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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Judth Viorst Sues Stan Lee: Film at Midnight

We saw Spidey 2 last night at a midnight showing. There were three at the theatre and by about 11:10, two were sold out. We were early enough that we were able to pick and choose our seats before the hyper crowd started to assemble. Great thing about a movie like this is that it clearly appeals to damned near everyone. There were parents with their kids, huge groups of teenagers, young twenty-somethings. And, of course, the guy in the black suit and very professional looking spidey mask who signed an autograph (on the free comic books they were giving, but not to us!) for a kid and got cheers as he took his seat.

It was just fantastic. Certainly lived up to the first and surpassed it in many ways, because the villain had a bit more depth (and I have to say, pumpkin bombs notwithstanding, I've just always been a Doc Ock girl, rather than a Green Goblin one). Jesus, even the credits were good, weaving in illustrated panels of "previously on Spider-man" to the regular webbed theme of the first as well as various modelling photos of Mary Jane. Ok, that was a little overkill, maybe, but it does give you a sense of the ubiquity of her in Peter's life. And after all, he's supposed to be 19 or 20. Superhero or no, the girl next door with whom you've been in love all your life is gonna be on your mind.

The theme leading up to the infamous Spider-Man no more moment is pretty much Peter Parker and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. He's already tried to distance himself from Spider-Man, even at the cost of fiscal solvency because of Jameson's insistence on villainizing him (and does it get any better than J. K. Simmons as Jameson? He brings just the right mix of humor and blowhard to the table there). And yet, he's so consumed with his responsibility that he's lost his job, is struggling in classes, is out of the loop on Aunt May's hardships, is alienated from MJ and Harry, and has even forgotten his own damned birthday.

Like J. K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris is custom ordered from central casting to be Aunt May. She's not the little old lady that's held in reserve for Peter to protect, she's tough in her own right, and yet believably vulnerable in her grief for Ben and her own troubles staying afloat. There's such a strong and believable sense of family, but weird family (which I suppose in most circumstances, is better than no family [unless it's my family, in which case, no family, please]) between her and Tobey Maguire.

Having skillfully established how much May and Ben are the cornerstone of Peter's character, Sam Raimi very nearly pulls off the strange staging of the actual "Spider-Man no more" scene. It happens in a dream/meditation state after Peter has spoken to, among others, Otto Octavius and his wife (who present the perfect picture of opposites attracting and sticking to it), Mary Jane (after he's disappointed her again by promising to see her play and bagging on a account of bad guys), and his own physician, whom he's gone to see because he's having some "confidence issues" with regard to his spidey powers. Having been told he has a choice and, more importantly, I think, shown that there are everyday, mundane ways to be a great man (after all, Uncle Ben is Peter's hero), he and Ben have a chat in the front seat of The Classic (Sam Raimi's Olds, which appears in all of his movies) as they did in the first movie.

However, in case we've forgotten that Ben is dead dead deaditty dead dead dead, there's bright white light and shots intercut with the conversation of Tobey Maguire sitting on his bed staring into space. It's an important moment, obviously (Ben tries to renew his purpose and Peter refuses to take his hand), and it's just on the wrong side of too goofy. And that comprises almost the entireity of my complaints with the movie.

Rejection of the superhero identity is a gag older than dirt, so Peter Parker v2.0 could have gone horribly wrong. Not a worry in the world here, though. Partial credit has to go to Tobey Maguire, who is just so damned charming and engaging without being anything near suave. Him easing back into the role of geeky young genius is a pleasure to watch.

However, I think the secret to the success of that part of the storyline has to be credited to the writers. Yes, Peter watches blithely as policemen rush to the scene of a crime, but he also does two incredibly heroic things as Peter: First, in an homage to Hard Boiled, he saves a child trapped in a burning building, but even as the fireman are congratulating him admiringly, he learns that there was another person he couldn't save. Second, and more importantly, he lifts the burden of guilt over Ben's death from Aunt May's shoulders, confessing to his part in it. These experiences might sound two-dimensional and trite, but they're so well played out, making it clear to Peter that he can be a good man and an everyday hero as himself and that that job is every bit as hard as being Spider-Man.

Alfred Molina is wonderful as Otto Octavius and as Dr. Octopus. Casting made a wise decision in going in completely the opposite direction from Willem Defoe as the Green Goblin (not knockin' him, he scares the bejeezus out of me). Molina is positively schlumpy and wonderfully likeable as Octavius. He's a far cry from the crazy, beautiful people life of the Osbornes of the first movie, and yet just as power hungry in a way that is much closer to Peter's heart. I know the broken behavior inhibitor chip on the arms is off canon and sounds a bit trite, but for me it served the purpose of keeping Octavius flawed, yet sympathetic. The effects for Doc Ock are cool and very nearly flawless. He's an exciting and interesting villain, because he can go anywhere Spidey can go under his own power. The building-side fight with Aunt May may have gone on a touch too long, but the fight on the el (and, yes, that is Chicago's el---New York has no elevated trains, currently) was just fantastic.

If there's a true weak link in the movie, it's Harry Osborne. I don't dislike James Franco---he's precisely the right physical type to pair with Defoe. At the beginning, I had hopes that he'd really become a bit more skilled as an actor and was able to incorporate a darker edge into the character, but he just seems off. It seems obvious to me that the other actors "get" Raimi's vision, but Franco seems befuddled by it all. Part of the problem is that his obsession with Spider-man is pretty badly integrated into the rest of the story. Every 15 minutes or so, he wanders up to harass Peter about Spider-Man and has almost no interaction with any other characters. Even the deal he strikes with Octavius (tridium for Spider-Man) seems tacked on. I don't know what the plans are for the villain of the third movie, but if its his incarnation of the Green Goblin, we've got problems.

There are other minor bits of goofiness in the movie, as there will inevitably be: Aunt May's hero speech goes on a bit long (but is almost entirely redeemed by the heart-breaking "Peter and Mary Jane are out of sync with one another AGAIN" scene), drowning a self-sustaining fusion reaction seems a bit hopeless, even in the Mighty Hudson, Harry either needs to get better mirrors or register that little letter opener as a deadly weapon, and so on. But seriously, this quibbles are so incredibly minor. The story, the cast, the animation, the camera work, the feel, everything in this is pretty much exactly right. I can't think of a better sequel.

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