Monday, July 13, 2009

Spidey Agonistes

This was another light week for me. Apart from continuing on with Dexter and The X-Files, this is what I saw:

By the time I made it to the end of this week's re-viewing of Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man (2002), all I could think was: "This is better than I remembered it being." Oh, I still hate the film's conception of the Green Goblin, and I think the special effects are pretty dodgy, but on the whole, it gets most things right, including the primal guilt involved with Spidey's origin story and his subsequent pathological need for expiation of that guilt. I see more of Raimi's personality in this movie than I remembered, too, including some shots that seem to me like they were originally planned for Darkman. And I still like the cast, especially the ensemble at The Daily Bugle. One of these days, someone will notice that you could build an entire film around these characters--especially J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. No superheroes required. This is what I originally said about the movie back in 2002.

Spider-Man 2 (2004) is a better film, but it doesn't seem to be holding up in my head as well as the first film. Raimi lets his sadistic qualities get the better of him, and heaps the misery on poor Peter Parker like he heaped abuse on Ash in the Evil Dead movies. This leads the film to occasional passages that are maudlin, and the Spidey as messiah imagery at the end of the el train sequence is a bit much to take. But where the first film really stumbled with its villain, this one gets it spot on. Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus is a marvel (pardon the pun), and you can see the manic glee Raimi must have felt when filming him in the re-emergence of the gonzo style the director is known for.

Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie (2000) has it's pleasures--most of them provided by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but it seems a bit unambitious in retrospect. Part of this is the result of a skinflint studio doing things on the cheap, but part of it is built into the material. How does one distill a thirty year soap opera into a 90 minute movie? Not easily. It's a miracle that the thing is watchable. My interest in these movies is really an interest in that most engaging of megalomaniacs, Magneto, who is possibly the most complicated evil mastermind comics have ever produced. The gleam in Ian McKellen's eye as he assays the role is a big part of this film's watchability. I laid out most of my gripes about this film when it originally appeared, and I don't really have much to add.

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