Tag Archives: 16/20

The Hurt Locker

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: The tragic death of a bomb disposal expert in Iraq brings a new face to Bravo Company. However, unlike his predecessor, Sgt James walks relentlessly towards grave danger, much to the dismay of colleagues Sanborn and Eldridge who rather fancy surviving their tour of duty. As the days tick down, James can’t help but involve himself – and others – in potentially lethal situations.

The curse of the roadside bomb is a constant hazard in and around Baghdad, as Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) discovers to his cost. Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is devastated to lose his friend, while Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) carries the guilt of not preventing the tragedy around with him. The pair are partially consoled by the fact that Bravo Company have only 38 days left in Iraq, but the arrival of Sgt William James (Jeremy Renner) in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team shakes up their careful, methodical ways.

Ignoring the unit’s robot, James puts on the blast suit and snips away at wires first, unconcerned for his own safety and that of his colleagues, who immediately fear for their own lives. They even wonder whether, given the inevitability of James getting them all killed, it would be preferable to save themselves by killing him first. Not that, given James’ habit of going beyond his missions to find answers, he doesn’t give plenty of opportunities to the US Army’s enemies.

Appreciating films ‘properly’ is often a matter of timing. What that specifically means here is that I should ideally have watched The Hurt Locker before contemporaries such as The Men Who Stare at Goats and Green Zone, and before the hoo-hah surrounding the Best Picture nominations given to Bigelow and ex-husband James Cameron. Because I didn’t manage that, I arrived at the film with certain expectations that – to be fair – are mostly met: Iraq (this time, actually Jordan) is presented as a chaotic, searingly hot place, its buildings bombed-out and/or bullet-ridden, Baghdad’s citizens interfering or desperately trying to turn the situation to their advantage.

The action is filmed in the uneasy, shifting style of Green Zone, too, the handheld camera bringing the viewer into the action as we nervously look towards the sinisterly static watchers, uncertain (like Sanford and Eldridge) whether they are holding remote detonators. The film deftly exploits the tension of bomb disposal, and when bombs go off, the explosions are filmed with some stunning slow-motion photography.

Yet The Hurt Locker is much more than the standard Why are we here?/My ‘friends’ are as likely to kill me as my enemies/War is Hell movie. Indeed, the film explicitly states that ‘War is a drug’, and as Kathryn Bigelow draws out both action and characterisation in extraordinarily long scenes (my mind having been conditioned by decades of ADHD editing), we see that this is certainly the case for James. His bravado initially comes across as recklessness, or perhaps a deathwish; but as we discover more about him and his colleagues, we discover that beyond the cigarette-smoking pursuit of cool is a complicated man, with a failed marriage at home and reminders of the bombs he’s defused under the bed.

His relationship with Sanford and Eldridge is also well developed, the film giving plenty of time to their violent social interactions, to Sanford’s desire for a family and to Eldridge’s conversations with his confessor, Colonel Cambridge (Christian Camargo). Writer Mark Boal consistently and cleverly subverts the viewers’ expectations; at first, James’ friendship with a soccer-playing lad called Beckham (Christopher Sayegh) seems like a facile and sentimental touch, but it becomes an essential part of the plot, which shifts in unexpected and uncomfortable, gruesome ways.

The brief, uneasy section of the James family’s home life approaches genius, as does the grim comedy of the final caption: here’s a man who loves the idea of having a son to go back to, but finds that his life only has meaning on duty, not among the mundane choices of suburban day-to-day existence. Which is not to say that everything works – the episode with Ralph Fiennes’ contractors goes on much, much too long and fails to say much about the mercenary private operators attached to the war – but on the whole, the film does its job brilliantly. I’ve not mentioned the actors, but it’s not because of any deficiencies on their part; rather, it’s because they inhabit their roles so well – Renner is particularly fine.

The Hurt Locker isn’t a film which tries to say anything particularly profound about the Iraq War, or war in particular; and experts may nitpick about the realism or otherwise of what it portrays. On the other hand, it does provide a superbly-filmed and acted insight into the work of an astonishingly brave group of men, also revealing conflicts between colleagues and exploring their troubled minds. A superior film in every respect and one which, it goes without saying, kicks Avatar’s dumb blue ass from here to next week.

Sideways

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Struggling writer Miles takes his actor friend Jack away on a stag week, looking to relax with wine-tasting, golf and (hopefully) good news about his novel.  However, Jack is determined to enjoy his last week of freedom to the full and pairs up with Stephanie, an impulsive single parent. Although Miles is drawn to her friend Maya, he is held back by his fatalistic attitude and thoughts of his ex-wife.

