23 August 2004 | bob the moo
A damn near perfect summer blockbuster
Two years on from defeating the Green Goblin, Peter Parker is having a harder time meeting the ongoing expectations of the public. On top of this the double life is taking its strain on his job, his personal life and his ability to even cast webs. Parker decides enough is enough and throws it all in after all, he is only one man. Meanwhile, A brilliant scientist, Dr Octavius sees his life's work on a fusion reactor explode killing his wife. Wife the protective device on his computerised arms broken, Dr Octavius loses his grip on sanity and starts to rebuild his reactor using money and materials from crime. With him seemingly intent on destruction, Parker must decide if the needs of others outweigh his own.
With many blockbusters falling at the opening weekend this summer, the title of 'summer's best' was still up for grabs when I arrived at the cinema to watch Spiderman 2 (having only the week earlier given it the miss in favour of lighter fare). Two hours later I emerged having enjoyed one of the most entertaining popcorn films I'll probably see all year. The plot is more than able to fill the running time and, although the action scenes often have large gaps between them, there are no moments where I was bored even if there are a few moments where the film slightly slows. The complexity of the hero is the main thing he is an unwilling hero and the strain shows well on him. Even the potentially ponderous thread with Mary-Jane plays pretty well for the most part.
The villain of the piece is similar to the Green Goblin of the first film in that he is a scientist driven to madness by 'voices' who we want to lose as well as feeling for more tragic than evil. Where Dafoe was great as the Goblin, the silly costume hindered the actor, here Molina has no such obstacle and does very well carrying off the 'voices' scene without it looking silly it is only a shame that he has so little screen time as a person (he has little time anyway but the vast majority of it is throwing cars around). With these complex people as the fronts it is any wonder that the script has no problem being surprisingly strong for a summer action movie. You could read meaning into most of it but it is hard to not see the New York people on the train carrying the prone body of Spiderman backwards as having a bigger significance a surprisingly poignant movie after a big effects-driven scene. The script also throws in a real mix of emotions perfect for a film that is more about being an exciting ride than a piece of art. Plenty of it is very funny, some of it is touching, some of it is about character and some of it, well, some of it is about cars being thrown through windows! And of course the latter is what we have come for.
In terms of action, the several big action sequences are very enjoyable and put the skirmishes from the first movie very much in the shade. Part of this is down to the increased intensity of the fights due to the close combat nature of the character but it is hard not to be impressed by the impact of the vastly improved effects. In the first movie I struggled occasionally to get past the fact that some of it (not all but some) looked very much like an average playstation game. Here the effects are great; sure, you can still tell when a mid-shot of a character is real or CGI but they are much more convincing and they are used a lot better making it easier to accept them as real for the purposes of the film. Of course what really makes the action sequences is Raimi's great direction. He is very able in the smaller moments but he is fantastic in the massive action scenes that he pulls together. At times his direction is very clever and my favourite 'reference' scene is also the one that surprised me that it was rated PG. In a very clear reference to Evil Dead, doctors are hammered by Dr Octopus' arms for the first time dragged screaming (ED's trees) and tackling it with bone saws (Ash's chain saw). It was a very intense scene and, with it being in a PG, it acts as proof that the BBFC are not as strict as the moaners would have us believe.
Working with this direction, the cast all do really well. Maguire takes the pratfalls, the moral questions, the romance and the action equally as well. He is very much the likable everyman that the film needs Spiderman to be and he is good throughout. Dunst has talked about her desire to do more than just this type of film and, from this, I can see why. Although she has some good scenes, generally she is sidelined and it is to her credit that she does as well as she does with comparatively little to work with. Molina is given too little time and lacks a really strong scene of emotion in the same way that Dafoe did in front of the mirror but he still does well. I didn't feel his pain as much as I really should have done but that was more down to his low screen time rather than his performance. Franco is good but a bit too one-dimensional; given that the third film will be very dependent on him I'm hoping he can step up to the plate more than he did here. Of the support cast, once again it is a wonderfully OTT Simmons who steals every scene he is in he is so good that I never once saw him as his Oz character an association I never thought he'd be able to break but he did and he did it hilariously. Cameos from Campbell, Raimi and Dafoe are all enjoyable and add to their scenes.
Overall this is not a perfect film and I am bemused by its appearance in the top 250 list here but it does basically everything it sets out to do and does it in a manner that puts this years' other blockbusters in the shade. The script is clever, interesting and involving; the characters are complex and pretty well drawn while the film delivers laughs as frequently as it does action. With improved effects and some very impressive action scenes this is definitely the movie to sue in a summer full of misses and average thrills.