Saturday, May 3, 2014

Stubs – Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 (2004) Starring Tobey Maguire,  Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, Donna Murphy. Directed by Sam Raimi. Screenplay by Alvin Sargent. Story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon. Based on the comic-book series Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Produced by Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin.  Run Time: 127 minutes. U.S.  Color.  Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction

As the re-boot of the Spider-Man franchise continues with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), opening in cinemas this weekend, we thought it would be another opportunity to look at the original franchise. We already revisted Spider-Man (2002) when the first less than Amazing Spider-Man opened in 2012.

I don’t want to spoil the review, but at the time it was released, I considered Spider-Man 2 to be the best super-hero movie released up to that time. Its position has dropped with releases like Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012), but the film still ranks very high in my estimation and I don’t think the new Amazing Spider-Man is going to change that.

At the beginning of Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is burning the candle on both ends. He is working part-time as a pizza delivery boy, he’s a free-lance photographer for the Daily Bugle and he’s a student at an unnamed college. To make things worse, he is estranged from the woman he loves, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and his best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco). The cause of all his problems is his crime-fighting duties as Spider-Man.

Peter begins the movie losing his delivery job when his boss, Mr. Aziz (Aasif Mandvi), gives him an impossible task: deliver eight pizzas forty blocks in eight minutes or lose your job. Even using his Spidey-powers Peter is a couple of minutes late. Receptionist (Emily Deschanel) seals Peter’s fate when she refuses to pay for the pizzas because he’s two minutes late.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) about to lose his job as a pizza deliveryman.

At the Daily Bugle, Peter is fired and re-hired by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) over his photographs. He is fired for delivering cute pictures of New York, when what Jameson wants are tabloid quality photos. Jameson is the type of editor that with the right photo can come up with a juicy story to go with it; facts are irrelevant. Peter gets rehired when he produces from his portfolio what Jameson wants, a photo of Spider-Man. With that Jameson can dream up a story that makes Spider-Man sound like a villain and a menace to the city. But the $300 Peter gets for the photo are as much as the last advance Miss Brant (Elizabeth Banks), Jameson’s secretary, had already given him, so Peter walks away with no money.

Hurrying to school, he is too late for class, running into his professor, Dr. Curt Connors (Dylan Baker). (Dr. Connors is aka the Lizard, one of Spider-Man’s supervillains originally intended for this film, but the Lizard does not appear.) Connors warns Peter that is paper is overdue and if he doesn’t turn it in, he will have no choice but to fail him.

Peter literally runs into Dr. Curt Connors (Dylan Baker) on campus trying to get to
his class. You have to wonder if his appearance is left over from the plans to
highlight his supervillain alter-ego, the Lizard.

When Peter goes to visit Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), she has arranged a surprise birthday party for him. Harry is there as is Mary Jane. Harry, now the head of research at Oscorp (not bad for a recent high school graduate who nearly failed science), has not gotten over the death of his father and loathes Spider-Man, whom he calls Peter’s friend, for killing his father. It is obvious that Peter’s secret alter ego has driven a wedge between them. Still, Harry does offer to put Peter in touch with his hero and the subject of his research paper, scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who is now doing research for Oscorp.

Harry Osborn (James Franco) obsesses over Spider-Man throughout the film.

Mary Jane, who is an actress/model and starring in the play The Importance of Being Earnest, hangs around at her parents’ house next door, waiting for Peter to say something. They talk over the short fence between the yards. When she touches him, you can sense Peter’s longing for her. He so wants to be with her, but he knows that he can’t endanger her and must put his true feelings aside to keep her safe. Peter does promise to come see her in her play the next night. She informs Peter that she’s seeing someone, but Peter can’t bring himself to tell her how he feels.

Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) has found success as an actress.

During the party, Peter discovers a foreclosure notice from the bank; Aunt May is defaulting on the loan. When she gives Peter $20 for his birthday present, he wants to give it back to her, but she is adamant that he take it.

