Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Recap: "Spider-Man 2" Part 1: Tangled Web

Now that Spider-Man 2 is over a decade old, let's take a look and see if the best superhero movie Roger Ebert ever saw can hold its own in a world that has, as of this writing, rebooted Spider-Man twice.

I bet Batman knows how that feels.
So after this beautiful logo makes another appearance....
The intro starts off as just a red-tinted version of the first film's intro, but still manages to add its own unique spin by featuring the beautiful artwork of Alex Ross to summarize the events of the first film.

But for some reason, Spider-Man sports the comic eyepieces, not the film ones.
After the intro, the story begins with a closeup of Mary Jane Waston's face plastered on a billboard. So at least she's found some modeling work until her acting career takes off.

Peter Parker (voiceover): "She looks at me every day. Mary Jane Watson. Oh boy. If she only knew how I felt about her."

Oh, come on, movie. You're supposed to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. You're opening with that cliched line? And you're throwing in an honset-to-Odin "Oh boy"?

Look, Tobey Maguire is a decent actor, but he ain't Patrick Stewart. He can't elevate bad dialogue, and certainly not in voiceover. He sounds like a student reading out loud to the class.

Peter Parker (voiceover): "But she can never know. I made a choice once to live a life of responsibility. A life she can never be a part of. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man, given a job to do."

So... Peter's not actually saying that he's keeping her out of harm's way. Honestly, it sounds like Peter's saying that having a girlfriend would get in the way of webslinging.

Peter Parker (voiceover): "And I'm Peter Parker, and I, too, have a job."

Said job involves riding a scooter, which he nearly crashes into his boos when he gets distracted by MJ's billboard. But luckily, he stops in the nick of time and merely gets chewed out for being late to work again. The bossman, Mr. Aziz, is played by Aasif Mandvi, best known for either The Daily Show or that crappy Last Airbender movie. Although this was made in 2004, when bit parts like this were all he could get in films. But then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.

Peter: "I'm sorry, Mr. Aziz, there was a disturbance."

In the Force, or what? That's an odd choice of language.

Mr. Aziz: "Disturbance, another disturbance. Always a disturbance with you."

Maybe Peter's just disturbed.

Once inside the pizza joint, Mr. Aziz explains the situation.

Mr. Aziz: "Twenty-one minutes ago, in comes order. Harmattan, Burton, and Smith. Eight extra-large deep-dish pizzas."

Who's ordering Chicago-style pizza in New York City?

Must be Ray Stantz.
Basically, his business has a 29-minute guarantee, and these pizzas were ordered 21 minutes ago. Peter has 7-and-a-half minutes to go 42 blocks or he's fired.

Mr. Aziz: "Look, you are my only hope, alright?"

"Help me, Peter Parker. You're my only hope."
Peter zooms down the jammed New York streets, avoiding obstacles and cutting whatever corners he can to get there as fast as possible.

Driver: "Hey, what're ya, stupid?!"

Whatever happened to "You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us?"  Eventually, Peter decides to forgo traffic entirely by ducking into an alleyway and changing into his spider-duds. This does not go unnoticed by one of the nearby civilians.

Civilian: "Whoa... He stole that guy's pizzas!"

You know, if the citizens of New York are that dumb, I think Peter end up putting less and less care into maintaining his cover. Eventually, Pete's just going to be using the top part of his costume as a shirt.

"Hey, Harry, how've you been?"
"Still trying to get revenge on Spider-Man for the death of my father."
"Oh. Any leads yet?"
"None."
Interestingly enough, the line about stealing the pizzas was added in to be Stan Lee's cameo, but it was given to this random passerby because Stan had trouble delivering it, or something. The internet is being oddly vague, though the blooper reel shows Stan Lee flubbing the line by saying "sneakers" instead of "pizzas."

"It was a cute line and all, but I wasn't feeling the cameo."
Really? Why?

"Because I prefer to have control over who lives and who dies."
...'Kay.

Anyway, as Spider-Man swings along, he spots a couple of kids about to chase a ball into traffic, so he deposits his pizzas on a nearby ledge before swinging down to rescue them.

