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Spider-Man 2

dir: Sam Raimi
[img_assist|nid=967|title=This is how hard it is to get a seat on the train these days|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=385|height=324]
This is what big budget film making is all about. This is what sequels
are all about. Out of what I would call humble origins comes a story
writ large across the silver screen which makes most other examples of
high concept big budget type films look like the abject crap that they
are. There is no need to check one's heart, brain, balls or ovaries at
the door. Sam Raimi has made the absolute best film of his career, and
that's no small achievement when you've got an oeuvre that runs the
gamut from Evil Dead to A Simple Plan.

Where other, crapper producers, directors and screenwriters would have
been timid and delivered something safe and mindless, these people
banded together to make something that goes against the grain of
Hollywood's usual risk averse mentality, and it manages to deliver in
spades. There are so many great scenes ranging from elaborate action
set pieces to touching dramatic moments that singling them out does a
disservice to the whole. Not that that's going to stop me, but all the
same it is truly an example of something being substantially more than
the sum of its parts.

Rarely has something as simultaneously complex and derided as a comic
book superhero been treated with such humanity and respect. It's easy
to dismiss this kind of stuff, even for those of us that had exposure
to comic books at a young age who don't feel compelled to call them
'graphic novels' to compensate against the snooty people that look
down on us unsalvageable nerds. When it's done right however, it
conjures up a ripsnorter of a story filled with meaning that even
those of us who haven't been bitten by radioactive or genetically
engineered spiders can relate to and enjoy and ultimately be thrilled
by. And I certainly enjoyed this. Having seen it twice in the last two
days I can honestly say, if nothing else, that I fucking loved this
film.

The funny thing is that the enjoyment doesn't come from the specific
plot itself. Sure, there's a new bad guy that Spidey needs to protect
humanity from, sure there's going to be lots of swinging about and CGI
extravagance. All of which is superb in my opinion, by the way. But
the real resonance comes from the other moments, the really simple but
beautiful scenes which surprise and delight the more jaded of us.
Although life for Peter Parker becomes so comically difficult that
absolutely nothing can go right for him, no matter how hard he tries,
the little ways in which the story and the people of New York start to
show their gratitude are surprisingly moving and heartfelt. What's
amazing is that except for a speech Aunt May gives about the nature of
heroes, as moving as plenty of scenes are, there is little schmaltz
factor or saccharine wedged into the storyline to make the feckless go
gooey and make the more cynical of us cringe in despair or diabetic
shock. The moments that work do so because the characters and the
movie earn it, they work damn hard to avoid the cliché and to give us
something to admire and enjoy.

Peter (played by Tobey Maguire, I can't imagine that anyone
else could possibly be a better Parker / Spidey) is suffering under
the strain of his dual life: that of being New York's protector, and
that of a poor, overworked nerd / dateless wonder. Still unable to get
the girl (Mary Jane, played by the most excellent Kirsten Dunst)
despite his burning undying love for her, he has no money, is failing
at uni, can't pay rent and can barely afford to feed himself. On top
of this the universe itself seems to be conspiring against him in a
manner that is almost French existentialist in its realisation, though
it comes across more as comedy to us.

So life sucks, he can't be with the woman he loves because he fears
for her safety lest his enemies find her out (which they always do
anyway), his best friend Harry Osbourne (James Franco) is getting
progressively more infuriated with him because of his connection to
the Webslinger (who he blames for his overacting father's death) and
even humiliates him in public, and his Russian landlord treats him
like shit because he's always behind on the rent. And that squalid
bedsit, oh yeah, that turned the old stomach and brought back a few
painful memories. For me, not for him.

It's all about choices. Even superheroes get to make choices. Peter
clearly decides that what he does in his life is no longer an
obligation, a duty. He starts to see that he has the choice of living
life as a regular joe, or eternally being on call for all the people
who are confronted with misfortune and the selfishness or callousness
of all the arseholes that New York is host to.