Returning to his dingy apartment, no sooner does his feet hit the stairs than his landlord, Mr. Ditkovich (Elya Baskin), asks for his overdue rent. Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter, Ursula (Mageina Tovah), obviously has a crush on Peter, but she is powerless to help him. Peter tries to play for more time, telling Mr. Ditkovich that he only has $20 for the rest of the week, which Mr. Ditkovich takes from him.

Mr. Ditkovich has one concern in the film, the rent.

The next day, after another run in with Mr. Ditkovich, who insistently asks about the rent, Peter is introduced to Dr. Octavius, and his wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy), by Harry. Though Otto insists he’s too busy with his research, he does as his patron asks. He’s heard of Peter from Dr. Connors, who says Peter is brilliant, but also lazy. Otto takes a liking to Peter and, over tea, they discuss other issues than science. They ask if there is a girl in Peter’s life and give him advice on how to win her. Otto suggests he feed her poetry.

In addition to talking science, Peter talks with Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina)
and his wife, Rosalie (Donna Murphy), about life and love.

That night, at the Laundromat, we see Peter reading books of poems while washing his spidey-suit. In one of the visual comedy bits, apparently the outfit bleeds, turning his white’s smeary red and blue. Then he prepares to go to see Mary Jane’s play, who backstage is nervous about performing in front of him. 

But on the way, Peter gets caught up in a police car chase. His motor scooter is literally run over and he resorts to Spider-Man to protect the innocent and to capture the bad guys.

He arrives at the theater in the gangster’s car, but the play has already begun. Bruce Campbell makes a cameo as an usher who refuses to let Peter in since the play has already started. Mary Jane obviously notices the one empty seat, Peter’s, in the audience.

Bruce Campbell makes the most of his cameo as the head usher at the theater.

Peter watches the theater from across the street, listening to a street musician/violinist (Elyse Dinh) playing an ode to Spider-Man which sounds an awful lot like the theme song to the old animated series. But his attention is on the stage door. He watches as Mary Jane exits and seems to be looking for someone. We assume it’s Peter, but he doesn’t move from his spot. Not long afterwards, a man, who we later learn is John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), J. Jonah’s son and an astronaut, shows up and he and Mary Jane head off to dinner.

Peter heads off too, when another police chase draws his attention. Only this time, while he’s in the middle of the chase, he no longer produces the web he needs and he falls. Bewildered, Peter ends up taking the elevator down, putting him in an uncomfortable situation where a man (Hal Sparks) taking his dog out for a walk takes him for a Spider-Man cosplayer. Peter even admits he made the outfit himself.

Spider-Man is forced to share an elevator with a resident of an apartment house (Hal Sparks).

The next day, Peter tries to explain what happened to Mary Jane, but ends up leaving a message on her answering machine. Calling from a pay phone, he tries to explain what happened and about the usher, when the call disconnects before Peter can put 50 cents into the phone. Mary Jane, who returns to her apartment while the message is being left, is disappointed.

Even Peter's attempts to explain himself to Mary Jane get disconnected.

Peter attends Otto’s demonstration of the project he’s been working on. Using tritium, an element he says is in short supply, Dr. Octavius is trying to make a sustained fusion reaction, which he believes will make cheap energy available to everyone; and which Harry is hoping will win Oscorp a Nobel Peace Prize.

To assist in his experiments, Dr. Octavius has built four powerful robotic arms with artificial intelligence which he wears strapped to his torso and is connected to his own spinal column, so they function as if they were his arms. They are not affected by heat so they will allow him to “touch” the reaction. To avoid the AI-fused arms from taking over his body, he’s built a small inhibitor chip.

The robot arms Dr. Octavius wears have minds of their own.

While the experiment gets off to a great start, the fusion reaction starts to pull things into it like a black hole. There is a spike and quickly the experiment gets out of hand and it isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. Peter disappears and, as Spider-Man, he tries to turn off the experiment. But a surge in electricity burns out the inhibitor chip and suddenly the AI arms are in control of Dr. Octavius and they don’t want to be turned off. In the destruction, Rosalie is killed by flying glass.