"Oh, somebody up there really likes me."
"Nah."
After depositing the kids back onto the sidewalk, he tells them not to play in the streets anymore.

Kids: "Yes, Mr. Spider-Man."

"One does not simply play in the streets."
Spider-Man then takes off into the air, grabbing his pizzas back and webbing up the only piece that managed to get stolen. Somehow, offscreen, he manages to sneak inside the closet outside the offices of Harmattan, Burton, and Smith, do a little physical comedy with janitor's equipment, and present the pizzas to the receptionist... Bones?

Geez, she was slumming it for a while, apparently.
Unfortunately, the pizzas are late, and the receptionist sure ain't paying. Can you blame her, though? One of the slices has sticky white gunk all over it from Spidey's webs now.

So Peter returns to the pizzeria to get fired, despite all of his protests. And to make matters worse, when we cut to the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) fires Peter as well. Apparently, Spider-Man has been refusing to "let Peter take more pictures of him" thanks to all the Bugle's slander.

"Libel."
Peter: "You've turned the whole city against him."
Jameson: "A fact I'm very proud of."

But things are pretty frantic at the Bugle offices. Jameson's wife has called to say that she lost her checkbook...

Jameson: "Thanks for the good news."

...and they need a headline right this minute to make it in time to go to press.

Jameson: "Here's the headline: Food Poisoning Scare Sweeps City."
Thompson: "Some food got poisoned?"
Jameson: "I'm a little nauseous, yeah."

Unwilling to let Jameson make up the news more than he usually does, Peter hands over a photo of Spider-Man.

Jameson: "There's your page one. 'Masked Menace Terrorizes Town'!"
Robbie Robertson: "I told you he's not a menace!"
Jameson: "And I told you..."
Robbie Robertson: "I'll take care of it."

You know, I really wish Robbie had more to do in these movies. I mean, he likes Spider-Man, and it's hinted that he suspects the truth about Peter.... but this never amounts to anything. It's like if Lucius Fox never gave Batman any cool gear.

So Jameson pays Peter...

Jameson: "I'll give you 150."
Peter: "300."
Jameson: "That's outrageous! Done."

...and hands his new check to Betty Brant (Elizabeth Banks), who tells him that this doesn't cover the advance he got a couple weeks ago. Whoops. After Betty tells him to cheer up, we cut to Peter running across the campus of Empire State University on his way to class. But he drops his books, and gets pelted by backpacks as his classmates walk by. If Tobey looks really pissed here, that's because he is. Sam Raimi instructed them to smack Tobey in the face hard. And in fact, Raimi's one of the people doing the smacking.

"Sam, I swear to God, if you keep this up, you'll be calling up your second choice for the role of Peter Parker tonight."
With all his things gathered, Peter stands up and runs straight into his teacher, Dr. Curtis Connors (Dylan Baker).

Dr. Connors: "Where were you headed, Parker?"
Peter: "To your class."
Dr. Connors: "My class is over. See me? Standing here?"

I hope Dr. Connors doesn't grade on participation.

Dr. Connors: "Look at you, Peter. Your grades have been steadily declining. You're late for class. You always appear exhausted."

"You know what, actually? Never mind.
I don't know if you're on drugs, or having problems with the mafia, or both, but this line of inquiry cannot end well."
Dr. Connors: "Your paper on fusion is still overdue."
Peter: "I know. I'm planning to write it on Dr. Otto Octavius."
Dr. Connors: "'Planning' is not a major at this university. Octavius is a friend of mine. Better do your research, Parker. Get it done. Or I'm failing you."

Geez, this guy's the nicest professor ever. If I had pulled this stunt with any of my professors, they'd tell me "tough shit."

So after that long, hard day of being the world's punching bag, Peter arrives at Aunt May's house, finding all his friends (Mary Jane [Kirsten Dunst] and Harry Osborn [James Franco]) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) there to throw him a surprise party.

Peter: "Uh, what's the occasion?"

"Are you trying to cheer me up after losing my job?"
"...You lost your job?"
"No, why do you ask?"
It seems as though Peter has forgotten his own birthday, which doesn't surprise anyone.

