Spider-Man 2 (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #86

A man will face his destiny.
A hero will be revealed.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 127 minutes | 135 minutes (2.1 extended cut)
BBFC: PG (cut, 2004) | 12A (2004) | PG (uncut, 2009)
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 25th June 2004 (Lithuania)
US Release: 30th June 2004
UK Release: 16th July 2004
First Seen: cinema, July 2004

Stars
Tobey Maguire (Pleasantville, The Great Gatsby)
Kirsten Dunst (Interview with the Vampire, Melancholia)
James Franco (City by the Sea, 127 Hours)
Alfred Molina (Frida, An Education)

Director
Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell)

Screenwriter
Alvin Sargent (Gambit, Ordinary People)

Story by
Alfred Gough (Lethal Weapon 4, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor)
Miles Millar (Shanghai Noon, Herbie Fully Loaded)
Michael Chabon (John Carter)

Based on
Spider-Man, a comic book superhero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; in particular the story Spider-Man No More! by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr.

The Story
Peter Parker battles problems in his personal life while his superhero alter ego Spider-Man battles the machinations of evil scientist Dr Otto Octavius.

Our Hero
Spider-Man! Spider-Man does whatever a spider can — spins a web any size, catches thieves just like flies. Is he strong? Listen bud, he’s got genetically-modified blood. Wealth and fame he’s ignored, action is his reward… though he’s having doubts about if it’s worth it. With great power comes great responsibility, and neither sit well with a kid who wants a normal life.

Our Villain
Doc Ock! Guy named Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs, four mechanical arms welded right onto his body — what are the odds?

Best Supporting Character
Before he won an Oscar for Whiplash, or posted photos of his insanely ripped body on social media, J.K. Simmons brought himself to everyone’s attention as the hilariously irascible editor of The Daily Bugle newspaper, J. Jonah Jameson. He was so good, they haven’t even bothered to recast the character for any of the three live-action Spidey films that have come since the first reboot.

Memorable Quote
“So here I am, standing in your doorway. I have always been standing in your doorway.” — Mary Jane

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“With great power comes great responsibility.” — Uncle Ben may be dead, but they manage to have him say it in this one too.

Memorable Scene
The elevated train fight between Spidey and Doc Ock. It was the first major sequence filmed, before the screenplay was completed, but Raimi had dreamt it up personally. It was shot in Chicago because New York no longer has an elevated railway, but Raimi was seeking to create an idealised version of the city.

Technical Wizardry
The sound effects for Doc Ock’s tentacles were created using motorcycle chains and piano wires, while the sound of him ripping open the bank vault was a hubcap scraping along the floor. The designers consciously didn’t include the noise of servomotors, to enhance the idea that the tentacles have become a part of Ock’s body.

Truly Special Effect
Doc Ock’s tentacles were built practically. Each one was 13ft long, made up of 76 pieces, fully articulated, and controlled by four people. Obviously some of their appearances are CGI, especially when Ock’s using them to move around, but every scene was first filmed using the real props to see if CGI was truly necessary

Making of
Tobey Maguire injured his back before filming began, to the extent that Jake Gyllenhaal (at the time only really known for Donnie Darko) was tapped to replace him, and even began preparing for the shoot. Ultimately Maguire recovered enough to participate (obviously). A couple of years later Gyllenhaal was one of the final contenders for Batman in Batman Begins, but didn’t get to do that either. I’m sure Marvel will find a superhero for him eventually — they do for most people.

Previously on…
Ignoring the many and various animated series and failed attempts to bring Spidey to the screen, there was the first Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man, which was the first film to gross over $100 million on its opening weekend. Also, MTV animated series Spider-Man: The New Animated Series is technically set after Spider-Man and therefore before Spider-Man 2, but I don’t think anyone remembers it…

Next time…
Spider-Man 3 concluded the trilogy with a whimper thanks to behind-the-scenes clashes, which also scuppered plans for Spider-Man 4. The series was rebooted with the unpopular The Amazing Spider-Man, which was followed by the even-more-unpopular The Amazing Spider-Man 2, leading to the character being rebooted again and integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The latest version debuted in Captain America: Civil War before starring in a solo movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, next summer.