Peter watches with Harry as the experiment starts to go bad.

Spider-Man does succeed in stopping the experiment, but Dr. Octavius is left unconscious. Taken to the hospital, doctors try to surgically remove the arms and harness from Dr. Octavius, but the arms, having developed sentience from the inhibitor chip's destruction, spring to life and attack the medical crew, killing most of them.

This is a great sequence of filmmaking, cartoonish, over the top, but still scary and powerful. See it here:

Upon regaining consciousness and seeing the carnage, Octavius escapes the hospital and hides out in an abanonded warehouse down by the river. Dr. Octavius starts to talk to the hands and they convince him to retry the experiment. But to fund it, Doctor Octopus, or Doc Ock as he becomes known, decides to rob a bank.

It just happens that Peter and Aunt May are at the very same bank trying to re-fi her mortgage, but Mr. Jacks (Joel McHale) turns her down. But when Doc Ock attacks, Spider-Man fights back. Their brawl spills out into the streets and up the side of the building. Doc Ock takes Aunt May as a hostage, but while Spider-Man saves her, Doc Ock gets away, despite the police finally showing up on the scene.

Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) save Spider-Man by hitting Doc Ock in the head.

Peter’s next assignment from J. Jonah Jameson is to take photographs at a party for which his son, John, is the guest of honor. With him is Mary Jane, which shocks Peter. He confronts her, but she tells him how disappointed she is with him.

Harry is there as well, getting drunk. Now that the Dr. Octavius experiments were a bust, all he has left is his hatred for Spider-Man and he takes out his frustrations on Peter, not knowing of course, his secret identity, slapping him in public.

After his run-in with Harry, Peter hears John get on the microphone and tell everyone there that Mary Jane has just accepted his proposal.

Trying to clear his head while wearing his Spider-Man disguise, Peter suddenly loses his powers again. He doesn’t understand why it’s happening to him, but he can no longer produce his web, climb walls and his eyesight reverts to less than 20-20.

Meanwhile, Doc Ock is having equipment sent to him and rebuilding his reactor with the help of his robot friends. (You have to believe that he’s sending cash through the mail, freight is being dropped off at an abandoned warehouse and no one is noticing, but go with it.)

Peter seeks medical advice, telling Dr. Davis (Gregg Edelman) that a friend has been having dreams about being Spider-Man. Dr. Davis tells him that maybe his friend doesn’t have to be Spider-Man and Peter takes the advice to heart.

Peter talks with Dr. Davis (Gregg Edelman) about his problems.

That night he has a dream where he’s talking to Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) who tries to convince him he has to be Spider-Man, but Peter insists he is Spider-Man no more. He wakes up and goes outside to throw away his Spider-Man costume and walks away from the identity.

Peter walks away from his Spider-Man identity.

Peter has to become comfortable in his own shoes, so to speak, and we see this as a montage set to “Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head”, the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) sung by B.J. Thomas. Peter devotes himself to his studies again and no longer chases after police sirens. There is even a mock still frame at the end.

His transition is complete when he finally makes it to see Mary Jane, who is so startled to see him in the audience that she momentarily forgets a line. After the show, Peter tries to reconcile with her. But while she notices he’s a changed man, she has already made her choice to marry John. He tries to tell her he wants to pick up where they left off, but she rebuffs him.

While J. Jonah is on the phone with his wife making plans for John’s wedding to Mary Jane, a garbageman arrives with Spider-Man's costume. J. Jonah takes credit for Spider-Man's disappearance, buys the costume and tacks it to his wall like a trophy.

J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) displays Spider-Man's costume the way a hunter would a trophy head.

Peter finally tells Aunt May that he was the reason Uncle Ben was killed, but May forgives him, even though she doesn’t know the complete story.

Aunt May listens to Peter's confession about the night Uncle Ben was killed.

