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Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Can’t really say how I saw it. Can’t really say where I saw it. Rest assured... it was the final cut, and it’s the same film you’ll be seeing when it opens at the end of this month.

So what can I say? Well, let me begin by stating for the record, this is exponentially better than the first SPIDER-MAN, and it does for this franchise what X2 did for the X-MEN series, turning up everything that fans liked about the first film and introducing a whole hell of a lot of new things to enjoy. So far, it’s pretty obvious that X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN are the crown gems of the Marvel Films universe, and I have a feeling that when fans get a load of this movie, they’re going to go into full-system shock at just how right it is.

As I prepared to write this review, I went back and read what I wrote about the original SPIDER-MAN when it was released in 2002. A lot of times, we’re forced as reviewers to write while still flush from just having seen something, and we don’t get the chance to reflect on a picture at all. I’ve given myself a few days to mull over my reaction to SPIDER-MAN 2 because I wanted to see if I was just amped from having seen it, or if I really did think it was a significant step up and one of the best efforts in the comic book genre thus far. Reading back over my original review, I think I was actually really even-handed in my praise of that picture. This time out, having carefully considered my words and having had time to fully digest the picture, allow me to throw caution to the wind. I fucking loved this movie from end to end, and I think it has just raised the bar again for what we should expect from Marvel Films. More importantly, Sam Raimi has proven himself to be not just a damn fine commercial filmmaker, but has also finally managed to make a mainstream movie that is 100% Sam Raimi. Up till now, I’ve always felt like he was holding back, like he was playing it careful. But this time, every eccentricity I’ve always loved about him as a filmmaker has been given free reign... and it’s glorious.

Beware... I’m going to talk spoilers in this review. You’ve already read the short version: I loved it. If you stay now, do so at your own risk. The film’s opening title sequence is going to get you all hopped up before you even see a frame of the movie. Alex Ross has indeed contributed a pretty amazing sequence, and it does a great job of reminding us of the emotional high points from the first film. Another thing that I immediately loved about this movie over the first one may seem like a really geeky thing to notice, but it’ll make a difference to a lot of you: it’s 2.35:1 this time. Scope. And Raimi and his cinematographer Bill Pope make the most of the new scale of things. Right away, as soon as the titles are finished, the movie kicks into a scene about Peter Parker, pizza delivery guy, and we get a hint of Raimi’s agenda this time out. Peter’s working for a guy who runs a pizza delivery place with a 29-minute guarantee. Even with Peter turning into Spider-Man and webswinging his way over a traffic jam, he isn’t able to make his delivery on time, and he ends up losing his job. If the first film was about how hard it was to become Spider-Man, then this movie is all about how hard it is to live with that decision. You could almost call this one SPIDER-MAN 2: PETER GETS KICKED IN THE JUNK, and you’d have a pretty good idea of what to expect. They heap misery on him, and Raimi is an expert at turning the screws, racheting up the suffering in scene after scene.

We’ve all heard the story now about how Jake Gyllenhaal almost took over the role of Peter Parker this time out, but I can’t imagine this film without Tobey Maguire. He is not just one of our best young actors, he’s also damn funny, and this film manages to really tap into the sense of humor that has always distinguished Spider-Man from a lot of the other superhero icons. Tobey brings just the right amount of vulnerability to the role, and as things get worse and worse for him, he always manages to remind us of why we like Peter Parker in the first place. He’s a smart kid, trying to do the right thing, and he genuinely cares about the people around him even when they don’t understand him. His relationships with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry Osborn (James Franco) have suffered in the time since the first film ended, but he knows that this is a sacrifice he has to make. Even as things get more and more difficult for him, he does whatever he can to uphold what he sees as his responsibilities.

It’s as a student that he wrangles a chance to meet Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist who is working on a fusion project for Oscorp. Harry’s convinced that he’s finally found something that will prove he is the right choice to run his father’s company, and he’s pouring tons of money into the project. He’s the one who orders Octavius to take a little time and show Peter around. Octavius ends up really liking Peter, and in one of the few scenes in the film’s first half where Peter isn’t getting punished in one way or another, he and Octavius actually have a great bonding conversation. When Peter misses a performance of Mary Jane’s play, despite all his assurances that he will be there, it’s because of a situation that demands his attention as Spider-Man. He tries to slip in late, but he comes face to face with a fairly snotty usher, played by none other than The Chin, Bruce Campbell, in one of the film’s funniest moments. He gives great smarm, and he has perfect chemistry with Maguire. Peter’s so upset by how one side of his life keeps intruding on the other that his powers actually begin to fade. He finds himself unable to produce webbing at a key moment, and his eyesight is suddenly not as keen as it once was. He’s not sure what could be causing the problem at first, never connecting it to the stress of his dual life.

