Monday, June 20, 2016

Recap: "Spider-Man 2" Intro

A year ago, I took a look at the first installment in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. While incredibly dated, the first film holds up as an authentic, if goofy, representation of Spider-Man. And apparently, Stan Lee has recently gone on record stating that the first Spider-Man movie is his favorite superhero movie. Probably because it encapsulates his Silver Age run on Amazing Spider-Man.

But Spider-Man 2 has often been called the best film in the trilogy. And occasionally, it gets called the best superhero film ever.

Roger Ebert does not make such statements lightly.
In the years after the film’s release, people said that it even rivaled the previous critical darling, Superman: The Movie. And that makes sense; Superman was made in the 70s, so the genre had about three decades to improve. But the passage of time is a double-edged sword, since the 2008 double-whammy of Iron Man and The Dark Knight changed the game forever and unleashed a flood of superhero movies that’s still going strong even now.

"You're welcome, world. Batman would have joined me here, but he's too busy getting rebooted."
So does Spider-Man 2 hold up after a decade? Well, I’ll get to that in good time. But right now, I have to talk about how absolutely bonkers Spider-Man 2 almost was.

And bonkers isn't a word I use lightly, either.
Sometimes, the process of making a move is fraught with uncooperative weather, actors that get recast after brandishing knives at each other, and the human filmmaking complication known as Marlon Brando.

When Brando puts a bucket on his head, you don’t tell him to remove it. You film the scene anyway.
But Spider-Man 2’s pre-production is an uneventful affair. Sam Raimi started on a sequel as soon as filming on the first film wrapped, and it went pretty smoothly. From the beginning, Sony wanted the villain to be Doctor Octopus, which makes a lot of sense. Even before Doc Ock switched bodies with the wallcrawler in the comics, the multi-limbed madman was probably the third-most destructive influence on Peter Parker’s personal life, with Venom taking the number two slot and Norman “I Killed Gwen Stacy and Peter’s Unborn Child” Osborn having earned the gold medal.

I mean, Doctor Octopus was not only one of the most consistent members of the Sinister Six, but his stint as the "Master Planner" nearly killed Aunt May. And let's not forget the time he tried to marry Aunt May to acquire a nuclear plant she inherited. And on top of all that, Ock was the first villain to unmask Spider-Man as Peter Parker. But since Spider-Man had the flu at the time, his heroics were poor enough to convince Ock that Peter was merely a decoy.

Oh, that JJJ. Always collaborating with villains.
Doctor Octopus was no stranger to potential Spider-Man film scripts, since a very early draft of the first film in the 80s saw him attempting to harness anti-gravity for nefarious purposes, with Arnold Schwarzenegger eyed for the role and a catchphrase of “Okey-dokey.” Doc Ock even popped up in early drafts of Raimi’s vision for the first Spider-Man film.

And in concept art for the first film's DVD.
In 2002, Sony hired Miles Millar and Alfred Gough (who you might know as the co-developers of Smallville) to draft a script for a sequel which featured Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, and Black Cat. But since the villain team-ups in Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were still fresh in people’s minds, they decided to focus more on Doctor Octopus in subsequent drafts, which David Koepp came back to help edit. After a $200 million budget was allotted to the film for a 2004 release, they brought in novelist Michael Chabon to write a draft. And that draft was crazy.

I was lucky enough to read selected excerpts online, and… sweet merciful Thor.

This script would have been terrible.

Basically, young, sexy Dr. Otto Octavius (possibly played by David Duchovny) worked on Project Anansi, which was the experiment that made the “super-spiders” from the first film. Then for almost no reason, he decided to invent robotic tentacles. Then he suddenly develops an obsession with Mary Jane and starts dating her, all the while growing more and more obsessed with his tentacle harness, since it gives him an endorphin high every time he plugs it into himself.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man stole a small chip Otto invented that could potentially remove his spider-powers, and it works! But then Otto goes nuts, fuses with his tentacles, and discovers that without that chip, he’ll die because the tentacles are wrecking his body’s biological functions. Harry Osborn, who gets more and more paranoid (causing Peter to move out), puts a ginormous bounty on Spidey’s head before teaming up with Doc Ock to capture the wallcrawler and remove his spine, which would cure Ock because SCIENCE.

Spidey uses a knife to dig the chip out of his body before going to save Mary Jane from Ock’s clutches, but ends up captured and unmasked. In the end, Doc Ock sacrifices his life instead of performing the corpectomy. And with Harry and MJ discovering Peter’s secret, Harry goes and vows revenge.

While certain lines of dialogue and certain story beats made it into the final product, most of the conflict came from the fact that Harry, Doc Ock, and even Aunt May are nuts. Seriously, Aunt May dumps cookies in the trash, smashes a plate, and disowns Peter for half the movie.

Understandably, Sam Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent decided to cobble together a script from the best parts of each draft until they had something they were proud of, taking inspiration from the “Spider-Man No More!” story, filtering it through the de-powering arc of Superman II.

From there, actors returned, new actors were hired largely without anything interesting to talk about, and the only actual snag was when it looked like Tobey Maguire would have to be replaced with Jake Gyllenhaal after he injured his back while making Seabiscuit. But in the end, the film’s production went pretty smoothly.

The end result? When the film opened in June of 2004, it made almost $40.5 million dollars its first day, breaking the previous film’s record of $39.4 million. And it also broke The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s record for the highest-grossing Wednesday. After breaking some more records, it wound up earning $373.5 million, making it the second-highest grossing film of 2004 behind Shrek 2.

Critical praise ensued. 93% on Rotten Tomatoes (and the second-best reviewed comic book movie of all time on that site). Academy Award winner for Best Visual Effects. AFI’s Film of the Year. Pretty much swept the Saturn Awards. But like anything that earns that much praise, the backlash has been growing in recent years, with people saying it’s overrated, or doesn’t hold up, or even that it was never good. Sounds like as good a reason as any to talk about it.

Coming up in Part 1! Peter Parker: powerless and irresponsible.

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