Thursday, July 01, 2004

"Is he strong? Listen, bud..."

I've given you a day and a half. That should be more than enough.

Here's the promised post/discussion/review of Spiderman 2:

Author's Note: The following will contain rampant plot spoilers of the new "Spiderman" film. If you haven't seen the film yet--what the heck is wrong with you? It's been out for almost two freakin days already!!! Geez! What are you, some kind of Commie? Anyway, be advised. I'm gonna ruin the surprises for you. So don't read this until you go see the movie TONIGHT. Seriously. Go.

When the first Spiderman film came out in 2002, I was excited. This was in the naive days pre-Daredevil, and I didn't have a healthy cynicism about modern comic-book movies. I allowed myself to get psyched about it, and it was great. I loved it.

Upon further review (i.e. home video), I realized that, for all its goodness, it was also quite a cheesefest. The Green Goblin reminded me too much of a Power Rangers villain. Uncle Ben's famous line kept repeating over and over again. But despite this, I still liked the film. Sam Raimi had a really good vision of the story. Any movie with a Bruce Campbell cameo is good. And it had Willem Dafoe, who just rocks.

Fast-forward to 2004. As movie-goers, we've suffered through Daredevil, The Hulk, and The Punisher. We don't trust comic-book movies like we used to. Even X-Men 2, a righteous film, can't fully restore our faith in comic adaptations. And along comes the Spiderman sequel, and we squirm, because it is a sequel after all, and almost all sequels are rotten re-hashes.

It's amazing to note that this movie has received a love-fest of critical praise. At my new favorite movie site, it shows that the film has gotten 132 positive reviews and only 7 negative ones. That's a phenomenal percentage. A cynic would wonder if it's just because comic book adaptations as of late have been mostly crap, that this movie looks stellar by comparison.

Is this overwhelming critical worship undeserved? In a word, no. The movie earns it. Maybe not all of it. But most.

Spiderman 2 is simply a great film. Great film. I really enjoyed it.

That is not to say that the film had its flaws. But overall, I was completely satisfied with it.

The Story (for those of you who have forgotten or are reading this before seeing it): Two years after the events of the first movie, Peter Parker is a college student, trying to make ends meet with two jobs, get all his homework done, and oh yeah, there's the whole super hero thing. But the problem is, he can't do it all. As his commitment to being the Webslinger grows, he starts to lose ground in the other areas of his life, and everyone lets him hear about it. Mary Jane isn't waiting around for him, but instead takes up with Peter's newspaper editor's son, a famous astronaut. She's also the hot new thing on Broadway in a revival of "The Importance of Being Earnest" (a play about juggling two identities; coincidence? of course not). Finally, after even his powers start to fade, Peter decides to give up being the hero, and get a life. And everything starts to turn around for him, except... The city needs its hero. Peter's scientific idol, Dr. Otto Octavius, turned himself into a monster, accidentally killing his wife in the process, and now wants to finish his experiment, no matter what the cost. Ultimately, the movie is about making the tough choices for the good of others, even if it means sacrificing your own desires to do so. Peter reclaims his destiny, defeats the bad guy, wins back the girl, and saves the day--for now...

Important themes: The theme of choice is the "through-line" of the movie. Each character has to make a major choice in this one: Peter chooses between being normal and being super; MJ has to pick between the love she can't count on, and the fiance she can't love. Harry has to choose whether or not pursuing vengeance is a good idea, especially when he finds out that his prey is also his best friend. Doc Ock (a lame name, btw) has to decide whether to risk the lives of New Yorkers, just to pursue his experiment. Even Aunt May has a choice to make: whether or not to forgive Peter after she learns the truth about Ben's death. Every character has to make a difficult choice; sometimes the right choice means sacrificing what you want for what others need, and sometimes it means doing what your heart knows is right, rather than what is sensible.

