Spider-Man 2 (fight 2 of 2)

Choo choo.

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He damn near catches the last train for the coast.

2) Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus

The Fighters:

  • Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. No real changes since last time, except Spidey’s powers are working consistently again.

The Setup: Knowing that the last component for his experiment is a sample of the ultra rare isotope tritium, Octavius goes to threaten Harry Osborn (who has taken over his father’s company) for his remaining tritium stash. Harry agrees to hand the MacGuffin over to Octavius if Octavius brings Spider-Man to Harry, alive; this is a pretty serious improvement over Otto’s initial offer of “give me the tritium or I’ll kill you”. Harry further informs the villain that the best way to find Spider-Man (other than robbing a bank, hanging around a fire, etc) is via Peter Parker, the guy who “takes his pictures” for the paper.

The mad doctor decides to get Peter’s attention via the unusual method of throwing a car at the back of his head (something he only dodged thanks to his spider sense, which Otto didn’t know he had), and then taking a nearby Mary Jane hostage, telling Peter to have his “buddy” Spider-Man meet him up for a brawl or else he’ll kill her. So: Octavius kidnaps Mary Jane so that will motivate Peter Parker to convince Spider-Man to come fight Octavius so Octavius can beat up & deliver Spider-Man to Harry so that Harry will give Octavius tritium which will let Octavius try his experiment again. Perfectly straightforward.

[Pretty funny how Peter rejected his chance at happiness with Mary Jane at the end of the last movie in order to keep from making her a target for his enemies, yet lookee here, that’s exactly what happens anyway.]

The Fight: Spider-Man arrives (his powers having been fully restored by the danger to MJ), at what’s apparently their pre-arranged meeting place: the top of a high clock tower.

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(BTW, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but if any proud New Yawkers spot any errors in my description of their fine city’s geography or notice that I fail to point out any notable landmarks, feel free to point this out. [Obviously I have to explicitly invite this, since native NYC residents are so known for their shy, reserved nature and don’t like to make a big deal of their town’s features.])

The two waste little time before getting right down to bidness, doing their up-close tussling act from before. Spidey soon gets knocked from their perch, but is unfazed: he launches a couple web “bullets” (hey, those are new) on the way down which stun his foe, then swings back up and lassoes a chunk of broken clock arm at Octavius with his free hand. That’s multi-tasking.

Octavius tries using that same piece of scenery as a projectile himself, but Spider-Man is still able to seize him with a pair of webs and pulls them both down. They land not on the ground but on the top of an elevated subway train– apparently one that doesn’t make a lot of stops, because it never stops moving for this whole fight. Also apparently New York doesn’t have elevated trains anymore, but oh well.

The two don’t care, and keep up their fighting. Doc Ock blocks some webbing with his tentacles, but the hero just improvises and instead uses those webs to pull himself in close for a few kicks to the face.

C'mon, man, don't let him walk all over you.

C’mon, man, don’t let him walk all over you.

They both take a break to duck under a low overpass (apparently Otto has Octo-sense, because his back was turned at the time). Octavius is able to seize Spider-Man and fling him high in the air against an above-ground walkway, but Spidey manages to contort himself juuuuust enough to fit through the stone mesh “walls” and lands back on the train to deliver another punch.

The blow knocks them both to the side of the train, where they both just decide “f–k it, we’ll fight here now.” There’s lots of cool stuff as they scuffle from here on, as Spider-Man gets knocked inside of the train twice, at one point grabbing a pole and spinning around it sideways (he was bitten by a radioactive stripper!) to launch himself back out another window. At another point our hero has to flatten himself up tightly against the side of the car as another train comes barrelling down the opposite track. All the while several dozen passengers stand by, dumbfounded.

Eventually Otto is able to sneak around and get the drop on Spidey, knocking him to the ground outside, but with some quick use of his webbing the hero is able to snag onto the train and also dodges all the vehicular traffic he’s now being dragged around in. It’s almost certainly a quick, cute reference to the legendary train chase in the Friedkin classic The French Connection.

As long as Peter doesn't use as many racial slurs as Gene Hackman.

As long as Peter doesn’t use as many racial slurs as Gene Hackman.

As Spider-Man swings to catch up, Octavius tries to mess with him by grabbing civilians out of the train and tossing them the hero’s way. First one, then two at a time. This only barely slows the hero down, though, as he’s able to use his webs to pluck them out of the air and then create netting to toss them safely into. It’s… unclear what Otto’s goal with this is. Typically, villains use civilians in such a manner so they can escape, but Dr. Octopus doesn’t want to escape here, he wants to beat his adversary to a pulp. He expresses frustration when this tactic doesn’t work but what was his idea of it “working”? Surely he didn’t want to kill those people just for fun. Similarly, Spider-Man should not be so desperate to keep up with the train, because he knows for a fact that Octavius wants him. If he just pulled off to the side he would probably figure that Doc Ock would probably also take a time-out and they could continue their fight in a less insane location.