Mary Jane: "He lives in another reality."

Not quite yet; it'll be a few years before Spidey moves over to the MCU.

So Peter and his pals take a moment to catch up. Peter asks how Mary Jane's play is going, MJ mentions that Harry sent her roses, and Harry asks why Peter hasn't been returning his calls.

Peter: "...I've been busy."
Harry: "Taking pictures of Spider-Man? How's the bug these days?"

"I'm fine."
"...?"
"Is what he would say. And he did. When I talked to him the other day."
"You've spoken to Spider-Man?"
"No, I just take his pictures. We've never met."
Aunt May changes the subject to dinner while Mary Jane offers to help in the kitchen. As they prepare things, Harry tells Peter that he's head of Special Projects at Oscorp, which is working on some fusion projects at the moment.

Harry: "We're actually funding one of your idols, Pete. Otto Octavius."
Peter: "I'm writing a paper on him!"

Wrong tense, Peter. Try "I'm putting off writing a paper about him."

Harry: "You wanna meet him?"
Peter: "You'd introduce me?"

"No."
Harry: "Octavius is gonna put Oscorp on the map in a way my father never even dreamed of."

Probably because it has nothing to do with weapons. That was kind of the old man's bread and butter.

But the subject turns toward Mary Jane. Harry can see what's happening, but Peter doesn't have a clue.

Harry: "The way she looks at you... or doesn't look at you. However you want to look at it."
Peter: "I don't have time for girls right now."
Harry: "Why, are you dead?"

"I'm serious, I can't tell. When was the last time you emoted?"
Peter: "I've been kind of busy."
Harry:
"Taking pictures of your friend?"
Peter: "Could we get off that subject?"

C'mon, Harry, Peter doesn't want to talk about work right now.

Harry: "If you knew who he was, would you tell me?"

Peter doesn't answer. So in a huff, Harry glares angrily at the staircase.

It knows what it did.
Eventually, the festivities wind down, and Peter is left with a napping Aunt May. So he takes this opportunity to snoop through her mail, where he discovers that her mortgage is in foreclosure because she hasn't been paying. Having had enough snooping, he walks over to the table and gently rubs her hand. To be blunt, Aunt May has the kind of health problems that make it necessary to make sure she's actually sleeping.

May momentarily calls Peter "Ben," but comes to her senses as she wakes up the rest of the way.

Aunt May: "Everyone's gone, aren't they? Did they have a good time?"

"Harry just kind of stared at the stairs for a bit and left, but I think he enjoyed it."
Aunt May tries to send Peter on his way, but he's worried about his poor, frail, penniless aunt. But she doesn't want to hear a word of it, and prepares to send him on his way with a crisp $20 bill.

Peter: "No, I can't take that from you."
Aunt May: "Yes, you can! You can take this money from me!"

"Peter, I've had a foot in the grave for years.
I won't survive to see the house paid off, so screw the mortgage, here's a twenty."
Aunt May: "And don't you dare leave it here."

May breaks down into tears over how hard it's been getting by without Ben, and exposits that it's been almost two years since his death. And much like Harry and his father, May wonders what she would do if she were to face the one responsible for Ben's death.

Aunt May: "Now... you better take the rest of your cake home."

Priorities!

Peter takes the trash out before he goes, finding Mary Jane still outside.

Peter: "I saw your billboard on Bleecker."

"Right by Dr. Strange's house."
Mary Jane: "Isn't it funny? I'm really kind of embarrassed."
Peter:
"Don't be. It's nice; I get to see you every day now."

"It's just like back in high school, when I'd look right in your window."
Mary Jane: "I liked seeing you tonight, Peter."
Peter:
"Oh boy, yeah."

Ain't nothing fuels a girl's fire down below like a grown man with the haircut of a little boy going to Sunday School who says "Oh boy" without a trace of irony.

Mary Jane: "'Oh boy, yeah,' what?"

"I liked seeing me tonight, too."
Mary Jane: "Do you want to say something?"

"No, I think 'Oh boy, yeah' covered it."
Peter: "I... was... wondering if you're still in the Village."
Mary Jane:
"...You're such a mystery."

