July 02, 2004

SpiderMan-2- A Movie Review

Superhero With Human Frailties
By Fred H. Arm
Dumb, loud, and cynical blockbusters have long brutalized movie audiences. “Spiderman 2” illustrates that a superhero film can always stand to strike a chord of what vibrant, intelligent, and heartfelt popular filmmaking could look like. Directed by Sam Raimi and adapted from a story whose many scribes include the novelist Michael Chabon; the sole screenwriting credit belongs to Alvin Sargent, who wrote "Ordinary People" and "Paper Moon". The new Spider-Man 2 is replete with dazzling colors, deafening noises and elaborate special effects. Of course this is what we expected.

What distinguishes this film, I am pleased to report, is solid character development with sincere emotions. Much like its Marvel Comic book kin, "X-Men 2," this sequel, free from the dreary weight of excessive exploitation, is somewhat better than its predecessor as well as better than most other comic-book-based feature films.

However, what disturbs me about this Super hero is his lack of maturity, looks, and good judgment. It would more aptly be called Spider Boy than Spider Man. His continuous child-like thinking and boyish appearance belong more in a high school teenathon than as the omnipotent Spiderman of comic book fame. This frail looking teenager hardly presents the image of a super hero who is able to attract the likes of a Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) or any other adult female.

In the comic book, the hero is depicted as much older, more muscular, and able to assert himself wherever and whenever needed. I would suppose that the powers that be selected Tobey Maguire for those boyish looks since they would more likely appeal to the teenagers who would more likely provide the bulk of the film’s attendance. Whenever Peter Parker kisses the mature-looking Mary Jane, it almost makes you cringe that he is about to be sexually abused.

At the end of the film, the hero was forced to choose between his superhuman powers and the heady charms of Mary Jane. However, it was extremely irritating and difficult to sympathize as to why poor Peter Parker could not have both. True to action-hero clichés, he felt the world needed Spider-Man, and so Peter hardened his resolve and surrendered his despairing, life-long love of Mary Jane Watson.

The dutiful web-slinger, although adored by the people, is unjustly scorned, and maligned in the Daily Bugle, led by the angry and abusive editor J. Jonah Jameson, played with fanatic passion by J. K. Simmons. However, his alter ego Peter Parker is the one who suffers the deeper emotional wounds. Jameson continuously insults, cheats, and badgers poor Peter while he is desperately scrambling to balance the demands of a normal life along with nocturnal forays into crime fighting. Perhaps even more insulting to Peter is the negative mirror image of Spider-Man he is forced to bear, being routinely hounded as penniless, lazy, selfish, and unreliable.

His poor aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who is still grieving from the loss of her husband, (Uncle Ben previously played by Cliff Robertson, in a brief flashback), is in grave danger of losing her home, and her devotion to Peter is eroded by palpable disappointment when he confesses his negligent role in her husband’s death. Even Mary Jane, whose career as a model and actress has been recently quite successful, is fed up with what appears to be Peter's consistent selfishness and unbelievable excuses. To make matters ever worse for Peter, she has become engaged to an astronaut, who just happens to be Jonah Jameson's son.

All of this hoopla moves us to the film’s midpoint when the pitiful Spider-Man, his webs drying up because of Peter's depression, dumps his Spidy suit into a back-alley garbage can. In the meantime, a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is presenting a dangerous and ambitious fusion project financed by Peter's best pal and who incidentally is also another Spider-Man nemesis, Harry Osborn (James Franco). A disastrous malfunction leaves Octavius not only a widower, but transforms him into a monster. Malevolent, intelligent mechanical legs that seem to have diabolical minds of their own now propel his body. Doc Ock, as Jamison in the Bugle characterizes him, is now Spidey’s enemy. Unlike Spidey, poor Ock is not the master of his octopus mechanical arms; rather he is their servant.
Sam Raimi, the director who cut his teeth on the gory, low-budget horrors of the "Evil Dead" franchise, is not totally an aficionado of fancy computer-generated special effects (CGI). Nevertheless, they remain an integral part of the film. (No filmmaker working in this genre can afford not to). Yet, the digitized scenes of New York City’s Spiderman flights and fighting are not the strongest parts of the movie, since Raimi does not yet have Peter Jackson's or Steven Spielberg's talent for a seamless combination of CGI with conventional moviemaking. Instead, he attempts to develop the characters more and provide more of a storyline than other action films.

The storyline, although much more interesting than the usual action extravaganza, still is a bit juvenile for my taste. The film is fun, yet often frustrating when the immaturity of Peter contaminates the hero mood.

Posted by fredarm at July 2, 2004 10:36 PM
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