Awards
1 Oscar (Visual Effects)
2 Oscar nominations (Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
2 BAFTA nominations (Sound, Visual Effects)
5 Saturn Awards (Fantasy Film, Actor (Tobey Maguire), Director, Writer, Special Effects)
3 Saturn nominations (Supporting Actor (Alfred Molina), Music, DVD Special Edition Release)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form
1 World Stunt Award (Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Man (Peter Parker falling into clothes lines))
2 World Stunt Awards nominations (Best Work with a Vehicle, Best Speciality Stunt (Doc Ock waking up))

What the Critics Said Then
“a sequel that not only outstrips its predecessor but has a perversity and quick-wittedness that hardly seem to belong in a comic-book movie. […] It’s unusual and gratifying to find a multimillion dollar movie that’s been put together with some thoughtfulness, that doesn’t neglect subtlety in between delivering the smash-bang-wallop. […] It’s the interest in human fallibility that sets this movie apart. The superhero who bridles at his own responsibility may not sound an especially gripping prospect, but his dilemma is explored with a conviction that, within the fantasy genre, feels almost groundbreaking.” — Anthony Quinn, The Independent

Score: 93%

What the Critics Say Now
On placing the film in his top ten for BBC Culture’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century: “First of all, the 21st century is the century of superheroes. To approach the history of this era without acknowledging that is to miss the story. Many of my peers opted to make The Dark Knight the film that represented superheroes for them, but while I like that movie it’s a crime film in superhero drag. Spider-Man 2 is an unabashedly comic book superhero movie, a film that is pulsing with the vibrant four color life of the best comic book panels and that is soaked in the sudsy soap opera of the best comic book word balloons. It’s a movie that is a perfect fusion between filmmaker and material, and it is, without a doubt, the best example of superhero filmmaking ever attempted.” — Devin Faraci, Birth. Movies. Death.

What the Public Say
“The most interesting relationship that gets explored in Spider-Man 2, however, is with Spider-Man himself. In the first Spider-Man, Peter basically became Spider-Man the instant he decided to live his life by Uncle Ben’s last few words and donned on the Spidey suit, and that was that. Here, Peter Parker basically breaks up with Spider-Man and with Uncle Ben, as he says he is “Spider-Man, no more,” and has to start over and re-bond with the hero inside of him. [The] movie makes use of this psychological relationship to refine its definition of a hero as established in the first film. It isn’t just about responsibility. It argues that the hero is inherently sacrificial. They give up even their dreams to salvage yours. This definition is much more mature and sophisticated […] It goes to show that a big budget doesn’t have to translate into senselessness. Spider-Man 2 is the intellectual experience I was looking for in a Spider-Man film with all the action that I always imagined was possible.” — Kevin Tae, Taestful Reviews

Elsewhere on 100 Films
Just before Spider-Man 3 came out they released an extended cut of the first sequel on DVD, dubbed Spider-Man 2.1 (remember when they briefly called extended cuts things like that?) At the time I concluded “it’s still a 5-star film because it doesn’t ruin the original — but it’s not at all essential”, though I later added a postscript to note that “I probably should have rated this lower. It may still be a good film, but the fact is the original cut’s better — even if just for the superior version of The Lift Scene. I rather doubt I’ll ever watch it again.”

Verdict

In a simpler time before every superhero movie was connected to every other superhero movie, filmmakers were free to only have to tell one story and develop the ongoing life of their lead characters (rather than juggle everyone else’s lead characters for cameos, too). Spider-Man 2 is a pinnacle of this. It takes the seeds sown by the first movie and nurtures them into more interesting and complex emotional dilemmas, without losing sight of the fact it’s a movie based on a comic book about a man who swings around the city in a red-and-blue onesie fighting crime. Nonetheless, it’s as memorable for Peter and MJ’s up-and-down relationship as it is for the stunning action sequences, which become icing on the cake rather than the raison d’être.

#87 is… no kid’s game.

Ladyhawke (1985)

2015 #78
Richard Donner | 121 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG-13

This is one of those films that crops up in the daytime TV schedules now and then and I’d always paid little heed to, because no one else seemed to. Then I read this write-up on Movies Silently and my interest was piqued. (There are many films of interest or recommendation that I haven’t got round to years after hearing of them; other times, I learn of something and watch it more or less instantly. What this says about me I don’t know, but we’ll just have to live with it.)

Ladyhawke is an ’80s medieval fantasy, though relatively light on the fantasy — it’s not Conan the Barbarian. It’s more like an old romance, in the “classical literature” sense rather than the “movie genre” one. (Apparently Warner Bros even marketed it as being based on a real medieval legend, until the screenwriter who actually came up with the story complained to the WGA. Reportedly they paid him off and continued to claim it was a legend. Ah, Hollywood. (Though he has a “story by” credit on the poster, so this may be apocryphal.)) The story concerns fugitive thief Philippe (Matthew Broderick) finding himself indebted to hawk-wielding swordsman Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer), who wants revenge on the bishop (John Wood) who had also imprisoned Philippe — the fact Philippe escaped those dungeons is Navarre’s key to getting in. To add intrigue, that night Philippe is almost murdered by a giant wolf and encounters a mysterious beautiful woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who disappears with the beast.

