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No web gem
Spider-Man 2 spins few marvels
BY PETER KEOUGH

The catch phrase for the first Spider-Man was "With great power comes great responsibility." For the sequel, itís something along the lines of "You have a choice." I donít have much power in the matter, but I feel itís my responsibility to suggest that the best choice is to hold out for the DVD rather than shell out 10 bucks for this cornball, half-hearted, fitfully exciting rehash.

Maybe Aunt May (no fault of Rosemary Harris) is the problem. When I read Marvel Comicsí Spider-Man back in the í60s, she really bugged me. A co-dependent, passive-aggressive, castrating biddy, she underscored the whole namby-pamby finger wagging that thwarted what could have been a trenchant, even subversive embodiment of adolescent angst. Maybe thatís why Spider-Man 2 springs to life late in the game when director Sam Raimi invokes some of the wickedness of The Evil Dead and turns Aunt May into a human shuttlecock batted between her super-powered nephew and his new nemesis.

But letís not get ahead of ourselves. Thereís lots of slogging before any fun begins. Poor Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), trying to balance careers as a college student and a costumed crimefighter, finds he canít make ends meet delivering pizza (that despite employing his web-slinging powers trying to get a delivery in under the companyís guaranteed time limit). Instead of empowering himself or fulfilling his responsibilities, all he gets is failing grades, cold pizza, and the cold shoulder from those he disappoints. Worst of all, he canít settle down with his true love, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), because to do so he would have to reveal to her his secret identity as Spider-Man and so put her in danger from his "enemies." Which doesnít make much sense when you think about it (would she be in any less danger if she didnít know who he was?) but as an excuse for avoiding commitment is one of the better ones.

So this is where the choice comes in: Peter decides not to be Spider-Man anymore. We know how long thatís going to last ó as if Sony were going to pay $200 million to make a film about a kid studying physics. Thereís no escape for Spider-Man, for the world of this movie is as incestuous and interwoven as the Habsburg Dynasty, with super-villains popping out from oneís nearest and dearest, usually by means of an overreaching scientific experiment gone awry.

In this case, itís Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), Peterís role model/father substitute. Heís also the top asset for OsCorp, the energy company of Parkerís pal Harry Osborn (James Franco), formerly owned by Harryís late dad, Norman (Willem Dafoe), a/k/a the Green Goblin from the previous film (OsCorp, I believe, is currently a subsidiary of Halliburton). A brilliant, idealistic guy, Octavius believes he has perfected a "fusion" process that will provide perpetual energy. When he pulls the switch, though, all he manages to do is kill his wife, become a monomaniacal evildoer, and fuse himself to the four vastly powerful mechanical arms he requires for the experiment.

As Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons, the best thing in the movie) puts it, "A guy named Octavius ends up with eight limbs ó what are the odds of that?" About the same as the likelihood that the newly monikered "Dr. Octopus" or "Doc Ock" will follow in the tradition of the Green Goblin (not to mention The Lord of the Ringsí Gollum) and spend a lot of time talking to himself. Or, rather, talking to his arms, which hover like Satanic serpents entranced by lines that would make George Lucas cringe. No doubt Raimi was amused by the Freudian implications of all this, and when Spideyís ejaculatory web shooters fail him in key moments, you might conclude that what he really needs is a prescription for Viagra.

What Spider-Man 2 needs is a Sam Fuller type of innocence that can take the hokum seriously and transform it into pulp purity. Raimi comes closest to this sensibility with his visuals, which evoke the bold compositions and brutish chiaroscuro of Steve Ditkoís artwork from the comic book, juxtaposing extreme long shots, in which antlike figures crawl in abstract urban landscapes, with extreme close-ups, in which kabuki-like faces pop the frame. A runaway El-train sequence marks this approach at its best; I had tears in my eyes at the end. Or maybe the film needs more of Raimiís own sardonic irreverence. If it were my choice, Iíd rather watch Aunt May get bounced around than listen to her scolding.


Issue Date: July 2 - 8, 2004
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