Non-sequitur.

Instead of answering, she strokes his face and says his name before wishing him a happy birthday and starting to walk away.

Mary Jane: "I'm seeing somebody now."

Non-sequitur.

Peter: "Like a boyfriend?"
Mary Jane: "Well- like- I like him."

Peter tries to cover his disappointment with vague statements about companionship...

Mary Jane: "Maybe more than that."
Peter: "More?"
Mary Jane: "I don't know."

I don't think I've ever seen two people say less to each other in so many words.

Peter promises to see Mary Jane's play, probably in the hopes of getting between MJ and her companion, which seems to make her happy.

Mary Jane: "Don't disappoint me."

You realize who you're asking, here?

Mary Jane and Peter head their separate ways, with Peter returning to his apartment building, where his landlord (Elya Baskin) waits for him.

Mr. Ditkovitch: "Rent!"
Peter: "Hi."
Mr. Ditkovitch: "'Hi'? What's 'hi'? Can I spend it?"

Peter starts making some more of those patented Peter Parker empty promises, but Ditkovitch ain't hearing it.

Mr. Ditkovitch: "If promises were crackers, my daughter would be fat."

Mr. Ditkovitch takes Peter's birthday money, and his daughter, Ursula (Mageinah Tovah), starts burning dinner. So Peter walk across the hall to his own place. A small, cozy little deal. And much like the apartment of Elwood Blues, the train passes by so often that Peter probably hardly notices it anymore.

After showing him sitting on the bed and staring for a while, the film decides to cut to the next morning, where runs into Mr. Ditkovitch in the communal bathroom.

Mr. Ditkovitch: "Rent?"

So after about eighteen minutes of showing us the myriad ways in which Peter Parker's life sucks, we cut to Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) tinkering in his lab, where's he's soon joined by Harry Osborn and Peter Parker.

Harry: "Nobel Prize, Otto, Nobel Prize."

Yeah, take that, David J. Gross, H. David Politzer, and Frank Wilczek! "Asymtotic freedom in the theory of strong interaction"? Child's play compared to what Otto Octavius is cooking up!  Harry introduces Peter to Dr. Octavius, and the two shake hands.

Peter: "I'm writing a paper on you for-"
Dr. Octavius: "Yes, yes, I know what you're doing here, but I really don't have time to talk to students right now."
Harry: "[ahem]"
Dr. Octavius: "But, Oscorp pays the bills, so..."

"Looks like I'll just have to skip the installation of the emergency shut-off failsafe."
Harry takes off to go have a board meeting as Peter and Octavius are left alone.

Dr. Octavius: "Parker. Now I remember you, you're Connors's student. He tells me you're brilliant. He also tells me you're lazy."
Peter: "I'm trying to do better."
Dr. Octopus: "Being brilliant's not enough, young man. You have to work hard."

Yeah, without hard work, you're just stuck lazing about with no steady job, distracting yourself from your dwindling bank account with your blog.

...So I've heard.

Dr. Octavius: "Intelligence is not a privilege, it's a gift. And you use it for the good of mankind."

Which is why Dr. Octavius is allying himself with a company known for supplying the military with deadly weapons. But hey, unlike Bruce Banner, Otto Octavius understands the importance of proper funding.

"It was either Oscorp or Stark Industries.
In the end, they decided to put more money into the arc reactor project, rather than fund another energy program.
Still, no hard feelings, and they even helped me build the prosthesis for my experiment."
For some reason, it's at this point that the subtitles show a line that neither Peter nor Dr. Octavius actually say, since it would be wholly inappropriate for either of them to broach the subject here.

Hey, now; not on a first date.
Upon repeated viewings, it became clear that the line was spoken very faintly in the background by one of Octavius's technicians, but let me say that it was quite surprising for that to suddenly pop up in the middle of this conversation.

Anyway, Peter points out Dr. Octavius's fusion device, and the two talk tech.

Peter: "I understand you use harmonics of atomic frequencies."
Dr. Octavius: "Sympathetic frequencies."
Peter: "Harmonic reinforcement?"
Dr. Octavius: "Go on."
Peter: "An exponential increase in energy output."