Ah, well. This not being enough, Otto decides to destroy the train’s brake mechanism, sending it plummeting down to the terminal point. Which of course leads into that superb non-fight sequence where an unmasked Peter summons up all his spider strength in a desperate bid to stop the train; it’d be a lot more awesome if it didn’t lead into that incredibly mawkish denouement where the hero gets splayed out as a hamfistedly-obvious Christ figure. Blergh.

When Spider-Man finally comes to, he’s barely strong enough to stand, let alone adequately defend himself against the returning Dr. Octopus, so at least that tactic made sense. Spidey gets conked out, tied up and delivered to Son of Goblin. That’s rough.

This fight, though, isn’t. For all its messiness it truly is an epic fight– perhaps the most complex and ambitious super-brawl seen in film up to that point. It covers an absurd amount of real estate (even if much of that is arguably a cheat because they’re standing on a train), makes a lot of use of its environments and the diverse opportunities each combatant’s abilities provide. A major sticking point is even how the hero willingly hobbles himself in order to minimize collateral damage to innocent civilians. (Zack Snyder was unavailable for comment.)

There’s a sense of excitement here that a simple blow-by-blow can’t really convey, a real “gee whiz, look at that and now look at THAT!” giddiness to it. It’s not just an incredible technical achievement (uncanny valley warts & all) but a labor of love. On the surface it may be irritating that the two’s definitive encounter (there’s actually not really any fighting during the film’s real climax) doesn’t have a definitive defeat, but then, it doesn’t need one: Otto Octavius is the villain but he’s not really a bad guy, just a good guy driven to do some awful things by circumstances not wholly within his control. He needs sympathy and reformation, not a beatdown. Thus the fight ends with an act of raw, self-sacrificing heroism rather than violence. Good show.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: A brief interlude, then something a bit more… redeeming.

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Spider-Man 2 (fight 1 of 2)

Spidey makes bank.

Okay, sorry about that one.

There’s a “bailout” joke to be made somewhere in this post. I can’t promise I’ll find it.

Everyone’s wild about Spider-Man 2; personally I always found it somewhat overrated. It raises way too many storytelling red flags: the whole clunky plotline about how Peter keeps losing his powers because he subconsciously doesn’t want them (even in the middle of a life-or-death situation? I would have to think his survival instinct would override his girlfriend angst), the half-assed/poorly-resolved love triangle with Mary Jane & her poor fiancee, and, most grating of all, the film’s overwhelming negativity. It’s true that great swathes of the comic book source material could be accurately reduced to “life craps on Peter Parker” but being subjected to so much of it at once over the course of a two-hour+ movie is tiresome. I mean, there’s seriously a scene in this movie where an already-bummed Peter is at a party and gets literally slapped around by his drunken best friend, and then right after that Peter has to watch a handsome astronaut gleefully announce his engagement to the love of Peter’s life. It’s so transparently abusive it crosses the line into comical; I half-expected Peter to then get a phone call from Aunt May letting him know she had cancer. In her butt.

It also comparably skimps on the fight scenes. There’s still no shortage of superhero action– Spidey swinging around New York, foiling criminals and mad science experiments alike– but actual fights are very few. Fortunately, what do we get is quite impressive indeed.

1) Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus, round one

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, who you well know. Settled even more into his alter ego now, which is wreaking havoc on his real life. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Otto Octavius aka “Doctor Octopus,” a name given to him by the Daily Bugle after a science experiment gone wrong left him with eight total limbs. In contrast to the comics, this Otto’s “personality is different, which is to say, it actually exists,” in the words of one of my favorite bloggers. Otto is a kindly but driven scientist who loses his beloved wife in the same grisly accident that makes him a monster. Played by the great Alfred Molina, who is less crazy playing an actual supervillain than he was in Boogie Nights.
    • Armed with: Those extra four limbs are impressive steel appendages from a harness on Otto’s back that are easily over four feet long, each about as flexible as a garden hose and equipped with deadly gripper claws, cameras, and a few other tricks. They have a limited A.I. and so can move semi-independently of Otto, and in return can influence him; the explosion that fused the harness to his back also destroyed the “inhibitor chip” that kept them from getting into his head. Originally the device was created so he could perform dangerous experiments from a remote distance, but it’s actually quite the impressive scientific achievement itself. Maybe he should have patented that instead.

The Setup: Peter and his sweet Aunt May are at a large bank, applying for a loan; she’s fallen on financial hard times because, again, Spider-Man 2 is nothing if not a relenting onslaught of depression. The smarmy loan officer who denies (of course) their request is none other than TV’s Joel McHale.

