Spider-Manuary – The Best One?
Spider-Manuary continues with Spider-Man 2, second in the ill-fated Sam Raimi trilogy, is regarded by most as the best of the big screen excursions for the wall crawler. Continuing my delve into the series, I want to look at exactly why, and why some people might disagree… oh yeah, I’m going there too! It’s a good film, but not above criticism. Ok, so they’ve refined a lot of the formula, upped the pace and feel of the action, and given us a glimpse into the future of super-hero villains in cinema.
Not going to draw this one out, it’s a fourteen year old film, let’s get into it.
Ok, so let’s get into some of the easy wins. Chief among them those opening moments where we see Otto Octavius become Doctor Octopus, unconsciously slaughtering his surgeons, a moment for Raimi to stretch his horror legs, lots of fast-paced and close-up shots of the tentacles in action as they generally mangle their way through screaming medical professionals. An underappreciated detail, the blindfold on Octavius’ face while carnage is wrought around him.
The implementation of the Spider-Man No More story torn straight out of the comics, emulated in glorious fashion with a direct shot from the cover, set against a backdrop of Parker’s money woes and conflicted feelings, weighing love against duty, and the hatred of his best friend, and eventually resolving to lay down his mask, until pressure forces him to take it up again.
Oh, and some of Jameson’s very best moments!
J. Jonah Jameson : I’ll give you $150.00 for all of them!
Peter Parker : $300.00.
J. Jonah Jameson : That’s outrageous! Done. Give this to the girl.
And of course there’s the train fight, the train fight that will be held up as an early benchmark of great super-hero action. The stakes are high, the combat intense, cunningly utilising the powers, strengths and weaknesses of both players, and even when the fight is over the tension actually escalates, with Ock sweeping his way through the crowd to collect Spidey’s body to hand deliver to Harry Osborn, all for the grand reveal… one of the best second acts in film history.
But we know all that!
Lemme get into a few of the more interesting components here…
The “Less Good” Good Bits
So we kind of rag on Raimi’s MJ Watson, but credit to Kirsten Dunst for working well with a dull character, projecting a woman capable of both incredible confidence and humility when it counts. Ok so she remains perpetually in distress as any good damsel should be, even failing in her one and only attempt at saving the day, but Dunst projects her incredibly conflicted emotions and her inner turmoil pretty well. The moment she sees Peter for who he is, the look of understanding, relief, and not a little heartbreak is astoundingly well communicated in mere moments. Can we at least acknowledge that?
On the inverse, a character usually quite plain brought to life, Rosemary Harris’ Aunt May is a real delight, not just for that moment of heartbreak as Peter tells her what happened to her husband, but her pride in the face of financial adversity, and beating up Joel McHale for being a money grabbing banker.
In the last high point of his career, James Franco as Harry Osborn! There are times when he’s howling in rage when you’d believe he was related to Willem Dafoe. Every bit the industrialist, with just a bit of extra youthful enthusiasm, a growing anger turning to madness, even his voice comes out with a hint of the rasp familiar to his father’s alter ego.
Y’know what, who was the casting director… Dianne Crittenden, famous for… WOAH, Star Wars Episode IV! Shout out to you, well earned.
There are a couple of other moments that might slip under the radar. Comic book fans will already have spotted the Doctor Strange mention that I was sadly too young and uneducated to pick up on at the time. Same with Doctor Connors, played by Dylan Baker, who might have made a spot-on Reptile one day, but I have my own thoughts on that score.
I particularly like the moment where Spider-Man returns, not the explosive burst from the rubble (not that that’s not cool) but realising he doesn’t need Parker’s glasses. It’s short, it’s forgettable, but it’s the moment when he becomes consciously aware of the return of his powers, his resolution, and it’s a lovely little callback to the last film.
“But Doctor, aren’t you concerned that the tiny, fragile, exposed, computer chip preventing your astonishingly powerful AI (that you managed to program alongside creating a miniature sun and making prosthetic tentacles that could revolutionise medicine while you’re also creating clean energy for a planet) from taking over your body and turning you into some kind of… mad-scientist and/or super-villain?”
Thank you exposition fairy!
No really. Ok, I’ve crammed a lot of my grievances into a single paraphrase here, not only does a reporter there to witness the birth of a revolution in power ask about a tiny bit of obscure tech, as if just to find some kind of problem and spin a bit of drama, or rather just to make it obvious to any idiot watching exactly what’s about to happen. It’d be like giving the villain a loving and caring partner in a stable relationship and staple a death warrant to her face.
It may be unfair to pick on the “meta-genius” cliché because that’s basically Doctor Octopus’ whole deal, but I can’t let it just slide now can I? Mostly I’m a little annoyed at the AI, personally I thought they’d established Octavius’ arrogance well enough, that the loss of a loved one combined with his failure, and even just tampering with his brain with nanotech could be enough to make a quality villain. I guess that was there for the kids, on whom such nuance is lost.
While I can’t be wholly mean to Mary Jane… no, that’s fine, you just stay lying under that wall while your best-friend and love of your apparent life holds tonnes of metal and concrete over your idiot carcass. I’m sure this heartfelt moment simply cannot wait until after you’re no longer at risk and Spider-Man is no longer being crushed and popping a blood vessel. I mean his eyes are watering but it’s Tobey Maguire, so…
Oh, and no you did not always know he was Spider-Man.
Hell, there’s a moment or two when I have to wonder if knows himself, because he still has some issues with that tricky little Spider-Sense. Ok, so he can pick up a car being thrown at him through a window at an emotionally tense moment (don’t we all wish that’d happen to us once or twice) but we can’t pick up the loudest and most conspicuous bank robbery until it’s half done? Ok, only ten seconds this time before he runs off to find a bathroom to get changed in. I’m a little curious about all the coins too… and the conspicuously accessible bank vault.
I think I’m done ranting. I could bust on Parker for just randomly spidey-posing in front of Octavius while facing off for the final showdown. Honestly I mostly want to rag on his obliviousness to all the women flirting with him.
The Last Good Film
For a while, but yes, this is a good film. It still suffers from some of Sam Raimi’s bad habits, while reaping the perks of Sam Raimi’s pure talent and love for the character. Forgive a few zoom-in shots of women screaming, and there’s a great film that remains firmly at the top end of the list of best super-hero films, maybe somewhere in between The Dark Knight and… whatever the best MCU entry was. Maybe Winter Soldier?
The idea of a sympathetic villain was not new at the time, for sure, but to a mainstream audience it showed what a comic-book narrative was capable of, and opened a lot of doors for the cinematic monster to follow.
Next week… Venom.