Monday, July 12, 2004

Review: "Spiderman 2" (2004)

Critics bemoan the fact that so many comic books are being made into movies. The fact is, they are actually sick of comic books being made into bad movies, and five years ago they had a point. Back then, Hollywood still looked at the transfer of comic book material as a great way to realize action scenes through superior special effects. This would be at the expense of compelling characters and story lines (and, pitifully, even the action scenes were poorly done, giving the films almost no worth at all). But now, we have interesting directors and stars matched up with good material. Thus we have such exemplary films as “X-Men” and “Hellboy”.

And then there's "Spiderman 2", the long awaited sequel to the very good “Spiderman”. The original benefited from a good cast, namely Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, with the acting chops to give depth to their characters. The director, Sam Raimi, had a background of films that were, first and foremost, fun. This was a quality that comic book films desperately needed. Raimi's enthusiasm for the material was the same as Peter Parker's when he first discovers his powers. Yet Raimi, having also delved into darker human territory with his 1998 film "A Simple Plan", hinted at the character complexities to come with Parker and his alter-ego.

Maguire, still possessing that boyish charm, has even more to deal with as Spiderman in the sequel. Here's the thing that differentiates this movie from other comic book adaptations: His ongoing conflict between his personal and public personas is given equal weight as his conflict with Doc Ock. In fact, his introspection is often a larger part of the story than anything else. I have to admit that sometimes this went on a little too long, like some of Maguire's interior dialogue and Aunt May's speech on heroes. Having seen "The Hulk", I know that just as action can be emphasized too much in a comic book film, it is also possible to saddle the hero with too much angst and, thus, ruin the fun of the action. Fortunately, Raimi has achieved a balance here that is the closest anyone has yet come to since the first two "Superman" films.

On a personal note, my biggest anticipation for this film was seeing Alfred Molina a Doc Ock. I had been a big fan of his since spotting him in small films like "Enchanted April" and "American Friends". When he started getting higher profile roles in films like "Boogie Nights", I still would never have guessed he would make it this high. Audiences who are just now discovering him are in for a treat. His is one of the great screen villains and a joy to watch.

By the way, for you Sam Raimi fans out there, you’ll find a lot of references to his earlier works in this new film (aside from the standard Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi cameos, of course). The scene where Doc Ock terrorizes the nurses and doctors in an operating room is straight "Evil Dead", right down to the doctor reaching for a (medical) chainsaw to defend himself. J. K. Simmons’ newspaper chief and his rapid fire dialogue with his assistants is reminiscent of “The Hudsucker Proxy”, which Raimi co-wrote with the Coen Brothers. Finally, the whole series of scenes where a deformed scientist (Doc Ock) takes refuge in an abandoned and atmospheric warehouse, starts wearing a black trench coat and fedora, and restarts his life’s work with tons of hi-tech equipment in such a dilapidated setting is taken whole cloth from “Darkman” (of course, Doc Ock’s situation is slightly more plausible than Darkman’s due to the advent of internet shopping, but it’s probably best not to think about this at all).

Comic book fans have long known that, despite their reputation, they can deliver stories both exciting and meaningful. "Spiderman 2" delivers in spades, and makes me actually glad that there will inevitably be more sequels to come.

Nine out of Ten

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review, i saw the movie on your recomendation and would have to say that i agree wholeheartedly, my main complaint about comic book movies is that they don't hope to be anything beyond a mediocore redetion of the comics they propose to represent, Spiderman suceeded at being a truly great movie "comic" or not: i saw your review of Panera do you eat there often?? i would love to meet soon and have the oportunity to pick your brain, i'm sure it's fascinating