Stuck with a dilemma similar to the one Jim Treacher describes here, I saw Spiderman 2 over the weekend. Really, it was the perfect antidote to certain other films out there, because, intentional or not, it had some pretty obvious patriotic/pro-war-on-terror themes. I saw the first of these movies, the one that had an action scene prominently featuring the twin towers which had to be cut after 9/11, right next to ground zero at the Battery Park theater on the first weekend that the theater was opened post-9/11. Certain scenes and lines, especially the one in which the crowd starts throwing stuff at the Green Goblin saying "We're New Yorkers. If you mess with one of us. You mess with all of us," were obviously added in reaction to September 11th. I appreciated the gesture but it seemed more like an afterthought.
Spiderman 2 however was conceived of, written, and produced entirely in the post 9/11 era, and the entire film could easily be read as a metaphor for America grappling with the consequences of finally standing up to face evil. In the reflections on Reagan's death a lot of people mentioned that he once said that he started off reading the newspaper with this favortie comic, Spiderman. Some just wrote that off as another flip answer to a reporter's question, but some pointed out that the entire story of Spiderman, with its message of "With great power comes great responsibility" could easily be read as an allegory of Reagan's vision of America's role in the world. Now that we are once again living through a time in history in which our basically isolatonist character is in conflict with the responsibility to fight a new world-wide threat, the character of Spiderman/Peter Parker, with his conflicting impulses to save the world and to just settle down and live the life of an average guy, is especially resonant. The latest film brought this theme out more than anything else I've seen in the entire Spiderman corpus.
What's especially affecting about Spiderman 2 is that it poignantly shows the tension that results from the conflict between the Peter Parker and Spiderman personae, a point David Edelstein makes well in his review. In a brilliant arc reminscent of the only previous super-hero film that is nearly this good, Superman 2, he tries living as plain-old Peter Parker, but feels a twinge of guilt everytime he can't save someone. As Spiderman, he's pilloried by the media no matter what he does (much like a certain superpower I can think of) and still racked with guilt that he can't save everyone (Why don't we do something about Sudan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia etc. etc.)
In this film, Peter comes to a deeper realization of the meaning of his Uncle Ben's death. His Aunt May tells him that he was killed because he stood up to his carjacker, which creates new purpose and inspiration for Peter. (An analogue to the heroes of United Flight 93, who fought the terrorists and forced their plane to crash without hitting its target perhaps? Or for those who were killed for standing up to the Nazis before we entered World War 2?) In the most moving scene of the film, when Peter is in the Spiderman costume with the mask ripped off after his fight with Doc Ock, the onlookers in the crowded subway are amazed to see how average looking he is. One man says, "He's just a kid. No more than 21 or 22. Like my son." This, of course, is more or less the age and the profile of the kids defending our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All that aside, Spiderman 2 is mainstream Hollywood filmmaking at its absolute best: emotionally involving characters, fast paced, great action sequences. Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire have some of the best chemistry between two onscreen leads ever. Alfred Molina's villian stays amazingly human and believable underneath the ridiculous suit. The film, thanks largely to the stellar acting by the whole cast, ekes real poignancy out of the cornball material, and the screenwriting credit by Michael Chabon seems to show up in small, unexpected ways. The scenes of the tenement-like conditions that Peter Parker is living in remind me a lot of Kavalier and Klay.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I must return to my on-line debate at "No-organic-webshooters-dot-com."