Things are proceeding apace with negotiations for me to replace Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz when he leaves the show this fall. I must confess, I am a little nervous at the prospect. I haven't headlined a show on the Great White Way for some years but Normy assures me that handling a Broadway audience is like riding a bicycle - only with less chafing between the legs. We've decided, to avoid confusion with Victor/Victoria, to retitle the show The Girl from Oz so I need not play the show in male drag and can have some simply splendiferous outfits created for me to wear during the production numbers. I'm also having the show reordered somewhat. Quiet Please, There's A Lady On Stage will now be the opening number, with a new set representing the Sydney Opera House with a dozen additional chorus boys dressed as aborigines throwing boomerangs in the background.
I'm glad to report that the demise of that trifling little entertainment, American Idyll with which I was briefly associated, has left me with no serious legal problems. Fajer and Hellmann, my estimable attorneys, proved to the satisfaction of the courts that a lady of my sterling reputation could not possibly be abusive to little ones under any circumstances; overzealous stage mothers were to blame. Several social workers also testified that the raid on Chateau Maine was due to a clerical error; they had been looking for the Neverland Ranch.
Normy and I decided to celebrate the upswing in our personal fortunes by heading out to the cinema. Our choice was the uninspired sounding Spider-Man 2 with Tobey Maguire. I had enjoyed, but not been overwhelmed by, the original several summers ago and was very pleasantly surprised that this installment not only matches the infectious fun of the original, it also manages to improve the formula through a surprisingly moving story and script. Director Sam Raimi has made a surprisingly empathetic popcorn superhero film, something of a rarity, and the resulting ride has the requisite thrills and a few moments of genuine human emotion.
After a dynamite credits sequence, which recaps all of the key images of the first film in some lovely watercolor/gouache paintings amidst computer animated spider webs, we pick up with Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) (Tobey Maguire) where we left off. His friendship with Harry Osborn (James Franco) is collapsing after the death of Harry's father; his romance with the lovely Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is on the outs as he refuses to get close to her for fear she could be a target for villainy; his beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is in danger of losing her home to the bank after the death of Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson in a from beyond the grave cameo). Peter struggles to balance superhero responsibilities with a normal job and school, failing at nearly everything he does.
Harry arranges for him to meet the brilliant Dr. Otto Octavius(Alfred Molina) who, along with his lovely wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy), has solved the problem of fusion power for Osborn industries. Using a contraption of metal tentacles to handle his materials, the fusion experiment at first goes brilliantly, than becomes unstable. The resulting melt down kills Rosalie (after far too few scenes) and the tentacles are fused to poor Otto's spine and nervous system, developing an evil life of their own and causing the scientist to become the evil Doc Ock, who turns to a life of crime in order to finance further experiments in fusion. Peter must understand the nature of his gifts, come out of a self imposed retirement, battle the villain and make peace with the important people in his life, which he manages to do in both action sequences and quiet little scenes.
The superior script is credited to Alvin Sargent, best known for his character dramas such as Ordinary People and Julia and he makes the most of the intimate moments and the characters interior lives. Other credited writers include Michael Chabon, the novelist, who proved he knew a thing or two about the mythos of the comic book in his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay from a few years back. The script takes chances. Doc Ock is never just a villain, especially in Alfred Molina's expert portrayal, but a character of complexity and sympathy who isn't bad, but manipulated by forces beyond his control in the artificial intelligence of his tentacles. It's a rare popcorn movie that will bravely make a septuagenarian woman the moral heart and soul of the film. The luminous Rosemary Harris is not just an extended cameo as Aunt May, she's integral to the plot and Peter's development and her long speeches cut right through to the heart of the film's themes.
Tobey Maguire continues to find the balance between brash youthful exuberance, introspection, and daring do that is Spider Man and handles his scenes, both action and acting with aplomb. He's become much more comfortable with his body and his moves, perhaps CGI augmented?, are more in tune with the nature of the titular beast. The weakest links are the two other young hold over stars. Kirsten Dunst, who sports a hair color and style that looks like great-aunt Sadie's old fox fur, seems awkward. She's usually a lovely naturalistic actress so I'm not sure what that's about. She screams well, but when we get to her final plot revelations, we fail to care as she simply hasn't given us enough heart. Donna Murphy, as the ill fated Rosalie, gives us more about love in two minutes than Ms. Dunst does in two hours. James Franco, who was one of the best things in the first film, plays sullen, brooding, and drunk, and doesn't seem to have much function beyond cliffhanger plotting.
The action sequences are nicely staged and keep you on the edge of your seat without overwhelming you with sound and fury. I particularly liked some of Spidey's and Doc Ock's confrontations around the cornices and crenellations of midtown Manhattan. A fight on an elevated train is a bit less successful. Anyone with knowledge of NYC knows the Manhattan els were torn down generations ago and the flying by of familiar landmarks of the Chicago Loop (where the sequence was filmed) makes problems with the suspension of disbelief. The sequence ends well, however, with a moment, taken from the crucifixion, that carries a visual emotional wallop.
This is one of the rare summer films that lives up to the hype and is worth a trip to the multiplex some summer weekend for hot popcorn, cool air conditioning and the enjoyment of a classic entertainment with a crowd.
Late pizza delivery. Smarmy loan agent. Dull astronaut fiancé. Appallingly bad mannered usher. Mangled Wilde. Flying metal. Flying cars. Flying surgeons. Discarded spidey suit. River hideout. Sinking fusion.