Aah, poor poor Peter Parker. With the advent of Spiderman 2, the long-suffering teen is back up against it. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ said his Uncle before carking it in the first film, and he wasn’t joking. Not only does Spider-Peter-Tobey-Maguire-Parker-Man have to do the whole swing-down-the-high-street-and-thwart-the-crook-thing, he’s trying to hold down a job, get his college work done, keep his big secret a secret…
Work/life balance is a big problem for every superhero. Bruce Wayne, despite his immense wealth, is always moaning about the hassle of being Batman; Superman manages to be both Clark Kent and the Man Of Steel only by being incredibly camp whether he’s in his specs or in his pants; Daredevil has to be blind, heroic, a top-notch lawyer and rubbish all in a day’s work. Even Indiana Jones has to doff his fedora, don a dickie-bow and give a lecture every now and again.
But spare a thought now for the poor director-of-a-comic-strip-based-blockbuster – Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame in the case of Spiderman 2 – who has to do quite a lot of balancing himself, because with great money making power comes great clich?-based responsibility. If your Superhero doesn’t have the secret alter-ego, the power-crazed villain and the unrequited love for a sweet girl who looks really good wet, your movie’s not going to be superheroic at all. But if you chuck in all those classic comic strip clich?s and more, will there be any difference between Spiderman 2 and Spiderman? Or Batman? Or Superman The Movie? Or Condorman with Michael ‘ooh Betty’ Crawford?
Sam Raimi certainly doesn’t shy away from ticking the Superhero boxes – it is Spiderman after all, one of the top three Superheroes ever, perhaps only kept off the top spot by the fact that he doesn’t wear a cape. So even just a quick look at number two gives us the grouchy boss, people important to the hero dangling at a great height, fighting on top of a moving train, incredible devices being invented for good but used for evil, a baby in a burning building, little kids in awe of our hero, the I-can’t-do-this-anymore-I’m-hanging-up-the-spandex-moment, the having-a-little-bit-of-booze-means-you’re-definitely-a-psychopath thing, the mask-coming-off-so-the-dweeb-is-revealed gambit, and a baddie in sunglasses. Add to those the post-modern Superhero clich?s – a cheeky reference to the TV show’s theme tune, a mickey-take of the villain’s conveniently villainous name – and we’re up to a round dozen, not including the secret alter-ego, the power-crazed villain and the unrequited love for a sweet girl who, I believe I already mentioned, looks really good wet.
Does that take us up to clich? overload? It sounds like it might doesn’t it. But then they skipped a couple of disastrous ones. There aren’t any money-grabbing bureaucrats in city hall, Spiderman doesn’t have to break in any laboured new devices or skills, and there’s no evil-yet-sexy vamp trying to tempt Spidey away from the path. Uma, Kill Bill may have made you cool again, but some of us still remember Poison Ivy in – shudder – Batman And Robin.
No, Sam Raimi takes all the usuals but cranks them, if I may clich? a little myself, up to eleven, throwing in riffs from non-Superhero blockbusters for good measure – there’s a certificate-friendly lack of blood in Spiderman 2 but that’s more than made up for by the mondo screaming and general Evil Dead-ishness of one scene; elsewhere the impending doom thudding footsteps from Jurassic Park crop up, and let’s face it they’re always welcome, and the train scene is very reminiscent of the latter part of Speed. There’s even one dramatic moment lifted straight from The Shawshank Redemption of all films.
As for the Superhero day-to-day, Spiderman 2 does dig a bit deeper – I don’t remember Clark Kent ever being strapped for cash, and there’s pleasing insight into the washing challenges and wedgies an all-over body suit can lead to. And although there’s nothing new about the grouchy boss, he’s really good in this one.
So it is the same as all the other Superhero films – but in a good way. And it is the same as Superman II, but this time when the hero loses it has deep Freudian significance, where in Superman II there were just some particularly iffy special effects and Christopher Reeve with a pudding bowl haircut. And yes, it is the same as the first Spiderman film, particularly in the case of the villain, Alfred-who-said-‘throw-me-the-whip-senor’-in-Raiders-Of-The-Lost-Ark-Molina, who, like Willem Dafoe in the first one, is a good man, a father figure to the hero, whose great power leads him to evil. But that also makes it the same as Hamlet, and no-one complains about that story being boring. Except people who are doing it at school.