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Classic Winger

Meanwhile, by incredible coincidence, Dr. Octopus is also present. Due to a combination of grief-induced madness and the influence of his tentacles’ wacky A.I., poor Otto has become convinced that his one purpose left in life is to succeed at the cold-fusion experiment that screwed everything up in the first place. Naturally, he’s taken up bank robbery (a grand supervillain tradition) in order to finance it. I’d love to see the lab equipment distributors who’d accept literals bags ‘o cash payment from a robo-tentacled lunatic, but okay. Maybe he “knows a guy.”

Dressed in fedora and trench coat like a dime-store version of The Shadow, Dock Ock just walks right in and straight-up rips off the vault door like a baller.

Classic Otto.

Classic Otto.

After narrowly avoiding the discarded door, Peter ditches May and changes into his costume while Octavius fights off some guards. The hero re-enters the scene quickly and tries to sneak up on Otto from behind, but one of the tentacles can still “see” even when the villain’s back is turned.

The Fight: Dr. Octopous whips around and uses his tentacles (in fact, at this point let’s just assume that most major fight functions Otto does are performed by his metal limbs rather than his organic ones unless otherwise stated, okay?) to fling some of his heavy loot bags at Spider-Man. The hero dodges them easily, even snagging one with a web and flinging it back in Otto’s face with a cheery “here’s your change!” Not quite on the level of comic Spidey’s legendary wit, but cute.

Octavius is briefly fazed, but he soon returns to flinging bags again. Spider-Man tries to dodge and deflect, but that stupid power-failing thing happens again, so he ends up eating a sack of cash and taking a dive. Otto grabs seizes the hero in a pretty dire-looking bind.

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It’s the kind of thing you might think would be funny to describe as “hot tentacle action,” if you were me nine years ago

The two have a fun exchange (“You’re starting to get on my nerves.” “I have a knack for that.”) but before our spider gets his head squished, he uses his free-ish hands to web two large desks on either side of him and pull them in. This makes Otto drop him while he defends himself against one piece of flying furniture but still gets creamed by the other and knocked through the window onto the street.

The police are waiting outside, so Dr. Octopus prudently takes a hostage… wouldn’t you know it, it’s Aunt May! He climbs up a nearby building while his signature music– a delightful monster movie-esque motif– kicks in. Spider-Man lands up higher on the wall and demands that Octavius turn her over. He seems willing to do so, but of course IT’S A TRAP! and the villain drops her. Peter is able to dive down and catch her then web them both up high, which leaves him vulnerable to attack.

After Otto gets in a few licks the two start going at it in earnest, largely trading blows up close as they fall down the side of the building.

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The CGI is not always convincing and the action is a little confusing, but it’s intense and fun nonetheless. Octavius is finally able to seize his foe and fling him all the way across the street, and re-positions himself near May, who’s only just found her footing. As he taunts Spider-Man to come back over & play, he prepares a steel spike behind his back, which May sees.

An unsuspecting Spidey across the street does that trick from the first movie where he uses two webs to pull back and slingshot himself at high velocity. He flies in like a bullet, and before Doc Ock can spear him, the hero gets some unlikely assistance.

EPIC

Betty White-style

The distraction allows Peter to dodge the spike, grab his aunt as she falls, and take her to safety as Otto scurries off. May is pleased to be proven wrong about “that awful Spider-Man” but still implies she deserves credit for the outcome of the fight. Oh, you wacky old people.

This is some solid superhero fun. It’s not quite an epic clash but the fight does score points for moving briskly from inside the bank to the street then to fairly up high in the air. The expected punches and tentacle-swipes are augmented with blows in the form of desks and money bags (and one mean umbrella), making for a more dynamic encounter.

The octopus elephant in the room here is how hard it is for our hero to take Dr. Octopus down. Unlike the Green Goblin, Octavius’ overall physiology was left largely unchanged by the incident that made him a supervillain; except for that tentacle-harness and some bad brain wiring, he’s completely human… and a paunchy, middle-aged scientist at that. Once Peter gets in close, Otto should be even easier to take down than Flash Thompson; one punch ought to be enough to knock his block off (and in the comics, it typically was), yet movie-Ock absorbs a numerous spider blows, not to mention getting bowled over by a massive desk and so forth.

Does it matter? Your mileage may vary. Personally, I’d say Raimi and co. had enough of a challenge constructing dynamic & quasi-believable superhero fights as it was without having to worry about the additional restriction of not letting the hero lay a finger on the villain until the very end. Think of this suspension of disbelief as similar to the one that must be engaged whenever the film switches over to obvious (but still necessary) CGI.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Rumble in the jungle.

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Uh, the urban jungle.