"Nothing can stop me now..."
Dr. Otto Octavius - THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, 1963
Let’s swing back to 1970.
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);
so proud men die. Not crucified on a cross of gold but a stake
of humble tin.”
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.”
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
was glorious. It was glorious because it was so human.
– 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
is really heavy,” he says.
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.
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.