Miranda Sawyer - Comic-strip geek

Film - A hero with too much emotion and not enough action. By Miranda Sawyer

Spider-Man 2 (PG)

Spider-Man 2 is poised to be the most successful movie ever made. Its US opening pulled in $150m-plus in a week - over $20m more than Shrek 2 - and it took $40.5m in a single day, beating the past record, held by . . . Spider-Man. Directed by Sam Raimi, the wicked genius who created one of the scariest, funniest films ever in The Evil Dead, Spider-Man 2 is slick and thrill-packed - yet also faithful to the original Marvel comic strip, combining its tearaway action scenes with pass-the-hanky emotion, a proper narrative and some great jokes. The sequel reunites Spider-Man's hot young couple, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and introduces a fab new baddie, Alfred Molina. What's not to like?

Well, if you're me, almost everything. Sorry and all that, but I hated this film. Mostly because of its slappable star, Tobey Maguire. In everyday life, Spider-Man is Peter Parker, a no-hope, no-muscle loser who, true to comic form, is rubbish with girls. Or girl, in particular: he's in love with Mary Jane (Dunst). As Spider-Man, he's a far better sex-bet: but Spidey can't be with Mary Jane, because if he was, then she'd be a target for baddies. Yet - oh, dilemma - he can't give up being Spider-Man, or supervillains will rule the world (well, New York). Thus, our hero is destined always to be alone, conscience-stricken, silly-costumed and sexually frustrated. Sniff.

Maguire plays Parker as an earnest klutz, a better-looking Frank Spencer, unable to walk down the street without tripping. He lets us know his inner frustration by swimming his bobbly eyes within his pudgy features, like sloppy trifles on a dinner plate. And, as the script calls for him to be thwarted at almost every turn, we see an awful lot of this hang-dog frustration, this inability to be happy: until eventually, if you're me, you stop caring. Make it with M J, or don't. Tell your aunt you're Spider-Man, or don't. Pass your physics degree, get to your date on time, save the world without showing it on your face. Or don't. Who gives a monkey's?

By developing Spider-Man beyond a mere superhero into a lonely lover, this film shoots itself in its sticky-padded foot. Fans of the original comic strip will be happy - geek boys love a nerd-gets-girl plot - but the emotional stuff slows up the action and, unforgivably, keeps Alfred Molina off the screen. When Molina's on, everything's peachy: he is a fantastic villain. An eccentric scientist taken over by his creation, Molina has enormous triffid mechanical arms sprouting from his back, turning him into the eight-limbed Doctor Octopus. Genuinely scary, his metal tentacles suspend him in midair, so his evil proclamations boom down as from a pulpit; and his approach is heralded by the thunder of his footsteps. When Doc Ock and Spider-Man fight, the film comes alive: computer animation means that Spidey has the back-arching, wrist-flicking grace of the hand-drawn original and Molina dangles hostages from his tentacles in the fine tradition of old monster films. They smash up New York to great, cartoonish effect: Raimi uses the original comic's scene-framing, with close-ups on pretty girls screaming and long-shots of Spider-Man and Ock scrapping atop a train. You can almost see the speech bubbles.

In short, I wanted more action, less acting from Spider-Man 2. As Mary Jane, Dunst is dowdily low-key, but OK, and all the other character actors put in competent performances, save the hilarious J K Simmons, who almost steals the film from Molina as J Jonah Jameson, the Daily Bugle boss. Still, the whole overblown affair had long palled for me by its ending, when, just to prove how out of step I am, every- one else in the cinema cheered. And then everyone stopped, because the movie carried on for ten minutes more, resolving its many plots and setting up another sequel. I counted at least three false endings, which shows how bogged down this film is with stupid narrative.

Spider-Man 2 irritated me so much that I went to watch another flick. Around the World in 80 Days is a kids' film in the cheerful Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tradition - silly mechanics and goonish adversity - but with Steve Coogan as hero, Jackie Chan as sidekick and Cecile de France as love interest. There are loads of cameos to keep the attention - Arnold Schwarzenegger as a curly-wigged Mor-occan king is particularly memorable - and Chan brings his usual charm and kung-fu to the party.

Jim Broadbent and Ewen Bremner are excellent, comical foes. Unfortunately, there's not a tanning machine or tooth-whitener out there that can stop me from finding Steve Coogan creepy, but other than that, 80 Days is a winner. Watch it with an under-ten, but turn away when Coogan gets kissy.

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