Saturday, July 03, 2004

Spiderman 2 review

I don't usually go to see movies by myself. In fact, just about the only time I'll go to a movie theater is when I'm going with a group, and in that case, I rarely give much input on what movie I want to see. However, inspired by the positive reviews from both Howard Taylor and Donald Sensing, I decided to go see Spiderman 2. It was a Saturday matinee, and it was certainly worth the mere $5 it cost.

I saw the first Spiderman when I was in Edmonton for an interview with Bioware (it occurs to me that this would be a pretty interesting blog post in itself--look for "How I almost became a computer game designer" later), where the entire company went to see the movie. It was a lot of fun watching it with a bunch of geeks who knew their comic books inside and out. My favorite part of the movie then, which remains my favorite part now when I watch it on DVD, was the very beginning, when Peter had first gained his new abilities and was just learning to use them. I highly doubted that the second movie could recapture that excitement.

It turns out I was wrong. I'm trying to avoid details--the fewer spoilers the better, but you can't write a review without some--but if you've seen the commercials, you already know that Peter Parker walks away from being Spiderman. The reasons why are manifold, and you can guess at most of them just from the first movie: always broke, unable to hold a regular job, hated by most of the city, never able to keep his commitments and thus always letting his friends down. MJ, the girl he loves and who loves him, has just about given up on their friendship altogether. His best friend, Harry Osbourne, can't forgive him for protecting Spiderman, who killed Harry's father. It surprised me how long it took to build up to Peter giving up on being Spiderman. The one detail that didn't make the commercials was how the stress in his life was affecting his abilities, which made his willingness to quit more believable. Once he quits, his abilities desert him completely, reducing his ability and thus temptation to be a hero. As you might expect, he has several opportunities to do so, and he doesn't go back to his Spiderman habits the first time he encounters someone who needs help. This makes his return all the more remarkable, and his comeback has the same sense of discovery as when he first gained his abilities. (Of course he comes back--don't tell me you consider that a spoiler.) This sort of thing is a cliche anyway (Do you have any idea how many computer game sequels use some variation of this to prevent the hero from being overpowered at the start of the new game?), and now that it's been done once it can't be believably used in a third movie, but it still worked well this time.

Aside from the sympathetic hero, Spiderman 2 also gives us a sympathetic villain. Sure, Osbourne from the first Spiderman was somewhat sympathetic, but you felt more pity than hope for him. He was ruthless even before he became the Green Goblin. Dr. Octavius was fundamentally decent before he became Doc Ock, and you find yourself hoping that he can find redemption.

The central story is not about Doc Ock, or Harry, or even MJ. It's about Peter, and whether he's willing to make the sacrifices needed to help others. Donald Sensing draws parallels with the US experience, but I'll just keep to the movie.

I won't tell you the ending, but you know the questions. Does Peter reconcile with Harry? Does Doc Ock find redemption? Can MJ and Peter be together, or at least remain friends? Who of his friends and enemies will discover his other identity? I will tell you that the answers are not all happy ones, but I did find the ending of this one more upbeat than the ending to the first, and more satisfying.

Overall, a very good movie, and worth seeing.

New Post: My post on "How I almost became a computer game designer" is now here.

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