Wow. That sure sounds sciencey. I'd critique this technobabble in detail, but it actually seems to be based on some real life science that I can't make heads or tails of. Here's a link to Wikipedia. Maybe you can decipher it.

Dr. Octavius: "A huge amount of energy. Like a perpetual sun providing renewable power for the whole world."

We then suddenly cut to the two of them sitting at a table while Octavius's wife, Rosie (Donna Murphy), serves them tea. As she does, I struggle to come up with a joke regarding the fact that the actress played Captain Picard's love interest in Star Trek: Insurrection as well as the villain in Tangled. I'll get back to you all on that.

Peter asks Octavius if he's absolutely sure that he could stabilize the reaction.

Dr. Octavius: "Peter, what have we been talking about for the last hour-and-a-half?"

And the Award for Laziest Depiction of Time Passing goes to....

Dr. Octavius: "I certainly know the consequences of the slightest miscalculation."

Remember that line, everybody.

Dr. Octavius: "Rosie, our new friend thinks I'm gonna blow up the city. You can sleep soundly tonight."

So... you're doing this fusion experiment in the middle of a city? There's usually a very good reason for keeping reactors away from densely-populated areas.

Rosie: "And you need to sleep soundly tonight, Otto."
Dr. Octavius: "Did Edison sleep before he turned on the light?"

Are you saying he turned on the light and then went to sleep? That's a waste of electricity.

Dr. Octavius: "Did Marconi sleep before he turned on the radio? Did Beethoven sleep before he wrote the Fifth?"
Peter: "Did Bernoulli sleep before he found the curves of quickest descent?"

You've got a little brown on your nose, there, Pete.

But instead of winding down, the conversation turns to Peter as Rosie wonders if he has any special girl in his life.

Peter: "Uh, well, I don't really know."
Dr. Octavius: "Well, shouldn't you know? Who would know?"

The Marvel Wiki?

Rosie: "Leave him alone. Maybe it's a secret love."

Yeah, you'd know all about that!

...Because she kind of cheated on her husband in Star Trek: Insurrection to flirt with Captain Picard in secret...?

Look, I'm trying.

Dr. Octavius: "Love should never be a secret. If you keep something as complicated as live stored up inside... gonna make you sick."

Which, believe it or not, is a plot point.

Dr. Octavius: "I finally got lucky in love."
Rosie: "We both did. But it's hardly perfect. You have to work at it. I met him on the college steps and I knew it wasn't going to be easy. He was studying science, and I was studying English literature."

You don't have to tell me twice. I'm an English-majoring comic/sci fi nerd, and my girlfriend's a NASCAR-watching marine biologist.

Dr. Octavius: "I was trying to explain the theory of relativity. And she was trying to explain T.S. Eliot. I still don't understand what he was talking about. I'm serious; T.S. Eliot is more complicated than advanced science."

Really? Here, let me help.

In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the narrator is undergoing a bit of an existential crisis as he tries to come to terms with time itself. See, the poem has this sense of hyper-awareness as he goes through his surroundings, examining how ephemeral the moment is. The narrator looks at all the people around him living in the moment, not in the sense of carpe diem, but in the sense that they're wasting their fleeting moments on things that don't truly matter. Sex, fashion, meaningless small talk and gossip. In the end, he confronts the inevitable failings of his own body as he wonders when and whether he should start covering up his bald spot, eating easier-to-digest foods, and...

Sorry. When you have a teacher who spends three class periods dissecting the line "Do I dare to eat a peach," you remember what she's talking about.

Dr. Octavius: "But if you want to get a woman to fall in love with you... feed her poetry."

"And by that, I mean you should literally shove it down her throat."
That night, Peter sits in a laundromat, reading The Song of Hiawatha as his clothes finish washing.

And that's why you use cold water when you wash your costume with your whites, Pete.
We then cut to him getting all gussied up to go see Mary Jane in The Importance of Being Earnest, a love story involving dual identities. Oh, the irony. While riding his scooter, his trip to the theatre is interrupted by a high-speed car chase that threatens to run him over. So he decides to execute a Spider-Man-style backflip off his bike.