What choice he makes is important. Sure it's an obvious choice
ultimately, because few people devote good money to movie franchises
where a superhero decides to call it quits and the next few films
revolve around said former hero boiling water to pour over his two
minute noodles or waiting in line at Social Security. There's also the
scenes where he shuffles off to the bottle shop to get a cask of wine
and maybe a big bag of chips.

Sure we know what he's ultimately going to do. Our Heroes have to be
noble, and wonderful, and always great in the end, they have to be
better than us not just because of genetic engineering or mutant
powers but because they make the choices that presumably we wouldn't
make on our bad days. But they represent the choices we wish we would
make if the better angels of our nature predominated in the worst of
circumstances.

And so through a hero like this we view the version of heroism
untainted by cliché, redone, reborn and renewed. He is treated like
shit not by merely the villains that stories like this require, but by
the city itself, yet ultimately he decides that he can't just walk by
and hear the cries of victims without wanting to help.

Nothing new, I know that's what you're thinking. All I can say is that
the story really makes Peter's dilemma and his ambivalence believable
and palpable. Personally in the same position I'd have grabbed the
girl and told New York to go fuck itself right from the start and
tried to swing my way to a Caribbean island where MJ would rarely
leave my lap and I'd be stealing margaritas and mojitoes as required
from the resort bar with my wonderful superpowers whilst humanity went
down the gurgler and supervillains reigned supreme. But that's why
they're not going to be making films about me anytime soon:
"The Lazy Non-Superhero Who Didn't Give a Fuck'. Coming to a Comics R
Us near you this Autumn, or Fall as the Americans call it.

Enough about my failings as a hero. Where I would be letting people
down, Peter Parker makes the hard decisions, has the deeply
complicated life that results from them, and steps up when it's
required. The villain, though substantially better than the last time
round, is still ultimately superfluous. That's the funny thing about
the two Spider-Man films thus far: the villains didn't really bring
that much to the table. Alfred Molina as one of the classic Spider-Man
nemeses (that's the plural of 'nemesis', I had to look it up, even
with the big brain that I have) Doctor Octopus, is well done, but he's
little more than just another bad guy willing to hurt not only the
people Spider-Man loves but random New Yorkers as well.

Sentient AI tentacle arms. That's ultimately the bad guy in this. When
will people learn: scientific endeavour at least in the movie universe
only leads to bloodshed and screaming. It's funny that artificial
intelligence has become so completely equated with something akin to
witchcraft. The second you bring AI into a story you just know that
something vaguely mechanical is going to go evil and start killing
people. Isn't that always the way?

As one character, played I believe by Sam Raimi's brother Ted mentions
in the film, isn't is funny how a guy called Dr Otto Octavius ends up
getting eight appendages? Yeah, it's fucking hilarious buddy, it's
about as funny as a perforated ulcer. Which reminds me again, I need
to book an appointment down at the clinic. Like all great villains he
starts off as a decent, loveable guy who goes berserk because of bad
technology, gets a cool jacket and some shades and decides that he can
start flinging cars around willy-nilly.

So his actions don't entirely make sense. Big deal. So I couldn't work
out his motivation for most of the stuff he does. So what. Essentially
he just becomes a catalyst to get the story where it needs to go and
get our hero to decide just what the hell he's supposed to do with his
life. Of course this only comes about when Doc Ock messes with
Spidey's beloved MJ.

MJ becomes a relatively successful actress (inexplicably, since based
on her work in the slyly included The Importance of Being Earnest
she's pretty crap) who dates, I dunno, anyone to make Peter jealous.
She gets engaged to an astronaut, which is, I guess, the American
equivalent of royalty. How the hell does a guy compete with that? What
the fuck do you tell her, um, my knowledge of Simpsons trivia is
unparalleled, or hey, I bought a cask of wine, do you want to come
over you classy lassie and get sloshed? I've been out of the dating
game for a while, and it's not as if Australians really have the
concept of 'dating' anyway, so maybe my thinking is particularly
retarded on this topic. It certainly wouldn't be the first time, as
your mum said on her wedding night.

