Movie Night: Spider-Man 2

MoviesSo I finally got around to seeing the big summer blockbuster. And what can I say? They’ve outdone themselves.

And I say “they” rather than assigning primary credit to director Sam Raimi, because this is truly an example of an ensemble success. The performances are phenomenal (and kudos on bringing back even the supporting actors from the original picture). I can’t imagine how this would have turned out if, say, Tobey Maguire had been cut from the film (as was threatened at one point), or if J.K. Simmons had decided not to recreate his phenomenal blend of humor and villainy this time around.

All of this is not to say that the picture is flawless, but most such criticisms are minor. Just how strong is Spider-Man supposed to be? Isn’t John Jameson a little young to be an astronaut, let alone one who’s played football on the moon? Why doesn’t the assembled media react with some measure of amazement as Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octavius unveils his artifically-intelligent “assistants” (okay, so within the story, they’re just a means to an end, but they’re still revolutionary in their own right)? Wouldn’t Spider-Man start to lose one hell of a lot of his body mass continually leaving those webs all over the Manhattan skyline?

But where this movie succeeds best is in making you completely forget that it’s supposed to be an action picture. I found myself far more invested in the interpersonal relationships and internal struggles than in the “epic battle between good and evil” primary plot. Peter’s attempt to balance responsibility with personal desires, Mary Jane’s need to leave ambiguity behind and move on with her life, Harry’s alcohol-fueled obsession with avenging his father’s death. That’s what distinguished the original comic incarnation of Spider-Man from the larger-than-life superhero stories of its time: its humanity. No, it was never any more “believable” than its contemporaries, but it was far more credible in its treatment of character. The superhero/supervillain battles may be straightforward, black-and-white conflicts, but that was where the simplicity ended.

It’s all well and good to pretend that someone could carry on the whole secret-identity thing without personal consequences, but could anyone really expect a superhuman vigilante to be greeted with nothing but adulation? Spider-Man managed to add at least an element of the real world into its fantasy. And this picture, even more than its predecessor, manages to carry on that tradition.

(On the other hand, the filmmakers also succeed in no small part because they do not listen too intently to the fanboy contingent. A quick glance at any number of comic-oriented message boards will reveal a plethora of seriously disastrous suggestions — or, more often, “demands.” I’m happy they managed to pay homage to the rich history of the comic — sticking in appearances by Dr. Curt “Lizard” Connors and John “Man-Wolf” Jameson, for example — but movies are not comics, and different rules apply.)

But for those just looking for some entertaining summer diversion, rest assured that Spider-Man 2 still kicks some serious ass in the action department, not to mention showcasing a serious improvement in the arena of visual effects. Given the movie’s box-office performance to date, it’s probably safe to assume that most readers here have already hit the multiplexes, but if not, don’t wait much longer. The story will certainly play well on home video, but the visuals will suffer, particularly since Raimi opted to showcase them in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (the original was 1.85:1).

Not that I won’t be first in line to pick up the DVD, but some things you really should see on the big screen.


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