Wow, superhero landing!
Kid: "How'd you do that?"

Right, because no one else saw that happen.

Peter: "Uh, work out. Plenty of rest. You know. Eat your green vegetables."
Kid: "That's what my mom is always saying! I just never actually believed her!"

Are all kids in New York this dumb? Because if so, then I've got an Aunt who teaches in New York whose stories are starting to make more sense....

Anyway, the chase continues as a cop car flips up into the air and threatens to crush innocent civilians. But something stops it in midair, to the amazement of a pre-fame Joy Bryant.

Random Woman: "It's a web."

You don't get out much, do you lady?
She lets out a "Go, Spidey, go!" as Spider-Man swings after the bad guys to successfully save the day and web up the baddies. Meanwhile, Mary Jane performs her play, all the while eyeing a suspiciously-empty seat....

Finally, Peter shows up to the theatre in the bad guys' car and walks inside. The helpful usher...

Who apparently used to work at both the NYWL and S-Mart....
...points out his untied shoelace and askew tie before asking why he's there.

Peter: "Yeah, I've come to see the show."
Usher: "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. No one will be seated after the doors are closed. It helps maintain the illusion."
Peter: "Miss Watson, she's a friend of mine, she asked me to come."
Usher: "But not to come late."

So Peter waits outside for the duration of the performance, with his only source of entertainment being a street performer shrieking out the 60's Spider-Man theme. Although in this universe, she's probably butchering a Michael Buble song.

Eventually, the show is over, and Mary Jane exits the theatre. But Peter doesn't walk over to say hello. And not just because he prefers to creep on her from a distance. Her boyfriend (ACTOR) shows up, and the two go get something to eat while Peter follows after some more police cars.

But in mid-angry-web-sling, without warning, he suddenly has a fit of "How Do I Shot Web?"

After all that time he spent figuring it out.
After crashing onto the rooftop of a building, he discovers that his spinnerets are shooting blanks, meaning that he's forced to take the elevator down to the first floor while making small talk with Hal Sparks.

This is the closest the world will ever get to a Spider-Man/Lab Rats crossover.
So why did Jessie of all things get one?
Guy: "Cool Spidey outfit."
Spider-Man:
"Thanks."
Guy: "Where'd you get it?"
Spider-Man: "I made it."
Guy: "Hm. Looks uncomfortable."
Spider-Man: "Yeah, it gets kinda itchy."

Well, that's probably the athlete's foot spreading all over your body. I mean, you wear a sweaty body stocking pretty much 24/7.

Spider-Man: "And it rides up in the crotch a little bit, too."

And that's the end of that conversation.

And so, Peter Parker drags his broken scooter home past row upon row upon row upon row of posters for Emma Rose perfume with MJ's face on them. Because whatever hand of fate controls this world is a jerk.

"Guilty as charged."
The next day, Peter uses a special device by a sidewalk called a "pay phone." You see, kids, that's what people used before cell phones became ubiquitous. You could just find one on the street and borrow it for a small fee. He calls up Mary Jane and leaves a weird, rambling message where he tries to make more excuses.

Peter: "Well, I was on my bike..."

And it crashed. Say that your bike crashed. It's a perfectly valid excuse. You were in an accident.

Peter: "Are you there?"

Swing and a miss.

He tries to blame his absence on the usher, but runs out of money to continue talking. So instead, he says all the words he'd like to say to her into the dead mouthpiece.

Peter: "I'm Spider-Man."

Tell her you're Batman. More impressive.

Peter: "If my... enemies found out about you..."

What enemies? You've had one supervillain to deal with so far, and he's dead now. And police officers and lawyers have found ways to fight crooks while having families, and they don't have the bonus of working anonymously. Unless Peter wants to protect her from a vengeful Harry Osborn, should he discover Spider-Man's identity.

But Peter hangs up the phone and goes about his business.

Coming up in Part 2! Comic book science ends up causing disaster. Who could have predicted it? Besides everyone?

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