Friday, July 02, 2004

At The Movies: Spider-Man 2

After seeing SP2 at the local theater, I was literally walking on air. I wanted to race right home and blog out a review. But then, I thought, let's sit on this overnight and see what effect it has on my review. There was a lot of adrenaline flowing after the movie and as I came out of the theater, the skies were filled with reds and purples of storm clouds forming over us but headed out of town. It was like coming out of movie into a comic book. That's how weird and vibrant the sky's colors were. So, I went to Wal-Mart for some groceries instead.

Frankly, the sleeping on hasn't changed my impression of the movie. It is quite literally both a great film (in the sense of being well-plotted with excellent character development) and a great translation of comic-to-screen. I have taken to thinking of it as translation when any one art form is carried into another. Comics are literary-visual and film is visual-auditory. What reads correctly can come off stiff on screen, especially if it is necessary exposition.

A caveat before proceeding. I am a huge Spider-Man fan. I read the comic books for years and loved the Television versions, yes, even the cheesy live-action one from the 70's. As a rather large, somewhat clumsy, person, the sheer acrobatic athleticism of Spidey's moves were attractive wish fulfillment as well as the whole subtext of geeky kid gets powers and can stand up for himself. I would be curious to find out what the reaction of someone who was unfamiliar with Spidey would take to the movie.

Why is it so good? [Beware! Spoilers Ahead!] Let's start with the characters. While the action sequences punctuates the movement of the plot, the heart of the film and its plot are the characters. We often are lead down asides and sub plots that allow us to see the humanity of the characters. So, we have a brief scene where Dr. Connors chastises Peter Parker because Peter is obviously a very gifted science student but keeps missing class which the good doctor interprets as laziness but we know better. Also, we see the compassion Peter feels for Dr. Octopus, given that before the accident, which some could argue was in part Spidey's fault, Dr. Otto Octavius was Peter's scientific hero and, given different circumstances, a mentor for Peter. Later in the movie, after Peter decides to give up being Spider-Man, we see the contrast of a young man free from all his burdens and able to be "himself" and excelling in his studies. But when a group of squad cars fly by on the street or in a particularly strongly composed scene, Peter is forced to turn his back on someone in need. You can see, in the eyes of Tobey McGuire, Peter's anguish because he is not true to himself, the hero. Also, every character is well developed and well employed. Aunt May, Harry Osbourne, Mary Jane Watson, all the people of this world, even the minor characters are more fully drawn than the same type of character might be in other movies. There are some excellent scenes which involve the people of New York City that pack a remarkable amount of emotional heft.

As to the action sequences, these seem more integrated into the whole than the first movie. My criticism of Van Helsing that I felt as though I were watching a video game did not apply here. The scenes were well-executed over all. In this same vein, the introduction of several characters have set the stage for further 3 Spider-Man movies without having to hang out a sign that screams in foot-high neon letters "THIS GUY WILL BE BACK." Watch for Spider-Man 3 to feature the return of the Green Goblin, and/or the first appearances of The Moonwolf and The Lizard. Let's all hope that Sam Raimi, the director, doesn't fall prey to the mistake the Batman franchise did and start double teaming Spidey. The only team of super villains I want to see in the movie series is the Sinister Six and two of them are dead anyway.

Atmospheric elements were also well-blended. Danny Elfman gave us a great score that piqued the emotional weight of scenes without overpowering the whole. The city shots were realistic and expansive, as well as sparkling cinematography.

Now, this next part, well, I think that some would say that I am making too much of the movie. So, for what it is worth, there is something muscularly Christian about a hero like Spider-Man, and the movie made a concerted effort to point this out. First, much of the imagery is sacramental imagery. So a major subplot revolves around MJ's wedding to John Jameson. Peter forsakes his love for MJ because ultimately he knows it isn't safe for MJ to be Spidey's squeeze. Villains love exploiting family relationships. But what brings MJ back to Peter's arms, is not so silly emotional kiss that produces a feeling, but her realization of the quality of Peter's love. Another image appears when Dr. Octopus finally is brought back to his senses and tries to stop the havoc he is about to unleash, he arises from water, in a left-handed reference to Baptism. Second, many of the visual images recalled Christian types. One cannot help but notice that when the smart arms that are fused to Dr. Octopus started "talking" to him, they look like serpents, perhaps a throw away comment to the Garden of Eden. In another place, Peter says to MJ, "I always imagined you getting married on a mountain top," to which she replies, "I'm getting married in a church." (I think the scene is shot at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in NYC.) Third, at the heart of Spider-Man's conflict with himself, is a vocation. Like it or not, Peter has these powers. Now, if he stands up and uses these powers, he becomes a hero. If he ignores these powers, then the world is far worse for it, and he has wasted this precious gift. Yes, to live up to the power's responsibility is poopy at times, but what is lost by neglect of these powers is worse. Now, substitute the word "vocation" where "powers" is used and I think you see my point. Living the Christian life well is HEROIC. It requires heroes to live this kind of life, and the movie makes a point of showing how Spider-Man's overt heroism inspires others to be heroic in proper degree. (And here is where people will start to snark at me...) Spider-Man's struggles are, to me, an excellent metaphor for the struggle to discern a call to priesthood/religious life. Being a hero means taking reality for what it is, working to better what one can with the capacity one possesses, and accepting the sacrifices that comes with it. Being a priest and using well one's time in discernment requires the same analysis. Once someone is a priest, he still has to be a hero because he has received great power to which is attached great responsibility.

In my second year at my first assignment in OKC, I received the greatest compliment of my priesthood thus far. A parishioner, who is a homeschooler and NFP practioner so no slouch himself, came up to me and said, "If I had met you before I married, you would have made me want to be a priest." I have been trying to get back to that ever since. Spider-Man is a great movie for all ages and temperaments as well as carrying a great message as well.

Rating: 5 of out 5 bananas.

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