“What’s so fantastical about all that?” you may be asking, if you a) have never seen any promotion for the film, and b) didn’t decode the title. So let’s forge ahead with ‘spoiling’ it: the woman is a hawk by day, the man a wolf by night, and they are cursed lovers. See what I mean about “classical-style romance”? The revelation of their situation is played in-film as a mystery and then a twist, and yet it’s central to the film’s concept, how it was marketed, and how it’s discussed today. I always find it weird when movies treat as a big reveal something that’s been readily given away in advance. Here, there’s a good 45 minutes or so of mystery before said reveal. Obviously, therefore, it would work better as a fresh viewing experience if you didn’t know that going in; but it’s so fundamental to the setup (despite the focus on Philippe, it’s their story) that I wonder if anyone has ever seen it without knowing? On the bright side, it doesn’t really matter: this is not a film where the ‘big twist’ is the point.

Indeed, there’s so much to commend Ladyhawke that I remain baffled as to why I wasn’t more aware of it. Well, there’s one possible explanation: the score. Oh, the score. It’s so reviled that I think it single-handedly explains the entire film’s lack of recognition. The work of prog rocker Andrew Powell, it’s very “of its time”, which means it now doesn’t seem to fit the genre… though, based on people’s comments, I’m not sure it ever did: the music one associates with “the ’80s” has very little in common with what we think of for “medieval fantasy”. It does have its moments though, usually once individual cues have got underway. You’d think you’d get used to it, but no: every time a new bit starts, it still jars. Ah well.

Nonetheless, a terrible score (or “debatably terrible” — it has its fans) is no reason to write-off an entire movie — just look at GoldenEye. Ladyhawke’s many enjoyable elements include some absolutely stunning locations and scenery, often beautifully lensed by Vittorio Storaro. There are good action sequences, in that more freewheeling, less hyper-choreographed way older movies have. They’re also not an end to themselves: this is a story, not a series of set pieces strung together. Concurrently, the screenplay (credited to three writers) is nicely balanced. It’s not a comedy, but it doesn’t feel the need to be po-faced either; the romantic adventure storyline is played straight, but Philippe occasionally addresses amusing asides to God, for example. It even wisely dodges special effects… most of the time. The few occasions on which it does make motions in that direction, it demonstrates why it was wise not to attempt them more thoroughly. These days they’d slather on the CGI, but shying away from such things is not just due to a lack of technology: it’s far more magical to not be too explicit.

The film also offers an array of likeable characters and performances. For starters: Rutger Hauer as the good guy! Wonders will never cease. In fact, he was originally cast as the villainous captain of the guard, but when the original Navarre, Kurt Russell, dropped out, Hauer got a promotion. It’s a shame, in a way — no offence to Ken Hutchison, who does a solid job, but I wager Hauer would’ve given the villain more presence. Equally, he lends the heroic knight something of an edge that other actors might not have brought. As for the rest, Broderick is a likeable lead; you can believe everyone falls in love with Pfeiffer; Leo McKern turns up as a suitably wise old hermit; and oh look, it’s Alfred Molina, with crazy hair and some prosthetic scars playing a wolf hunter. John Wood’s nameless bishop is an odd primary villain, though. Not afforded much screen time after a couple of scenes early on, we mainly learn of his evil deeds from other characters. Come the climax, he mostly stands there in silence while he’s defeated.

I do wonder if, had I seen Ladyhawke as a kid, among all the other family-friendly ’80s SF/F I watched back then, would it be a beloved childhood favourite? I think it might. That’s the kind of age when one might be liable to fall in love with it; or, at least, people of (very roughly speaking) my generation would — I suppose Kids These Days fall in love with copious CGI, be that animated or ‘live action’. Anyway, I think it deserves to be less overlooked, and if you’ve never caught it (or not for a while) it certainly merits a chance.

4 out of 5

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

2011 #81
Mike Newell | 116 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Prince of Persia The Sands of TimeDisney’s attempt to launch a second franchise in the mould of Pirates of the Caribbean, this time based on a long-running series of computer games, seemed to sink without trace last summer. Despite that failure, it’s not all bad.

To give a quick idea of its quality, Prince of Persia is analogous to an average entry in the Pirates series, only without the craziness and humour provided by Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. This probably explains Persia’s relative lack of success: Pirates began with an exceptionally good blockbuster flick, and has since coasted on goodwill and affection for Depp’s character; Persia has neither of these benefits.

