July 18, 2004

Spider-Man 2

Perhaps its the Spandex, but superheroes have, more often than not, failed to translate to the big screen. The tight fabric that looked so cool drawn in ink, must be an absolute nightmare to transfer into reality. The easy option has been to shift from Spandex to either leather or PVC body armour, as was the case in the Batman movies. Sure the Dark Knight looked cool at times, but he was never "the" Batman of the comic books.

The biggest problem with most superhero movies, has more to do with unimaginative writing. I am often baffled as to how studios can produce such tedious efforts out of such rich, colourful source material. Throw-in the usual over-the-top big name actor in the role of the villain, and hey presto, yet another over-hyped, uninspired piece of crap flickers upon the screen.

Well, I must say that Spider-Man 2 is the exception to the rule. Whilst the first movie left me somewhat shortchanged, but with enough of a smattering of Spidey antics to keep me marginally interested, the sequel excels in every sense. It is one of those rare cinematic efforts that improve upon their predecessor. This time, Sam Raimi's direction is more assured, as are the meticulous special effects. It really is a delight to fly through the city of New York with the beautifully rendered Spider-Man. They have really captured the form and classic poses so familiar to readers of the comic books.

The real star of the movie was Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. I have fond memories of owning a 1977 Spider-Man annual, when I was very young and wrinkle free. Within those much read pages, was a story featuring Dr. Octopus. I can't explain why, but there was something extraordinarily impressive and archetypal about his four extra appendages. However, while those simple drawn images remain forever part of my childhood, I could not have imagined the majesty of seeing Dr. Ock in all his living screen glory. Molina plays him in such an understated way, that it immediately disarms your preconceptions of the standard over-the-top comic book villains in previous films. There are times when his presence on the screen is pure magic. My favourite shot appears after the bankrobbery, as Dr. Octopus flees from the scene with Spider-Man's Aunt May. Just pure, beautiful imagery.

The quirky comedy that peppers the film, is entirely in keeping with the Sam Raimi sensibility, that has been present in all his movies, right from the start with The Evil Dead. There are even sly hidden references to his previous efforts. Look out for the chainsaw.

Tobey Maguire excels at bringing all the appropriate nerdy qualities that the Peter Parker character requires. He is perfectly cast and seems much more at ease this time around. There are some very human moments in this movie, and that is perhaps why Spider-Man succeeds where other superhero movies have failed. We can relate to Peter Parker with his frustrations and internal conflicts.

Sure it's a summer blockbuster, and while I would recommend Fahrenheit 9/11 over Spider-Man 2, it is a rare summer movie that produces all the fun, thrills and spills we are often promised, but usually remain undelivered.

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