Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Spider-Man 2

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

SPIDER-MAN 2

7/10

USA 2004 : Sam RAIMI : 127 mins

SPIDER-MAN STRIKES BACK (1978, US, 93m)
The insubstantiality of this low-rent product is pleasantly refreshing – we learn that Spider-Man is a lot smaller than most of the villains, sensitive to slurs about his ‘little blue tights,’ and chronically short of cash. For a change, the script is riddled with trashy jokes, silly set-ups and a lack of excessive special effects.                              
                                                                                                                                             [from The Time Out Film Guide. Review by Cynthia Rose]

Yes, this isn’t the first time that British moviegoers have seen a Spider-Man sequel – though largely forgotten about these days, back in the late seventies three films were cheaply assembled from the American TV show and released in UK cinemas to cash in on the Superman phenomenon. Spider-Man Strikes Back was cobbled together from a two-part story entitled ‘The Deadly Dust’, in which the main villain targeted the World Trade Center. Needless to say, Spider-Man 2 bears little resemblance to its predecessors’ plotline – instead our hero Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) must defeat mad/misguided scientist Dr Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). Said boffin becomes the crazed ‘Dr Octopus’ when four huge metallic arms are welded to his corpulent frame during an experiment that goes badly awry.

Spider-Man 2 is anything but a “low-rent product” of course – the script is by no less an eminence than Alvin Sargent who, back in ’78, was picking up the Adapted-Screenplay Oscar for Julia (he won again for Ordinary People a couple of years later). At a reported $200m, this is possibly the most expensive film ever made, much of it lavished on those “excessive special effects.” But Parker himself is still “chronically short of cash,” and endures some decidedly mundane indignities. The most amusing of which comes when his web-spinning powers fail him at the top of a tall building, and he must instead suffer a deeply embarrasing journey via a slow lift. At moments like this Spider-Man 2 sails perilously close to self-parody – but Raimi knows what he’s doing by now. He directs with the confidence of a man whose previous film was the mega-successful Spider-Man – last time, don’t forget he was coming off the back of The Gift.

Saying that, there isn’t that much to choose between the Raimi’s two Spider-Man pictures – despite the critical consensus that the sequel is superior. In both pictures, Raimi regular (and supposed pal) Bruce Campbell is maddeningly underused (a one-scene cameo as ‘Snooty Usher’ this time). This is especially annoying considering how much time is lavished on the underpowered relationship between Parker and his sweetheart Mary ‘M.J’ Watson (Kirsten Dunst) while jealous future-villain Harry Osborn (James Franco) glowering tediously from the sidelines. In 2 there’s a particularly dull mid-picture stretch when Parker renounces his powers (“I am Spider-Man – no more!”) until prodded back into harness by, among other things, the wise counsel of saintly Aunt May (Rosemary Harris).

While a thorough pro as usual, Harris is in fact much better served by an earlier slam-bang action sequence when May and Peter’s visit to their local bank is interrupted by a visit from Dr Octopus. This highlight is more than matched by a later Ock-vs-Spidey set-piece atop a runaway subway train packed with no-nonsense New Yorkers who end up defending their hero: The Taking of Pelham 9/11, perhaps?

1st August, 2004
(seen 13th July : Odeon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne : press show)

by Neil Young