And that stress just keeps getting worse and worse. The day of the big demonstration arrives at Oscorp, and Peter’s there to watch as things go terribly, tragically wrong for Octavius. His adoring wife Rosie (Donna Murphy) is killed, and the AI-driven robot arms that he uses to handle the tridium samples that fuel his experiment somehow become grafted onto him when the fusion machine goes haywire. It’s a great action moment, but even better is what happens when Octavius wakes up. If you’ve got any question about who directed this movie, it will evaporate when you see just how incredibly EVIL DEAD this moment becomes. A Doc Ock arm with a chainsaw. POV shots as the arms rush around the room and kill people. This is absolutely Raimi, and the fact that he’s worked with Bill Pope as far back as DARKMAN and ARMY OF DARKNESS probably helps a lot. He’s comfortable here, and as a result, he’s more confident. He’s able to let his own personality shine through, and the result is a sequence that will have long-time Raimi fans on their feet, cheering.

Peter’s job as a photographer hangs by a thread, pun fully intended, due to his reluctance to sell photos of Spider-Man to J. Jonah Jameson (the still-hilarious J.K. Simmons). Jameson continues to portray Spidey as a menace every chance he gets, and it drives Peter crazy that he has to be part of that process. He does finally talk J.J. into sending him on another assignment, a society event, but he doesn’t realize what it is until it’s too late. He ends up having to take pictures of the party where Mary Jane announces her engagement to another man, J.J.’s son, the astronaut John Jameson (Daniel Gillies). It’s wrenching for him, and you can almost hear Peter’s heart break as he has to take the photos.

And still, all of this is just revving up to the real meat of the film, which starts to kick in around the time Doc Ock makes his debut as a criminal, having been driven mad by his own AI-driven tentacles. Seems he’s determined to reproduce his experiment, but on an even bigger level, and he’s going to need some funding to build what he wants. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Peter are in a bank, trying to get a loan to help ease some of her financial problems, when Doc Ock shows up and tries to rob the place. Peter has no choice but to abandon Aunt May and change into his costume so he can try to stop Doc Ock. At this point, if your pulse doesn’t race and you aren’t completely floored by the action, go ahead and get up and leave the theater. You don’t deserve all the insane coolness that is overstuffed into the rest of the movie. I’ve never seen a superhero fight as otherworldly and fun as the moments where Spidey and Doc Ock go head to head. Never. Not in any film. For one thing, Doc Ock is simply a more visually appealing villain than, say, the Green Goblin in the first film or the Joker in the original BATMAN. It helps that Alfred Molina plays the character with a lot of charm. Before the accident, he’s a driven professional, but he’s also shown to be a loving husband and his reaction to Peter’s youthful enthusiasm about his work is pretty genuine. There’s an inhibitor chip that is supposed to keep the tentacles under his control, and when it gets damaged, they begin to assert an actual personality over him. It’s creepy, and Molina plays it really well. He isn’t a conventional bad guy, and because he’s not just some moustache-twirling meanie, he remains interesting the entire time he’s on camera. Even when he drops out for a stretch of the film, you’ll find yourself eagerly anticipating his return.

That big fight forces Peter to the breaking point, and his powers seem to completely disappear. He makes a choice to take his life back, to abandon the Spider-Man persona once and for all, and he does his best to slip back into the normal life of Peter Parker. There’s a montage set to a very famous song from another film that seemed like an odd, even slightly insane choice, when it started, but it’s absolutely inspired the way Raimi and his editor Bob Murawski have put it together. We share in Peter’s joy at his decision, and he seems to think that he’ll be able to pick back up where he left off before that fateful spider-bite. Of course, it’s not that easy, and no matter how hard he tries, he’s not really able to turn his back on people in need. The one scene I don’t like in the movie happens in the middle of this stretch of the film, a dream conversation with Uncle Ben (watch closely for the Ashmobile) that is completely unnecessary. There’s a much, much better moment that comes soon after where Peter reveals his role in Ben’s death to Aunt May to her obvious horror, and it works because it’s not just some lame inner voice hectoring him. He has to actually face his past actions again and see how much they hurt someone he cares for.

