Wednesday, January 13, 2010

“Whoa... He just stole that guy's pizza!”

Spider-Man was a success, and success means sequels. 2004 brought Spidey back with a vengeance as sought to up the ante on the franchise now that all that pesky origin story junk was out of the way.

Life’s not so great for Peter Parker. He’s been pushing his Spider-Man career really hard, completely neglecting his classes, job as a pizza delivery guy and social life. The love of his life, Mary Jane finally gets a break on stage and Peter, shlub that he is, breaks a promise to her to see the play. Oh yeah, and she gets engaged to an astronaut because she’s tired of waiting around for Peter to do something about their mutual feelings. His best friend still blames Spider-Man for his father’s death. On top of that, his powers seem to be shorting out at inopportune moments. Prompting him to hang up the tights to try and figure out his life. About the only bright spot is a potential scientific mentor, Doctor Otto Octavius who takes the kid under his wing, then promptly becomes a super villain in a science experiment gone horribly wrong.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire is back as the hard luck hero. Throwing himself headlong into superheroics, his health and life are going to hell and he’s about as unhappy as can be. It gets to be too much for him and he decides to hang it up, and interestingly enough, his life improves almost instantly. He starts paying attention at school, gets hired by Jameson to do more than “GET ME PICTURES OF SPIDER-MAN!” and even starts patching things back up with Mary Jane. In short, he’s happy, on his way to being successful and responsible. Additionally, and here’s the kicker, he does his most heroic act of the trilogy while he’s de-powered by going into a burning building to save a kid. What was easy as pie in the first movie becomes a life or death struggle, and he pulls off one hell of a heroic rescue. Guess what, though. That guilt complex I mentioned in the last review? It comes back with a roaring vengeance as he starts dreaming of his Uncle Ben trying to talk him into putting the tights back on, and when he sees a police chase drive by him, you can see the wheels of guilt rolling in his head, knowing that “he coulda stopped it himself.” Which, is kind of selfish of him when you consider you can’t throw a rock in the Marvel Universe New York without hitting a cape. Whatever the mundane crises are that Peter feels guilty about neglecting, I’m sure that either the Avengers (New, Mighty, Young, Initiative and even West Coast when they’re in town), Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Moon Knight, Doctor Strange, the X-Men (and all of their affiliates), the Hulk (when he’s in town), Power Pack, Darkhawk, Blade (with or without the Nightstalkers), Heroes for Hire, Nova, the Human Rocket (when he’s on Earth), the Thunderbolts (okay, they’re iffy at best), and even the New Warriors have the situation under control. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst lends a lot of development to Mary Jane, who’s now torn between love for Peter, but also incredible frustration with his asshatted avoidance of her. She’s still good in the role, though despite Peter’s best efforts to distance her from his hazardous life choices, she still ends up getting kidnapped by the bad guy as leverage against Spider-Man.

Harry Osborne: James Franco glowers and stews his way across the screen as he just spirals deeper and deeper into brooding thoughts of revenge. And booze. He’s been hitting the bottle hard after his father’s death. And this is all because the Green Goblin told Peter not to tell Harry about him being a super villain and all.

Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus: Alfred Molina turns in an astounding performance as a scientist who loses everything (his wife, sanity and the ability to remove the four mechanical tentacles grafted onto his spine that were intended for the handling of dangerous SCIENCE materials. The root of his success is how kind and friendly he was before the accident, which hammers home the tragedy of his character arc. Post-accident, he becomes obsessed with recreating the experiment (and ostensibly getting it right this time) and will tear the city apart to do so. For making Doc Ock, a villain known for being a fat guy in tights with stupid goggles and a Moe Howard haircut into a legitimately awesome villain, he easily becomes the badass of the film.

Aunt May Parker: Rosemary Harris is still great as Peter’s loving aunt. She’s hit financially tough times and gets some emotional development when Peter finally mans up and admits his inadvertent guilt in Uncle Ben’s death. And still no wheatcakes.

J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons continues to be awesome as the cantankerous newspaper mogul. When some guy brings Spidey’s discarded costume to him, he feels triumphant, then laments his retirement when Doc Ock starts his rampage. Its great stuff. Also, his son, John Jameson, an astronaut, gets engaged to Mary Jane, which leaves Peter thunderstruck, but leads to a great comic moment at the end of the movie for JJJ. Sadly, John does not turn into Man-Wolf in this movie. Also unfortunately, there is no Ted Raimi death scene, despite bringing back the Bugle’s support staff with the same actors.

Sam Raimi kept the same visual style that worked really well in the first movie and just ran with it in this one. Montages remain good, the CGI characters have improved greatly and the movie strides along at a fantastic clip. Of special note are the fight scenes, which really use both Doc Ock and Spidey’s fighting styles to their best effects. The fight on the L train is probably the best realized superhero fight scene yet for visceral thrills, use of environment and inventiveness. The movie even has a throwback scene to the Evil Dead movies when Doc Ock’s tentacles wake up in the hospital when the staff are about to amputate them. Let’s just say the tentacles don’t take kindly to that one bit.

This time around, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and novelist Michael Chabon worked on the story and Alvin Sargent got the screenplay credit. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko still created Spider-Man. Free of the fetters of an origin story, the movie is able to develop characters further while also giving us plenty of slam-bang moments. No complaints.

Original score once more by Danny Elfman, and once more its very good.

Its not much of a stretch to say that Spider-Man 2 is a better, more satisfying film than the first one. Great acting, directing, and action deliver glorious superheroics. Not much to say in that regard.

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