Meanwhile Doc Ock continues to build his reactor. But he needs tritium to fuel his reactor and goes to Harry to demand it. Harry refuses at first, but cuts a deal with him. Harry will give him the Tritium in exchange for Spider-Man and tells him that Peter is a good friend of Spider-Man. As Doc Ock leaves to look for Peter, Harry calls out to him not to hurt him.

Meanwhile, with the crime rate up by 75%, even the Daily Bugle’s headlines ask where Spider-Man has gone. Peter witnesses an apartment house on fire and feels compelled to help, even though he is no longer Spider-Man. He rushes in and barely rescues a girl trapped on the second floor, but despite his heroics, someone else in the building dies.

Peter nearly gets killed trying to save a girl in a burning building.

Peter is troubled. Not sure what he wants to be, he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. Just then Ursula comes over. She offers Peter some chocolate cake and a glass of milk. This little bit of human contact seems to right Peter. As she leaves, Ursula gives him a message from his Aunt.

Ursula Ditkovich (Mageina Tovah) shows Peter some human kindness.

When he goes to visit her, he finds that she’s packing up to move with the help of Henry Jackson (Jason Fiore-Ortiz), a 9-year-old neighbor. Henry asks Peter about what happened to Spider-Man. Aunt May tells Peter that kids like Henry need a hero.

But try as he might, becoming Spider-Man again is not so easy, as at first he doesn’t succeed. Meanwhile, Mary Jane and John are discussing inviting Peter to their wedding. While she calls him a jerk, she also realizes that John is not the man of her dreams, when she kisses him.

It's in his kiss. Mary Jane discovers John Jameson (Daniel Gillies) is not the man of her dreams after all.

She calls Peter and they meet for coffee. She tells him that she’s reconsidered Peter’s offer. Peter tries to back pedal, telling him he can’t be there for her like he wanted to be. She asks if he loves her, and he tells her he doesn’t, though it is obvious that it hurts him to say that. She asks Peter to kiss her. But as she leans in, Peter’s Spidey-Sense realizes a car is being hurtled through the window. He grabs Mary Jane and they manage to just avoid being hit.

Peter meets with Mary Jane who is suddenly interested again.
A car is about to come through the window behind Peter.

Doc Ock arrives and tells Peter to find Spider-Man and if he doesn’t he’ll peel the skin off of Mary Jane. He then grabs Mary Jane and escapes.

Back at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah finally admits that Spider-Man was a hero and that he stupidly drove him away. But just then, Peter steals back his costume and Spider-Man is once more a thief in Jameson’s eyes and headlines proclaim the Menance has returned.

Spider-Man meets Doc Ock and the two do battle. They fall from their perch on a clock tower and end up on an elevated commuter train. Doc Ock tires of the fight and disables the train’s accelerator, sending the train hurtling towards a dead end drop off. Failing twice, Peter/Spider-Man manages to finally stop the train, but it takes all of his energy to do so.

Peter shows a lot of tenacity in stopping the runaway commuter train.

Grateful for his heroism, the passengers bring the unconscious hero back into the train. They bring him his mask and promise not to tell anyone who he is. They try unsuccessfully to protect Spider-Man when Doc Ock arrives to claim him.

Try as they might, the train passengers are no match for the evil doctor.

He takes the chained up superhero to Harry and takes the tritium and leaves. Harry plans to stab Spider-Man and removes his mask so he can watch him die. He is shocked to see its Peter, whom he convinces to help him get MJ back and let him stop Doc Ock.

Harry's plan was to kill Spider-Man as revenge for his father's death.

Spider-Man arrives at the Doctor's waterfront laboratory and tries to rescue Mary Jane discreetly. One of Octavius' tentacles senses him, and they fight. But the reaction has already started and is already getting out of control. Spider-Man manages to set MJ free, but she can’t get away. An electric shock seems to reverse the effects and Dr. Octavius regains control, but it’s too late to stop the reaction as it is self-sustaining. The only option is to drown it in the river and Dr. Ocatvius volunteers to do it.

Mary Jane is being kept as a prisoner by Doc Ock.

