There were so many movies opening this weekend or last that I wish to see, I was uncertain what we would watch, leaving it up to semi-random chance. Predictably enough, the film with the highest number of screens won out. (The other film choices were De-Lovely, F 9-11, or Before Sunset, all of which I look forward to seeing soon. So many movies! So little time!)
Miscellaneous reviews had mush-mouthed it that the film might be the most successful superhero film ever (often using a construction that included the words “comic-book,” which appears to me to be related to the manner in which “sci-fi” is employed in mainstream critical assessments of genre film which employ techniques of speculative fiction, but then I’m a sorehead about marginalizing genre, so never mind me muttering hatefully over in the corner, no, pay me no mind whatsoever).
I can break that down for ya: it’s the best of these films by a substantial amount. It’s much better than the first Spiderman.
Its’ more-sophisticated use of visual effects and remarkable overall visual design closely recalls the dramatic, compelling imagery of (oddly) 1970’s Batman comics by Neal Adams. In particular, among these technical adjustments and improvements, the breathtaking fights stood out. These worked on screen as direct visual analogues of the most effective comic-book action sequences, are by far the most effective cinematic expression of that particular facet of comics.
In one scene, Aunt May is being tossed about by Dock Ock, and Spidey is set to leap over to her rescue. Raimi slows time in the shots, leisurely cutting back and forth between May, Ock, and Spidey, dissecting the actions within a fraction of a second. Time, in comics, is a flexible medium. Recognition of this, and discussion thereof, is like a secret password into higher comics greeketry. Repeatedly during the film I found myself gasping in admiration for this and other daring transubstantiations that Raimi and the writers had concocted.
In this sense, Spiderman 2 is clearly the most accomplished superhero comic-book film. But, however successful and amazing these aspects of the movie are, that’s mere window dressing to the beauty and operatic power of the story. The operatic reach and ambition of superhero comics is the single hardest thing to translate to other mediums, and here, it’s done with wit and grace.
Everyone knows that Spiderman and Peter Parker are the everyman of men in tights, due to Parker’s character definition as an uncertain nebbish of a youth. In this story, the writers – principally, I suspect, one writer – utterly exceed any prior Spiderman writing that I’m aware of. I’ll admit to limited exposure to the canon, but what grabs me in the film is not generally what is observed in mainstream comics, and therefore I’m pretty confident that no-one previously wrote Spidey this deeply.
The amount of the script seen on screen which may be credited to Michael Chabon is unclear. Chabon completed a pre-shooting draft which was then turned over to another writer. To me, the particular qualities of the script which lift it into extraordinary territory appear to be Chabon’s. Unfortunately for us, his website hasn’t been updated since November, 2003, a darn shame.
In his remarkable Kavalier and Klay, he takes the basic thematic material of a superhero, as well as the circumstances of his creation, and creates an involving, intricate literary structure in which character is presented in such a manner that the author’s thematic concerns are refracted in a nearly schematic way on to the cast that he writes.
In Spiderman 2, the same thing happens in the depiction and definition of each one of the primary characters. It even affects, for a fleeting moment, the amusing J. Jonah Jameson, as he expresses regret for having driven Spidey off the streets.
The only prior genre-oriented comics-related writing – not counting Chabon’s Kavalier and Klay – that unfolds with such reflective, structural depth is that of Alan Moore on Watchmen (and to a lesser extent in From Hell).
The film is an absolute triumph, better in every way than its’ predecessor, and without a doubt will prove to be a freakishly hard act to follow.
In miscellaneous other notes, there is a scene in which Parker and Mary Jane meet in a coffee shop to miscommunicate about their relationship, when the building-shaking thuds of Doc Ock’s approach definitively disrupt the meeting. The scene is nearly an exact reoccurrence of a scene in local mincomics collective Gannon Studio’s remarkable GoXXilla, a short work which also unexpectedly verges on literary depth.
As we seated ourselves, I noted Christian from MeFi one row ahead of us. However, I had forgotten his name, and therefore did not greet him. Should he one day read this: my bad.
A final trivial note: In the scene in which Peter falls on a group of parked cars in an alley, hard, and stumbles away holding his back and moaning, “my back, my back,” on the wall to the left of the shot, Neckface grafitti is clearly visible. New York is much more directly present as a place, as a superset of specific locations, in this film than in the prior film. Interestingly, New York is also a major theme in Kavalier and Klay I’m quite positive that whatever business is currently located at 233 Bleecker, they are seeing an uptick in business that will probably continue for at least the summer.
(Oh, man, I love that. In the film 233 is a pizza place, Joe’s, that fires Peter. When I googled it for that link, what did I find? Joe’s Pizza.)