Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Rewatching Spiderman 2

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I watched a lot of YouTube videos lately analyzing Spiderman 2. Those things tend to be like stock markets and herd on the same topics for some reason, but the videos are good. That's not the point, though. I realized it's been 15 years since I watched the movie, so I decided to rewatch it. And it's been a weird experience.

One reason for this is simply time progression. This movie is 15 years old, and it shows. "They don't make movies like this anymore", and yes. Besides the (very) dated CGI, the whole style of the movie is definitely anachronistic. I reckon it already was back in 2004.

The dialogue is very staged, in that resembles a stage play more than the witty, rapid-fire dialogue style en vogue these days. Instead, it goes on carefully delivered, spelling out everything in detail. It feels very much like exposition all the time, with the plot and the themes stated very explicitly. It's not like current Disney movies would be subtle or anything, but they're subtler than this movie was.
The acting is also very staged. Everybody overplays their role with abandon, leaning into every word. Doc Oc has a scene where he's talking with his arms, for example, that makes Gollum seem well balanced by comparison. It's even more extreme for the smaller roles. To call them "caricature" is an insult to actual caricature. Peter's landlord is an Eastern European, constantly unwashed in his underwear spouting wrong syntax. And so on.

There are also some editing choices you don't see all that often anymore, such as wipes to transition between scenes, still frames with only music overlaying them and split screens. There's also a copious amount of voice-over for many scenes in which Peter narrates his inner thoughts in the most forward manner possible. None of this is bad, it's just very out of time right now. Maybe it will become en vogue again.

Interesting from a movie history standpoint is that you can see the beginnings of the current trend to greater diversity in movies. While all the heroes and important figures are still very white, there are some faces sparkled in between in positive roles that aren't simply white. However, the amount of racial caricature (the aforementioned landlord, the Pizza guy employing Peter, etc.) is breathtaking from a 2019 standpoint and hasn't aged well at all.

It's even worse for women. They are there as love interests or to scream. Seriously, if I got a buck every time a woman screamed their lungs out this movie in close-up, I could defray the cost of Bluerays for all higher tier backers of this here podcast easily. Mary Jane scores in both departments, crying and shouting a lot and presenting all sort of of heardache for Peter and herself to solve. Doc Oc's wife is so obviously angelicly good that her death is not more than a consecration. Besides that, there's zero role for any female character.

The movie is also much more conscious of its comic book origins. It leans heavily into the corny dialogues, the great gestures, the silly effects. The sound effects wouldn't be out of place in a saturday morning cartoon (Harry picking up a knife with a metal "piiiiing" sound despite the knife not touching any metal at all, for example). There's also nowhere for Peter's webs to connect to when he swings through New York (which was famously made into a joke in "Homecoming" when he can't swing through the suburbs). In one scene, a clock tower is shown clearly as the highest building around, yet Spiderman swings on top of it shooting his webs upward, just outside the frame.

All of this makes the movie seem dated in certain ways. However, they don't make it bad. The movie has a very clear center heart, well-developed conflicts between its main characters and their wants and desires and really, really good emotional payoffs. Especially the famous action scene in which Peter, sacrificing himself and his identity, rescues a subway train full of people shows this very well.
Instead of the well worn world rescue plots we know from the MCU these days, the New-York centric focus of the movie reminds me more of the Netflix series than "Avengers". The stakes are comparatively small, and the universe is as well. People just accept the existence of Spiderman, and no one gives it any more thoughts, really. The sheer goodness of the movie (all people are essentially good, and it's very upbeat) is weird compared to the neutered approach of the MCU, where civilians play a role only as an amorphous mass needing rescue.

So what's the conclusion to this? Spiderman 2, they don't make movies like this anymore. Our current breed of superhero movies is better in many ways, but it also lost in some regards, especially when it comes to the human element. A synthesis would be nice.

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