Friday, July 2, 2004

Amazing Spiderman 2

Hollywood issued a blanket apology on June 30th for the stream of poor films and lackluster sequels it has produced in recent years. That apology is Spiderman 2, directed by Sam Raimi and staring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. The film is a victory for storied, studied filmmaking, proving that sequels, action films, comic book films, and films that aren’t filled to the brim with language and sex and gore can be successful. More than that, Spiderman 2 shows that a thoughtful, well-plotted, and conflicted film can stand above the piles of drivel regularly shoveled on top of the viewing public by Hollywood. Do you remember the last two Matrix movies and the Highlander sequels and those Star Wars prequels? Remember how you felt when you left the theatre, shaking your head, feeling let down and wondering if they weren't just 'lets-put-out-a-sequel-and-make-some-money' projects? Well, this film is the official apology for those piles of wampa-dung.

This film is amazing, heartwrenching, exciting, thoughtful, scary, funny, amazing. When Spidey has to take an elevator to get to the top of a building and he has to share the elevator with a dude and his dogs, and they are both looking straight ahead and then the guy says 'nice costume' and Parker starts talking about the down-side of wearing such a tight costume, you know that the director is having some fun with the concept. Where it tries to be funny, it is very funny. And, like Harry Knowles said over at AICN, when this film wants to thrill, it can thrill and excite and scare. Overall, this film is the best I’ve seen this year.

Picking up where the first film ended, this installment immediately makes us feel for the conflicted hero as he struggles to find his way in a world that doesn’t know him. He can’t hold a job, he can’t get his schoolwork done, and he can’t decide what he wants to be – student, boyfriend, employee, or hero. His only outlet? To pull on the mask and swing through the city streets, basking in the glow of his own power. But the two sides are so separated, he feels as if he is being pulled apart, and that conflicted psyche begins to manifest itself in many problematic ways. He lets Mary Jane down so many times that she pulls away, he won’t return Harry’s phone calls, he forgets his own birthday, he gets fired from every job he holds, and he is danger of flunking out of college even though his professor freely admits his staggering genius. But, as Doctor Octavius reminds him early on, Intelligence is a gift that must be used for the good of mankind. This is the central conflict – Peter Parker wants to help mankind, but must he sacrifice his human life to do so? Can he resolve his conflicting needs?

This film explores the inner conflicts of Peter Parker and, to a lesser extent, those of Doctor Octavius. His conflicting emotions-how far do you go in the name of bettering mankind-are laid open when the accident that creates him also gives him the opportunity to complete his work in new and potentially disasterous ways.

But the best character in this film is Mary Jane-she is waiting for Peter to come around, and at some point she finally realizes that it is never going to happen. Kirsten Dunst invests so much emotion into this role, we feel her frustration so acutely at times that we agree with her. “Peter Parker,” she says at one point. “He’s a jerk.” But the look on her face says so much more at that moment – he’s a jerk because she loves him so much and he won’t let her in. She doesn’t know why, but there is something there, going on beneath the surface, that is keeping him from being honest with her. Watching Mary Jane deal with her emotional roller coaster was the biggest treat of this film—she knows exactly what she wants out of life, unlike Peter, but she can’t have it. She is successful in her career, but she can't get close to the man to whom she has openly professed her love, and she doesn’t understand why. But she is determined to find out.

This film is a triumph. Maybe for a short time, Hollywood will remember that the cinema is supposed to be an art form. See it over and over - show Hollywood that good, thoughtful films will be well-received and rewarded for taking the biggest risk of all-treating their audience as discriminating, intelligent viewers starving for good entertainment.

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