When he turns back, MJ sees that Peter is really Spider-Man. Just then, a side of the warehouse starts to collapse onto Mary Jane and Spider-Man once again rescues her. While holding the wall up he lets her know that he loves her. As Octavius takes the reactor and the sentient arms with him to the bottom of the river, Spider-Man takes Mary Jane away.

Afterwards, Peter and Mary Jane talk. He tells her that even though he loves her, he can’t let her take a risk by being with him as he will always have enemies. He returns Mary Jane safely to John and leaves.

A cozy spiderweb for two. Peter and Mary Jane talk about their situation.

Meanwhile, Harry is visited by a vision of his father, Norman (Willem Dafoe) in a mirror. Norman pleads for Harry to avenge his death. But fighting back, Harry shatters the mirror, revealing a secret room containing the Green Goblin's equipment and formula. What possibilities does this hold?

On her wedding day, Mary Jane leaves John at the altar and runs in her wedding dress to Peter’s apartment to confess her love for him. She tells him she’s willing to take the risk to be with him and they seal the deal with a kiss. Just then they hear sirens from a police chase, and she encourages him to respond as Spider-Man, “Go get ‘em, Tiger.” And Spider-Man is off again to fight crime.

Mary Jane leaves John at the alter to tell Peter how she feels.
The film definitely leaves you wanting more. There is so much to love about the movie. While some of the special effects may not have held up so well, the story is pretty strong. We watch Peter having to take account of himself and decide that he wants to be Spider-Man. It becomes a conscious decision to be the hero, not a freak accident, that determines who he is.

Along the way, there is humor, horror, action, self-reflection and self-awareness. With the exception of Doc Ock working pretty much in public and going unnoticed, it is really a very strong script for a big budget Hollywood film. Rarely do films mix in character development along with action sequences. And in the hands of a seasoned director like Sam Raimi, it is no wonder the film was a hit. If the original series had ended here, I would have said it was a great triumph, but we’ll have to wait for Spider-Man 3 to make that determination.

The main cast, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco once again put in strong performances. I’m trying hard not to let my dislike of what Franco has become (a joke) to taint my criticism of his work in this film.

Bruce Campbell shows off his comedic chops again, taking what would have been a small part and infusing it with life and humor, making it a memorable and pivotal part of the story. Good writing goes into that as well.

But J.K. Simmons, as J. Jonah Jameson nearly walks away with the movie. His acting may be cartoonish and over the top, but it strikes the right tone for the part.

Alfred Molina, the celebrated British actor, brings a lot to the role of Dr. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus. He infuses the character with a certain amount of charm, humor and pathos that maybe someone else playing the role might not have. At the end of the film, when he decides he doesn't want to die a monster, he manages to take the Doc Ock out and die a hero. Also, I want to give him credit for being willing to be shot on film in a less than flattering outfit throughout most of the movie. Not all actors are willing to give the part what it needs.

Originally titled The Amazing Spider-Man when it was announced shortly after the success of Spider-Man, the film, as all big budget films seem to, went through several rewrites. Originally conceived as having three villains, the field was narrowed to one, Doc Ock. The film would set box-office records, that have since been broken, and while it would be only the third-highest grossing film released in 2004 (Behind Shrek 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) it would still earn nearly $800 million worldwide as well as a great critical response. The film would lead to Spider-Man 3 (2007) and spawn its own video game also called Spider-Man 2.

The music in the original score by Danny Elfman strikes the right chords, so to speak, throughout the film, complimenting the action and not overwhelming it or overplaying it either. The licensed music is likewise strong. The use of “Raindrops” is done with great parody of these kind of montages and the film’s credits roll under “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional and “Ordinary” by Train, which set the right way to leave the theater. Even Michael Bublé’s rendition of the Spider-Man theme song is good.

I remember leaving the film not only anxious to see it again, but also the sequel, Spider-Man 3, but we’ll hold off reviewing that film until later.

If you have never seen Spider-Man 2, I could not more strongly recommend you see it. While it helps to have seen Spider-Man first, you can still enjoy this film on its own.

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