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SPIDER-MAN 2

2004, dir. Sam Raimi
127 min. Rated PG-13
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Stan "the Man" Lee, Elizabeth Banks (hmmmm), Vernon Schillinger, The Classic, Kirsten Dunst's nipples and the kid from Seabiscuit.

Review by Justin Patterson

I saw the movie on a Saturday night, and here I am doing a review in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Rough week. I'm sipping ouzo and listening to Dr. Demento. Screw summation. I'm going to relay what I was thinking, in the order that I thunk it. I'm just not capable of figuring out my impressions any other way, in this state. It may be a little bit disjointed, but here is what I thought of SPIDER-MAN 2!

But first, the previews!

July 23rd, the Franka Potente Supremacy is coming to a theatre near you. Plan on it! Does Ben Asschin go to see Matt Damon's movies, or is he too embarassed by the utter sham that is his life to be seen envying the better choices that his friend makes? At least I have a little respect for the way he threw himself into poker.

BLADE 3: TRINITY is coming and doesn't look too bad. Blade appears to be tracking down the origin of the species with the help of Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder with guns!).

CATWOMAN. Tell your marketing whores that their insidious schemes worked and I want to do Halle Berry. Thus, I'll probably see this piece of otherwise forgettable dreck.

SKY MARSHAL AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW: this just looks cooler than words can convey. Real actors against a completely CGI background in a style that mixes old serials, old comics, propaganda films and Metropolis. Slight woody.

THE AVIATOR: Scorsese made a movie starring Leo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes (before the bubble boy stuff). Cool planes, evil industry barons and Kate Beckinsale. I'll see it.

There's also another Anaconda film and a wretched holiday offering from Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, but I don't have the stomach to touch them.

AND NOW, BACK TO OUR MOVIE!

One thought occurred to me during the opening credits: Who played Betty Brant? I've since found that it's Elizabeth Banks. I noticed her in the first installment of the Spidey films, but she really got to me in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. I don't mean to geek out this early, but just damn.

Peter Parker and his Aunt May are dead broke. He's delivering pizzas poorly and has to trade the moped for the spandex in order to try to get the pizzas there in time. Nope. Between the Bugle and the pizza joint, I think Pete gets fired something like five times. He can't make the rent and Aunt May's house is in foreclosure.

NOTE: when Pete tries to deliver via webslinging, some dude on a balcony tries to snag a slice. Guys, that's Scott Spiegel. Look him up, he's a legend. Shemping, anyone? John Landis shows up, too. Where's Waldo?

Along with failing at work (both jobs), Pete's studies are faltering. His only professor, Doctor "Give a Brother a Hand" Connors, warns him that he's on the track to failure. On top of all of that, Spidey's powers are deciding to cut out at really inopportune times. When you're 120 feet in the air and the webs don't shoot no more, it's a long drop.

Pete's hope scholastically lies in Dr. Otto Octavius, played particularly well by Alfred Molina. I had thought that Austin Powers or Elton John would have been a lock, but Molina does very well. Pete's doing a paper on him, and Otto reluctantly complies because his patron is none other than Harry Osborn. Following the death of his father, Harry sees Otto's work on cold fusion as the way to launch OsCorp into the limelight.

Incidentally, Pete has two other problems. Harry is ticked at Pete for making money off of taking photos of Spidey, whom Harry still blames for the death of his dad. Mary Jane still wants Pete to take her snipe hunting, and he's not sure how that's all going to wind up. She's been dating an astronaut (Jameson's son John) and it's getting serious. Between these two situations, there is enough tension to float an ore carrier. Pete constantly lets MJ down, failing even to attend her performance in The Importance of Being Earnest. Something about almost being run over and then leaving the perps suspended 12 feet over the street.

Pete is really becoming unsure of whether or not he wants to even BE Spidey. The hassles are catching up with him and messing up his life. The one place that he gets a little guidance is from Dr. Octavius and his wife, who kind of take Pete in. In a rather serious moment, Dr. Octavius imparts a bit of wisdom on our hero: "Intelligence isn't a privilege, it's a gift to be used for the benefit of mankind." Guilt trip ensues, and Pete's still Spidey.

The relationship between Octavius and his wife is not given much time on screen, but I have to give the actors kudos. They only have a few minutes together, but they somehow manage to successfully relay a couple who has been together for so long that they're comfortable together. They actually seem like a couple that has been married for some time, which is a trick that few in Hollyweird manage to pull off.

Bruce lost his job as an announcer at the underground wrestling club, perhaps because Pete failed to stop the bloke who ripped off the till one night. Pete only has himself to blame, then.

Anyway, time to speed this mother up. The Illuminati gather for Octavius' demonstration of cold fusion. To manipulate the materials involved, he uses "smart arms" that tie directly into his nervous system and act as an extension of his will. Because they have some rudimentary machine intelligence, he also has an inhibitor chip implanted at the top of his spine that prevents the will of the arms from overcoming his own will.

Did NONE of these people ever see the South Park movie? Those chips don't work! RESPECT MY FUCKIN' AUTHORITY!

Experiment backfires, room gets blown up, Octavius' wife inadvertently tries to swallow a huge piece of flying glass, Octavius is knocked out, the inhibitor chip is wrecked and Harry Osborn's dreams of greatness are dashed. Oh, yeah. Spidey saves Harry's life, which ticks Harry off a little.