There’s not much to get excited about here, however. Like On Stranger Tides, it suffers from a surfeit of ideas that are equally undeveloped. Even though this shares no writing credits with that film, it’s what it most reminded me of. There’s an adventure story that wants to reach an Indiana Jones-esque style but fumbles it. It often feels like the genuinely important bits of plot and character development are quickly brushed over, instead spending inexplicably long stretches on barely-relevant asides. It jumps about like a loon too, feeling like a lot of linking scenes or establishing shots have been excised for whatever reason.

Fiiight!There are some good action beats, but there’s also plenty of disorientatingly-edited, CGI-enhanced sequences, as per usual for the genre these days. For the former, see for instance Dastan’s climb up the wall into Alamut (or whatever it was called), or the knife-thrower-on-knife-thrower battle near the end. For explosions of CGI, see the massive logic-shattering ‘sand surfing’ sequence in the climax. Visually they’re clearly trying to evoke 300, but without going quite so far in the stylization stakes. Also worthy of note is the opening, the latest CGI-enhanced rendition of the opening sequence from The Thief of Bagdad and Aladdin: Westernised Middle Eastern streetchild-thief chased acrobatically through streets of Middle Eastern Town by Middle Eastern Guards. (None of the above pictured.)

As this is a Hollywood version of the ancient Middle East, naturally everyone is a Westerner with deeply tanned skin who speaks with an English accent. Everyone in the past had an English accent. Jake Gyllenhaal’s accent is actually very good, in my opinion; Gemma Arterton’s voice doesn’t grate as much as it seemed to in the trailer (I have no problem with her in any other film, but there was something about the Persia trailer that made her sound… weird). That’s probably the best that can be said for either of their performances. They’re not bad, just not in anyway endearing. Dastan makes a fairly bland hero — I think he’s meant to be something of a cheeky chappy, but they didn’t get close to achieving that — whereas ArtertonNot Keira Knightley has the role Keira Knightley would’ve played five years ago. I think she’s meant to be a Strong Independent Princess but, much like Dastan, we’re told we should be inferring it rather than seeing any evidence of it.

Alfred Molina has the best shot at creating a likeable supporting role, but it’s a part that resurfaces for no good reason, acts inconsistently, and all his best elements are cribbed from better films. Like most of the film, then. An attempt is made to conceal that Ben Kingsley is the villain, and it might have worked if anyone else was in the role — heck, I almost believed it even with him… but only “almost”. Like most of the story, it’s all a bit stock-in-trade. It’s good to take inspiration from other action-adventure classics, but it also means that it all feels very familiar. The time travelling dagger, the film’s truly unique point, is too powerful as a plot point, meaning rules have to be established that limit its use… which means that the one unique element doesn’t actually turn up very often.

Prince of Persia is riddled with flaws, it would seem. Its characters are unmemorable, their relationships unbelievable; its plot is disjointed and, while always followable, still half nonsensical; the other half is by-the-numbers predictable; its action sequences occasionally shine, but are largely whizzily edited or CGI burnished (though, in fairness, they’re far from the worst example of either problem). I should probably dislike it quite a lot, yet while part of me says I should rank it lower than even the Pirates sequels (owing to the lack of charming characters or any trace of humour), looking back I kind of liked it. It’s not Good, but it is sort of Fine, and it’s by no means bad enough to inspire genuine hatred.

Glowing daggerPlus, the sword-and-sandals milieu makes a bit of a change. I know we’ve had plenty of swords-and-sandals-flavoured movies in the wake of Gladiator, suggesting this is hardly unique, but whereas they’ve all unsurprisingly shot at the Gladiator mould, Persia is aiming for the PG-13 adventure-blockbusters style. It’s a shame that it’s not better, because said milieu and some of the talent involved could have produced a film in the vein of quality of, say, The Mummy, if we’d been lucky.

If you’re less forgiving than me, knock a star off. Or if you think you’d like the Pirates films better without Depp’s silly captain, maybe leave that star on.

3 out of 5

Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat2007 #32
Lasse Hallström | 117 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

Although not the lead character this time, Judi Dench once again revels in playing an old lady who can say what she likes, in this pleasant adaptation of Joanne Harris’ novel.

It’s a neat little story about acceptance that doesn’t suffer for its occasionally episodic plot or sometimes quaint depiction of French small-town life.

(I was occasionally distracted spotting the sci-fi/fantasy credentials of the cast. But that’s just me.)

4 out of 5