think Harry is stronger than that. The moment he unmasks Spider-Man and finds the face of his best friend beneath, Harry instantly drops the knife he was oh-so ready to plunge into the sedated superhero and steps back. His love of his friend is stronger than his lust for revenge. I hope that stays true. Sure it may disappoint your average “this movie’s boring” moviegoer who will expect to see Harry flying around tossing pumpkin bombs in the next installment, but these are smarter-than-average action movies.

In the last shot of the film, Mary Jane’s expression goes from “go get ‘em, tiger,” to something more fearful, like, “what have I gotten myself into?” just before the fade to black. I think that’s nice; it sets up some tension for the next movie where obviously Peter and Mary Jane can’t be in a “happily ever after” kind of relationship. Like the X-Men movies, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 have going for them the fact that they try to impose upon their characters “real-life” dilemmas to possessing super powers, and I think that’s great. Suddenly a kid who can crawl up walls and shoot super-strong webbing from his wrists feels much more human and accessible when we find out that he has trouble keeping a job delivering pizzas or keeping his grades up because he’s always running around feeling obligated to save someone.


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