At the same time, Mary Jane and Harry are both wrestling with their own doubts and demons, giving us some really nice moments like when MJ asks her fiancée to kiss her upside down for comparison’s sake, or when Harry gets drunk at her engagement party and lashes out at Peter physically. It’s nice to see that this film builds on the ideas from the first one and isn’t just a sequel where nothing of significance takes place. These characters are growing, and everything that happens to them actually has an effect.

Once Peter realizes that his choices do cause ripples in the world around him, he’s able to regain his powers and become Spider-Man again, and the film’s second hour features several giant-scale action scenes, including the one onboard the elevated train, that are pure geek bliss. The film runs right around the two hour mark, and it’s packed. So much happens, and so much of it is so important for these characters, that you’ll find yourself a little breathless by the end. This is relentlessly paced, and you can almost imagine turning the pages of a comic book faster and faster in an effort to learn what happens next.

By the end of the film, several people have learned Peter’s secret identity, and instead of coming off like a plot contrivance, as I feared, each one of these revelations carries emotional weight. Instead of copping out and figuring out a way to reset after playing these big moments, the film plays fair and shows that Peter’s life is going to change once and for all. The last scene of the movie, in particular, hit me hard. It’s beautifully written and perfectly played, and it actually brought tears to my eyes. When you hear the way Kirsten Dunst deploys the word “tiger” at just the right moment, in just the right way, you’re going to want to rip the roof off the theater. It makes you feel ten feet tall, the same way it impacts Peter, and it will send you out of the theater walking on air.

Everyone who contributed special effects to the film deserves praise. They’ve significantly improved upon the work in the first film, and I am deeply impressed by the sense of motion as Spider-Man makes his way through the city. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a superhero battle that is the equal of the extended elevated train sequence, both when Peter is fighting Doc Ock and when he’s dealing with the runaway train itself. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff, exciting and genuinely heroic, and it shows just how far Peter has evolved, and also just how young he really is still. He’s a kid. He’s so young, and he’s accepted all of this responsibility, and he seems so willing to lay down his own life for total strangers that you can’t help but be impressed by him. The effects are so seamless that you stop thinking about how they did what. Instead, you believe what you are watching, and the result is that it’s far more involving, at times almost too intense to bear.

Maguire and Molina should be singled out from the cast. They both do what they were hired to do very, very well. Dunst and Franco do as much as they can with what they’re given, and when they need to deliver on a big moment, they do. Rosemary Harris is a great Aunt May, even if her big scene is overwritten to some extent. If there’s any complaint I have about the cast, it’s that we never seem to get enough J. Jonah Jameson. J.K. Simmons is uproarious, and there’s one scene of his that didn’t make the final cut of the movie that better show up on the DVD when you eventually get around to putting it together. You know the one, Marvel. It sounds like the most insanely lunatic image, and it would explain so much of this man's bitterness in one fell swoop.

This sets up a SPIDER-MAN 3 so well that you will probably go a little bit crazy when you realize it’s going to be three years before we see the next one. The ending of this film is enormously satisfying, but so many great ideas have been introduced that the wait will be insufferable. The last major scene with Harry is a direct echo of Willem Dafoe’s best scene in the first film, and the way the scene resolves will make you gasp. It’s audacious, and it suggests any number of terrible possibilities.

I could go on and on and on about all the things I love in this film. The scene in the elevator. The introduction of Dr. Connors to the series. J. Jonah’s moment of honesty and his abrupt about-face. Scotty Spiegel’s cameo. The sly joke about Tobey’s back injuries. “Hi.” “... hi.” “This is kinda heavy.” The hands catching Spider-Man and pulling him back to the train. The snake-like way Doc Ock’s tentacles move in close-up. More Betty Brant, always a good thing. Ted Raimi spitballing villain names with J.J. And on and on and on. But you’ll be seeing the film at the end of the month, and you’ll find your own things to love about it. I look forward to seeing this again with a paying crowd and hearing their reaction to certain moments, certain lines of dialogue, and seeing how they react to some of the key twists.

In the meantime, I’m going to replay it in my head, and I’m going to count the days down, and I’m going to bask in the glow that comes from seeing one of my favorite cult directors finally step up and become one of the best mainstream directors in the business. Even if the screenplay credit goes to Alvin Sargent and even if the story credit goes to Millar and Gough, there’s really no doubt that this is a personal film played out on the largest possible canvass, the dream that Raimi’s carried around since childhood finally realized. This is pure SPIDER-MAN, straight from the tap, and it’s absolutely transporting. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

"Moriarty" out.

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