Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
Arms and the Spider-Man
A film review of SPIDER-MAN 2 by Camus
 
"Nothing can stop me now..."
Dr. Otto Octavius - THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, 1963

 

Let’s swing back to 1970.

A 9 year-old discovers American comics. He is stunned that they are in colour (and at how expensive they are). The black and white reprints of Marvel’s range in the UK were curious metaphors for the differences between the two nations seen from a child’s perspective. America was colorful (sic), bold and brassy. We were in black and white – no. Shades of grey. We do good ‘shades of grey’. But it was then that I fell for the angst ridden Peter Parker and his extraordinary life as a super hero who was more tortured than any of his foes. He was a young man with a young man’s dilemmas and when Gwen Stacy finally turned a corner and committed to Peter, I was touched. Mary-Jane Watson was the zeitgeist kitten (the Sixties were blossoming) but Gwen was… Gwen was (oh, am I really writing this?) ‘special’. Enter the Green Goblin and to my eternal credit or shame (depending on who’s reading this) I can recite from memory the original comic’s text as the Goblin’s hovercraft smashed into his own chest (dutifully featured in the climax of the first Spider-Man movie);

“And so proud men die. Not crucified on a cross of gold but a stake of humble tin.”

When Gwen’s neck snapped (oh, such a small ‘snap’) my heart broke. It was the first time that a beloved fictional character had perished in front of me and my world was ashen and lifeless (hey, I was eleven). I am now reminded of Joss Whedon’s reactions to criticisms that later seasons of Buffy got too dark… “I don’t give you what you want, I give you what you need.”

So, Columbia/Sony picks a fan-boy to helm a huge CG dependent Hollywood movie. Spider-Man goes through the box-office roof. Suddenly, a man who began his career blasting eyeballs into mouths and making life very uncomfortable for a certain Bruce Campbell (Sam Raimi never forgets his roots) is now, the Hollywood darling of choice. I thought No. 1 was respectful of Marvel’s pride and joy, dramatic and exciting if a little on the CG heavy (pinch of salt, you just could not get any stuntman to do what Spider-man can do). Tobey Maguire has a ‘Stunt-Silicon Graphic-Man’. I approached No. 2 with an air of “whatever,” but secretly thrilled that all the reviews had been unanimously positive.

It was glorious. It was glorious because it was so human.

Newsflash – Spider-Man 2 is a drama. A drama, not a CG festival cartoon (hullo, Van Helsing); a drama, not a bad weather FX show-reel. It has real characters that interact with other real characters. I cared. Hey, the budget was in the hundreds of millions so it’s not going to be Bergman hand wringing drama but someone trusted the audience to engage and not merely the statistics of demographers (well, perhaps that’s just wishful thinking).

Spider-Man 2 is a two hour plus ‘blockbuster’ Hollywood movie that dares to sit so heavily on a single actor’s shoulders. Tobey Maguire bears it not only with honours but also a stoic calm and stillness that enables a mere money grubbing sequel to surpass its box office-haemorrhaging predecessor in almost every department. Spider-Man 2 is a movie about a man who is afraid to say “I love you.” It is principally a character driven film whose running time is almost totally devoted to the angst of the hero and the complex web (uh-huh) of relationships he weaves around him. Yes, the action quotient is there, yes the CG Spidey does his schtick and you can feel the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the younger viewers as he swings impossibly through New York.

But at the centre of this enormous film is a real heart and I can’t help thinking that Raimi must have tapped into his inner 9 year-old and found him effusive and mischievous. There’s not a dull scene in the entire picture and it is the story’s simplicity and the deceptively ‘simple’ way Raimi chose to direct it that makes it more human. Visual pyrotechnics are held in check until the action scenes and the dramatic conflicts (in civvies so to speak) are almost always covered very formally. There are at least three slow track-ins towards Maguire’s blue eyes and each is valid, each is right and each brings more depth to the film. Maguire is extraordinary. The other casting is uncannily spot on. Kudos has to go to one of the very few men prepared to have his face blown up on to a cinema screen and not have his teeth fixed – Alfred Molina, we are not worthy.

Every since Molina’s Sapito got nailed by a death trap after double-crossing Indiana Jones I’ve had my eye on him. He pops up in curious places (the alien baby’s dad in Species, stuffing himself very publicly with Chocolat) but he has found his niche as Doctor Otto Octavius. He treads the fine line between villainy and pathos so well that you really do feel sorry for the poor bastard at the end. His relationship with his wife is especially touching. Rose Octavius is played by an actress who has a screen presence that is quite beguiling. Just looking at her makes me feel calm. Donna Murphy is renowned in the US and her turn in Star Trek Insurrection was one of the only things worth seeing that movie for.

Kirsten Dunst seemed to have undertaken a transformation. Her face (airbrushed perfect as a model for cosmetics in the film) torments Peter at every turn. When we see the real thing, it’s as if Raimi has added worry lines and shadows under her eyes. The real thing is older and yearning for something she knows is there but unable to grasp why it’s not coming out. She also knows that Peter Parker is Spider-man (OK, she doesn’t really know but she announces that she did after she sees the very Parkerish Peter running around in Spidey’s costume saving her ass for the n’th time). The upside down kiss she shared with Spider-man in the first film is lovingly re-created but with her own all American astronaut boyfriend. It’s a tender moment, as if she were rehearsing for the truth.

There are two sublime moments of subtext in the film worth noting. Given that Peter seems incapable of being honest with the love of his life, it’s wonderfully playful that the play Mary-Jane is starring in is Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Having evaded any profound or heavy conversation about his feelings towards MJ, Peter ends up watching as a wall starts to fall on to his loved one in the climax of the movie. As Spider-man he intercepts the tumbling brickwork and ends up standing over MJ literally holding up the immense wall stopping it from crushing her.

“This is really heavy,” he says.

I barked with glee in the cinema. The moment has come to tell her that he’s in love with her (a heavy conversation no doubt) and he’s standing there with tons of masonry scrabbling to hit the ground. Bravo. Hollywood can be terribly broad and unsubtle sometimes in the search for the dollar-many but when art and commerce collide, it’s a joy to behold.

Sam Raimi, thank you. He may have shirked off his outsider status by sleeping with the big boys but he’s still making (big, I grant you) outsider movies.

Spider-Man 2

USA 20045
127 mins
director5
Sam Raimi
producers
Abi Arad
Laura Ziskin
screenplay
Alvin Sargent
screen story
Alfred Gough
Miles Millar
Michael Chabon
comic book5
Stan Lee
Steve Ditko
cinematography
Bill Pope
editor5
Bob Murawski
music
Danny Elfman
production design
Neil Spisak
starring
Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
James Franco
Alfred Molina
Rosemary Harris
review posted
22 July 2004