Enough about your mum, all the same. As a surrogate mum, Aunt May
continues to delight audiences and make us all feel bad for not
calling out mums more often. She's infuriatingly sweet, but I couldn't
hold it against her. She shares one of the most compelling scenes
emotionally in the film, where Peter explains to her for the first
time the real circumstances behind her husband's death in the first
film. You'd have thought that Peter would have been a decent nephew
and gotten her the DVD for Christmas, but he can be somewhat
neglectful, as people point out to her. She also gets a pretty
surprising action scene which is as cleverly realised as most of the
others, but is given a different flavour with her presence and her
pretty fucking funny actions.

Coming back to what I guess is the procession of money shots that
producers assume is the only reason we go to the cinema, they're
pretty freaking amazing. I thought they got the physics, the 'weight'
of the CGI Spidey and general action in the first film right. It's
exceeded here as well. If you didn't buy the action in the first film,
and didn't like Tobey as Spidey in the first flick, then you're
probably reading this review in the same frame of mind that people
watch car racing on television: you're just waiting for the crash and
burn.

If you could accept it, then you're going to find this one even more
impressive. A lot of thought was put in to how to structure the fights
and the action innovatively, and how to make it uniquely
Spider-Manesque in its nature, and it really is quite impressive. The
brawls betwixt Spidey and Doc Ock atop buildings and a train are
amazing, but pale in comparison to Spidey's travails in trying to get
the same passenger-filled train to slow down. Really, amazingly well
thought out, I felt. The manner in which he manages it, after multiple
failed events really got the audience in the guts, it seemed to me
looking at the crowd around me.

The worth of the film comes from the moments before and after the big
money shots, as well as during. It's what I keep saying is the
ultimate strength of the film. Exhausted, it is the grateful people on
the train that help Spidey out, and in fact stand between him and a
psychopath on a vicious mission, carrying him above their heads like
the hero that he is. When Peter is trying to save a little girl from a
fiery inferno without recourse to his powers, the bit where she, tiny
though she is tries to help him up is where the film shines. The
little bits, the attention to detail that audiences don't ignore but
bad movie-makers believe are irrelevant. The stuff that weaves us in
to a story and makes us care, all of which is absent in the last 10 or
so films with 100+ million dollar budgets that you can think of, this
is the payoff, people. This is why you bother going to cinemas filled
with chuckleheads, sticky carpets and 25 minutes of trailers and ads
before the main feature even starts.

It improves upon the first movie, extending and embellishing the
technical and the story aspects to such a degree that it goes beyond
merely justifying its existence as a sequel and makes us glad for
certain franchises instead of repulsed and filled with murderous rage.
Which is the effect that the law of diminishing returns generally has
upon us poor moviegoers. Paging Stephen Sommers, George Lucas and the
Wachowski Brothers, pay attention, fuckos.

Oh, and the humour as well. The film strikes the right balance in
terms of humour. Not enough that it's campy, not too little that we
drown in seriousness or melodrama. The scenes with J. Jonah Jameson
(JK Simmons) certainly help here, but overall the humour in the script
works to everyone's advantage. The pizza delivery scenes, the dark
humour of Doc Ock, the conflict with a prick of a theatre attendant in
the form of legend Bruce Campbell, it's all good.

It's rare for me to be surprised by movies, to be surprised as well by
my reaction to them. It's a function of just being pretty bloody immune
to most of the crap Hollywood's been pedalling for nearly a century.
Inured, desensitised and blasé, there is little we haven't seen a
stack of times before and much that just floats by film after film. I
sometimes fear that I really have seen too much crap and that I'll
eventually get to the stage where everything just seems like it's 'all
right'. Watching too much crap like Van Helsing will do that to you.

This film dispels my fears entirely. It works as a love story, it
works as a story of extraordinary heroism coming from an ordinary guy,
it works on the stack of levels, even the symbolic and the mythic that
the people responsible for its creation put in there specifically for
shmos like me that like to think, feel and be entertained at the same
time. Enjoy it, those of you that can. I certainly did.

8 cameos from Bruce Campbell that should be in every film
out of 10, or, 8 cameos from Stan Lee the world doesn't ever need
to see ever again out of 10.

--
"I will not die a monster!" - Doc Ock, Spider-Man 2

Rating: