Monday, July 05, 2004

Talk to the hand, bee-yotch!

Went to see Spider-Man 2 today. Or should I say, Doctor Octopus 1?

Ironically, the film's biggest strength is also its biggest liability. Alfred Molina, as Doc Ock, acts rings around Tobey Maguire as Spidey. Admittedly, the script didn't really call for him to do more than react to a constant parade of hard knocks; but Maguire's somnambulent perf almost drains the life out of the film. In all fairness, he does a great job of getting teary-eyed a few times. But he remains lifelessly stoic and remarkably apathetic throughout. I seem to remember that Maguire had to be coaxed back to play the role; perhaps he is sharing his reluctance with the audience. Who knows.

But Molina- wow. I knew he was an excellent actor, but he breathes life into what could easily become a one-note, garroulous character, and gives him a lot of depth- even making him a far more sympathetic figure than his comic-book counterpart. Of course, the soap-opera script enables some of our sympathy by showing his wife's death (wouldn't it have been a hoot if Salma Hayek had played the part), but Molina's savvy enough not to go overboard with histrionics. Between Molina's perf and the outstanding CGE arms, Doc Ock pretty much steals this film.

My other big complaint is the soggy script, intent on tugging our heartstrings as often as possible. I realize that a big part of the Spidey mythos is the tribulations of hard-luck nebbish Peter Parker, and the inherent irony given his incredible abilities. But fellas- we got the point in the last flick! And for those of us with short memories, the first 30 minutes would have been enough of a reminder! The melodramatics weren't so bad that it kept me from enjoying the film as a whole, but geez, what a weepy flick!

Of course, and I suppose this should be preceded by a SPOILER ALERT, a lot of the discussion around the 'Net has involved the ending, in which Mary Jane does her best Julia Roberts and leaves Colonel John Jameson (blandly played, I forget) at the altar to run back to Pete, who she really loves. I can buy this, believe it or not, because it's pretty consistent with the tone set from the beginning. This didn't really come out of left field. I am surprised that they didn't decide to make Pete dangle on the hook even longer, but I guess that they figured enough was enough, and we gotta try to phanagle some sort of happy ending out of this hello Mary Jane, goodbye..what? Credibility, perhaps? I don't know.

I'm not looking forward to the next film, either, unless one of two things happens: they bring back Molina as Doc Ock (he didn't look dead as he sank into the harbor, y'know), or they bring in a third villain like The Lizard or perhaps Kraven to go along with James Franco's dull-as-dishwater Harry Osborne aka the soon-to-be New Green Goblin. I don't think he's enough of an actor to carry that much of a movie all alone, certainly not next to the perpetually dazed-looking Maguire!

OK, so what did I like? Besides Molina as Doc Ock? Well, the script, when it wasn't jerking tears, was pulling several laughs from me as well. Don't know how much to credit Micheal Chabon, but somebody with some ability was in the mix, and almost managed to strike a sufficient balance. The bank-robbing scene with Spidey versus Ock was thrilling, one of the best action sequences I've seen in ages. The elevated train battle was almost as good, but became a little far fetched before it was over. Rosemary Harris was very good as Aunt May, and had several good lines...along with one too-long-by-half speech. The effects in general were very good, better than the first flick...more natural-looking. Bruce Campbell gets a great cameo, as does Stan Lee. Kirsten Dunst's nipples were once again standouts (sorry, couldn't resist). Sam Raimi's direction is lively enough to keep the weepy script moving along briskly, and when he gets the chance to go nuts on us, like in the scene in which Ock breaks out of the hospital (did anyone else think of Ash when Dr. Connors was playing with that saw?), it's just like old times. Also, once again, great to see Steve Ditko getting co-creator credits. Wonder if the Sturdy One is getting any cash mon-nay from these films? Nah...what am I thinking?

In spite of all my bitching, though, I liked Spider-Man 2. I wish it had been a little less eager to indulge in the "poor miserable Pete" slant and more eager to give us some excitement...but what we do get, we get in spades, and I was entertained plus I never got the feeling that the filmmakers were disrespecting the source material, and that's important to me. It has strengths the first Spidey film didn't, and vice versa. So go see this film, if you haven't's worth your time. If I were you, I wouldn't go out of my way or anything, but you'll come away entertained. A-

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