So I saw Spider-Man 2 the other day (and don’t worry, I know it isn’t out in India yet, so this review will be spoiler-free). It was much better than I thought it would be (and I thought it would be fantastic). I would go so far as to say that it’s the best movie based on a comic-book yet (although I’m keeping my fingers crossed for David Hayter’s Watchmen adaptation).
Spider-Man 2 is not a film for kids. Sure, you can take your kids along, and they’ll like the swinging in spandex super-hero shenanigans (lookit, I’m alliterating like Stan The Man), but this movie is best appreciated by people a lot older. While Spider-Man (1) was a great adaptation of a classic character, the sequel is very much its own beast; more mature, more true to itself. The humour, for one thing, is ten times more subtle, and ten times as effective. It’s a bit like Cyclops’s “Yellow Spandex” line in X-Men: it pokes fun at its roots as much as it pays tribute to them.
(By the way, the Yellow Spandex line will forever be forgotten once you see Spider-Man 2’s soon-to-be-classic Elevator Scene. Trust me.)
Plot wise, there are a few holes (the main “evil villain doomsday device” being one of them) but this is the first super-hero film to have less screen-time on the costume and more on the guy in it, and through some rather bold moves regarding the character’s secret identity, the movie breaks down the dicothomy between mild-mannered “alter ego” and masked super-guy (much like Watchmen did, especially with Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan). Peter Parker isn’t the guy who turns into a hero, he is the hero. In many ways, it’s the first super-hero movie of the Revisionist school (which Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns made popular — all super-hero comics for the past 20 years live in the shadow of them).
Taken as an example of Revisionist storytelling, it’s first rate; the core issue the film deals with is the same that’s at the crux of every Spider-Man blurb (“With great power comes great responsibility”) but the idea is dissected and played out so well (and on so many levels) that it’s fascinating viewing even for jaded Revisionist fans like me. One wonders how Marvel even approved this script: if anything, it makes the already simplistic, one-note plotting in their comics look even worse. We all knew there was a great character in Spider-Man, we’d even seen flashes of it from time to time, but it took Sam Raimi and team to bring that character — that person — to screen, fully realised.
Of course, many a great plot is marred by dull performances, but Raimi pulls off the impossible by getting even better performances out of everyone involved. Of special note is Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who in the books has usually been relegated to a frail, ineffectual old lady who’s forever the main symbol of Parker’s guilt. Spider-Man 2’s Aunt May is one of the strongest characters in the movie (and not just in the spiritual sense; she even gets to smack a villain). Alfred Molina (he’s English! I never knew) plays Doc Ock the way he plays most roles he’s given: very, very well, and all my fears of his charcter being less interesting than Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin have been dispelled.
Visually the film is sumptuous. The move to Cinemascope from 16:9 widescreen (which all of Sam Raimi’s previous films have been made in, I believe) really expands the canvas and makes those swinging scenes even more breath-taking. Bill Pope (The Matrix trilogy, as well as Raimi’s Army of Darkness and Darkman) does the cinematography and brings some real dynamism to the action, but more importantly the Peter Parker scenes are handled with intimacy and care. I’m not the biggest fan of American Cinematographers (too stagey, uniform palettes, always slaves to the 4:3 centre of the screen for making a good video pan-scan transfer) but Pope’s one of the best out there, and in Spider-Man 2 he proves that all those great shots in The Matrix trilogy weren’t only the Wachowski brothers’ doing.
Special effects are also a lot better than the first (which was, for lack of a better word, rubbery); the Doc Ock animations especially are top-notch. If Spider-Man looks a little less dynamic in action, it’s because now he’s actually animated like a human being, rather than the contortionist they tried last time, when all the animators seemed to have a heavy Todd McFarlane hangover.
If you can, do watch this film in a cinema with a good system (in India this means it’s time to fork out Multiplex money, kids), because it really enhances the experience. From Doc Ock’s tentacles (that really make your seat vibrate — at least in a good theatre) to the clinking of a million shards of shattered glass, every effect is pitch perfect and never over-blown. Danny Elfman’s score is probably good, and I say this because I don’t remember much of it (unlike the first, which had the biggest over-the-top soundtrack since the first Harry Potter movie); it’s not as pumped up and attention-grabbing as John Ottman’s X2 score, but it does its job well.
It’s rare that a movie completely exceeds your expectations, and even rarer that a big blockbuster does (the last one was Pirates of the Carribean), so watch and don’t worry that you’re laughing more than your kids.
Especially during that Elevator Scene.