Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004) 

I'm going to do quite a lot of complaining in this review, so let me say this first: Spider-Man 2 is a perfectly good movie. Really. It's got a lot of exciting stuff, some good performances, and an almost shockingly consistent focus on character and theme over action and plot -- shocking, that is, for a big-budget studio action flick. I'm still exceedingly happy that Sam Raimi was given the reins to this franchise; the Spider-Man films play like films made by someone who would've done it for free (you get this feeling whenever Spidey swings around on his webs -- it's the most exhilarating thing in the world), just for the love of the material, and that's just peachy.

That said, I probably would've been more impressed by Spider-Man 2 if I didn't think Spider-Man did pretty much everything the sequel did and did it better. The one exception to this rule is the action choreography -- aided by the improved visual effects -- which is a lot more creative this time around. Spidey vs. the Green Goblin had a tendency to feel perfunctory, but Spidey vs. Doctor Octopus is just plain breathtaking; one sequence (Aunt May taken, building chunks falling, Doc Ock attacking) juggles about as many balls as possible, and it's the perfect kind of fight to impose on our put-upon hero. But even with the improved action, the pace of Spider-Man 2 isn't quite as breathless as it ought to be, and the thematic content has (if you can believe it) become even more thuddingly obvious than before: we're stuck with scene after scene of characters stating themes outright, repeating "hero" and "responsibility" and any other Important Point they can smack you about the head with. The attempts at humor are a mite troublesome too: one thing I loved about Spider-Man was how unapologetically melodramatic and quintessentially Marvel Comics it was, but Raimi must've heard some of the criticisms about "cheesiness" in the first film ("brilliantly cheesy," I would've said), and decided to break the sheen with self-referential gags ("You threw away my comic books, May!").

Naturally, this has all resulted in across-the-board improved reviews for the Spidey sequel. I'm probably one of two people in the audience who bothered taking the comic-book stuff seriously in the first movie, and therefore found the depth Raimi was getting at (can I say how much I loved that Uncle Ben's speech near the beginning clearly spoke about the themes, and they were never mentioned at all thereafter, only played out in the ensuing action?), and now it's all got to be a little more obvious so that everyone can partake. It's not a bad strategy: I'm still going to enjoy it, because hey, it's Spider-Man, presented lovingly and uncynically, and if more people get hip to this comic-book thing, so much the better. If I like it just a little bit less, and most people like it a whole lot more, it's not a bad tradeoff. B+

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