Another interesting theme is balance. This isn't as explicitly explained but it is present. Peter's main struggle is his attempt to find balance between his real identity or his super-alter-ego. He thinks that he can really only be one or the other. And it's interesting to see that when his personal life is struggling the most, it affects his 'professional' life. He loses the ability to sling webs and climb walls when he's at his most depressed about the MJ situation. In the end, he has to realize that the only way he can be either is to be both. Each part of his life must have an equal weight. Another balance theme was the fact that the micro-chip connected to the robotic tentacles on the Doc's back helped him to control them. But once the chip was destroyed, the balance was, as well, and they controlled him. I don't know. Food for thought.


Things I didn't like: well, the only part of the movie I had a problem with was the script. Now, a bad script can make or break a movie. The script for Spiderman 2 wasn't "bad", but I noticed that it was performing the same balancing act as Peter--there were awesome parts, and there were hopelessly cheesy parts. In the end, it found its balance, too. But still, some of the lines were kinda lame. And the rehash of Otto's words at the end of the movie was kinda cliched. Note to future screenwriters: when your formerly-good character goes awry, never EVER allow another character to quote their words back to them, via "But I remember when you told me once that [INSERT REHASHED MESSAGE HERE]. That good person is still inside you." Etc. etc. This "good person inside you" technique was first employed by George Lucas in Return of the Jedi, which seems to indicate the beginnings of his slide into screenwriting dementia. Also, there were too many zoom-in shots of people screaming. I was thinking, "okay, they're scared, I've got it!"

Things I liked quite a bit: The action scenes were fantastic. There were some really great script moments. Bruce Campbell as "Snooty Usher" was fantastic. Alfred Molina was a great villain--and well done him, for a being a less-than-buff man going shirtless through half the movie. And overall, I really really liked the fact that this movie examined the psychological motivations of its characters, especially Peter. That's what makes great comic books great. It isn't about the violence or the gadgetry or the costumes (that's part of it, though). The crux of it is the sub-text, the symbolism, the exploration of basic human struggles and emotions. That's why stories like X-Men still resonate. Because everyone feels like an outsider once in a while. And like Peter Parker, everyone has to balance the different areas in their lives, even if it means giving up some things (or people) for the good of others.

Favorite Sequence: The train sequence (an obvious choice). When they carried his unconscious body over their heads (superhero crowdsurfing!). And yes, I know, it was kinda cheesy too. And there were some stupid kids in the theatre who snickered at everything remotely melodramatic. So that took away from it some. But when they put him down and one of the passengers said, "look, he's just a kid", I felt myself well up a bit. Stop laughing. It's a good moment. The people realize that he's not a monster, just a guy trying to help out.

Setting up the Next Chapter: And I'm really glad that Raimi set up the third chapter with the last scene in the movie. I'm not going to describe it, because I pity you silly folks who are still reading and haven't seen it. I'm not going to take *that* away from you. But I'm glad that they're following the logical progression of events, in true "comic-book" style. Woot for the Norman Osbourne cameo. Yeah, he's still creepy. Also interesting to note, that two more future villains were introduced in this movie. These villains started out as good/neutral characters but become evil due to unforeseen circumstances. I'm not going to mention that either, but if you really want to know, read the IMDB discussion board for the movie. It was quite an education for me. And now I have to read up on the comics, because I'm interested.

Hooray for Happy Endings: And yes, I'm being a girl, but yay for getting them together. Holy crap, it's about freakin time. And how about when Peter has to leave at the end, and MJ says, "Go get 'em, tiger." Yowsa. What guy wouldn't want to hear that? Yeah, i'd be screaming "yahoo!" too, pal.

Or Was It?: The last shot of Mary Jane is her looking out the window at her new love with a rather worried expression, as the police sirens wail in the background. Raimi is clearly foreshadowing the emotional conflict of the next film: dealing with the constant worry that your super-hero boyfriend won't make it back from his exploits.

Final Analysis: This was simply a great film, as I said. It deserves just about all the praise it's gotten. The melodrama and the slightly cheesy dialogue are present, yes, but that's the nature of the beast. (What do you want, "My Dinner with Andre"? Okay, maybe if you have the action figures to go with it, but still...) It's a comic book movie--everything's heightened. All in all, a great story. Darker and moodier than the first one, this film plays like "Empire" to the first one's "New Hope." And everyone knows Empire was better.

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