What ensues is a brief glimpse into what made Raimi the movie god he is. Dr. Landis attempts to use a bonesaw to remove the arm harness from Otto's back, but the arms don't want to be disconnected (see 2001 to get the full sentiment). The arms decide to leave and wreak havok. Close-ups of chainsaws, screaming young women, blood flying. . . .it's a beautiful thing. If a director isn't supposed to pay tribute to his own films, please don't tell Sam Raimi.

The arms exert more will as the film progresses, driving Doctor Octopus to ignore previous concerns in order to finally, successfully complete his venture into cold fusion. It's fascinating to see his will altered and moral code set aside. Bad things happen.

Meanwhile, Pete has decided to stop being Spidey. It's too much hassle. He gets the hang of being a normal guy again and sets out to try to win MJ back. He tosses the suit, which a garbageman sells to JJ Jameson, who suddenly realizes that papers will sell better if Spidey's absence is mourned. Pete gets his grades back up and manages to spend some quality time with MJ.

Complications ensue when Doc Ock needs tritium for his fusion crap, and has to go to Harry Osborn again to get it. A horrible deal is struck: tritium for Spider-Man. Ock takes the deal.

At this point, we begin to realize what has been plaguing Pete and depriving him of his powers. It's purpose. I really disagree with the whole premise of this, since the powers are physical, but the device works for the movie. Pete was waffling in the area of purity of purpose. When Ock kidnaps MJ and tells Pete to deliver Spidey or "I'll peel the flesh off her bones," Pete finds his purpose again. He steals his outfit back from JJJ (who immediately declares him to be a menace again) and goes hunting.

What follows is probably the best comic-inspired filmmaking I've ever seen. A massive fight and game of cat and mouse ensues between Doctor Octopus and Spidey. The fight winds up on board a train. Doc Ock does something that I've never seen in a movie, which is that he throws people at Spidey. You need to see it. Pete's saving people, fighting Ock, and winds up having to stop the train from running off the end of the tracks. His first try is a Superman-like move in which he hangs on the front of the train and jams his heels into the ties. No luck. It was at this point that I realized something vaguely important: Pete had lost his mask. Anyone who cared to could see his face. Still, the task at hand was too great for him to worry about that. He next spread his arms and began firing webs at nearby buildings. It's incredible. He's in the most painful version of the Iron Cross imaginable, his muscles and bones being slowly dislocated, his costume tearing from the strain, and his only concern is to STOP THAT TRAIN.

He does, and collapses from the strain. What follows is a Hollywood cliche, but it actually works here. Hands from the train gently pull the unconscious hero back onto the train. They pass him along until he can be placed on the floor. One of the men mentions, "He's just a kid!" When Pete awakens, he sees the faces of dozens of New Yorkers gazing down at him. They look at him with a kind of reverence we only associate with firefighters on 09/11 or someone who was horribly burned to save someone else's children from a raging fire. They're not going to tell anyone what he looks like. He gets his mask back.

Then, Ock shows up and knocks his narrow ass out. He delivers Pete to Harry, who is fingering a knife and dreaming of vengeance for the father he never liked but always sought to emulate. Harry pulls the mask away and finds that his best friend is his sworn enemy. Pete awakens and tells him that there are bigger things than their personal problems. Doc Ock has the tritium and is going to try the fusion thing again, but Pete knows that it's going to backfire again and take half the city with it. He leaves Harry in a daze.

Doc Ock has Pete's dream girl and is going to accidentally blow up his home town. The battle that ensues is phenomenal! Incidentally, you can thank Sam Raimi for another thing. He apparently reads the reviews and fan mail. The battle takes place in torrential rain, and you may remember what MJ pointed out the last time they were together in the rain? You could hang your laundry on them.

The experiment has already begun and has gone wrong again. Pete manages to get through to the human who is still present in Doc Ock, and a selfless sacrifice ensues and saves the town. It's been done tons of times, but was done quite well in this case. As expected, the key that got through was when Pete quoted Ock's words back at him: "Intelligence is a gift to be used for the benefit of mankind."

Ock's gone and Pete manages to reconcile with MJ, but there's still one little thing hanging out there: Harry. Harry has found his father's stash of Goblin Goodies in the mansion and the insane ghost of his father has returned to run the house. Will the villain in Spidey 3 be Harry, or will Doctor Connors try to regenerate his arms and become the Lizard? I vote for both.

Several things in this film were exemplary. The characters were much more engaging - if not for their personal depth, then for how they impact Pete. The whole production had much less of a tentative feel to it. Raimi's confidence shines through much more in this than in the first installment. Acting-wise, Alfred Molina takes the prize in this one. He does an excellent job of showing the caring husband, the concerned mentor, the conflicted genius, the subjugated host and the reluctant hero fighting his way back from Hell. The funnier moments blend well into the rest of it. The only real problem I had with the whole production was the notion that the powers inflicted on Peter are subject to attitudinal shifts. All in all, this was a superior film in comparison to the first one. That's high praise coming from me, whose first comic book was Spider Man. I love the character, I love the stories, and I think that this film is an endearing tribute to those who have put their sweat into it.

I won't tell much about the reconciliation between Pete and MJ, except to mention one line that will tell all to the true Spidey fan. Sirens ring, and MJ says to Pete, "Go get 'em, Tiger." Classic.

Remember the last words of Dr. Otto Octavius: "I will NOT die a monster!" SEE THIS MOVIE.

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