Feted by critics on its release, Sideways is a modest comedy that was swept up by awards buzz in 2005, earning an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and a nomination for Best Picture, alongside dozens of other awards. Some viewers seeing the film for the first time may wonder what the fuss was about.

I say this because, at heart, Sideways is an incredibly simple story, focusing on Miles and Jack’s road trip and Miles’ attempts to move on with life after his divorce from re-married ex Victoria and a breakdown he suffered subsequently. The trip is set against the luscious backdrop of California vineyards, but the subject matter and its pat conclusion of “All you really need is a woman who understands” has been dealt with many times before.

Two elements distinguish the film. First off, the actors are brilliant – as Miles, Paul Giamatti is masterful at treading fine lines, making his character sympathetic even as he is stealing money from his mother or reading Barely Legal magazine. Miles is also educated, sensitive and a good friend; and even if you think he’s a loser, the film tells you why he’s a loser. During the course of the first evening spent with Maya and Stephanie, Miles’ descent into introspection and drunk-dialling is uncomfortable but compelling.

Contrasting completely with Miles, Thomas Haden Church’s Jack rarely thinks about anything except getting his end away; he is utterly selfish, morally indefensible, yet still retains a dudeish charm; and it is not as though he goes unpunished for his actions, physically at least.

Whilst the female characters exist primarily as reflections of what the men are looking for, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh do well to round out the parts of Maya and Stephanie respectively. Miles and Maya’s relationship grows organically, realising they have more in common than merely a love of wine; Jack and Stephanie, on the other hand, have nothing but animal instincts drawing them to each other, and Stephanie is equally wild when she finds out the true reason for Jack and Miles’ trip. These four actors dominate the film and do a fantastic job at holding the viewer’s interest.

The second distinguishing element is the film’s sharp script. It’s entertaining, informative and a little bitchy about wine and wine-tasting, and equally clever on relationships. The script draws out Miles’ passion for wine (Jack, conversely, says everything’s pretty good), but establishes that what he really enjoys is talking about it, criticising it; his oenophilia really only conceals his frustrations as a writer.

Whilst Jack is wavering over his impending marriage, a clever scene with Stephanie’s mother and neglected daughter in a bowling alley shows that he would find the domestic situation hell after less than a week. Of course, the script is also very funny, in particular on the golf course, or when Miles has to recover Jack’s wallet after a liaison too far; despite their ups and downs (so to speak) you can see why Jack and Miles would be friends.

As in Election, director Payne is not afraid to bring things bluntly to the screen, so you should be prepared for some fruity language and the odd bit of nudity – mostly male, it should be said, and very funny too. It is refreshing to see a romantic comedy centred on the lives of people who have been around the block a bit, and although the themes are familiar the ending is left nicely open, for Miles at least: discovering his ex-wife is pregnant (and therefore not drinking!), he drinks his precious ‘special occasion’ wine in a fast-food restaurant before visiting Maya, and we are left entirely to our own devices as to whether we think they will be successful in love.

Essentially, this is where the script, Giamatti’s performance, and Sideways as a whole earns respect. In its modest, bittersweet way, the film says that you will never be guaranteed a happy ever after in life: but if an opportunity comes along, you should at least give yourself a chance.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Two aspiring guitarists seem destined to failure at school and separation, until the intervention of the mysterious Rufus and his time-travelling phone box. Will their race against time see them present their all-important history report and thereby secure the future happiness of the entire planet?

Some films, without even knowing it at the time, capture and shape a moment brilliantly. For the benefit of those who weren’t there or weren’t listening, for a number of years in the late 80s and beyond films such as Bill and Ted’s… and Wayne’s World shaped the vocabulary of English-speaking youngsters with phrases such as ‘Excellent!’ and ‘Party on!’ Not having seen the original Saturday Night Live sketches, I am unable to say whether Bill and Ted or Wayne and Garth first brought these ubiquitous slacker phrases to the world’s attention, but I would like to think the honour lies with this film’s pairing.

The similarities between Wayne’s World and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure go beyond vocabulary, as both feature the protagonists as aspiring musicians, creating videos and an awful racket in their parents’ basement/garage. However, unlike the later film, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (as Bill and Ted respectively) at least look the same age as the characters they portray; and unlike the later film’s concentration on Myers’ mugging to the camera, Bill and Ted actually have a story to tell.

More concerned with forming a rock band than studying, Ted is threatened with being sent to a military academy in Alaska unless he achieves an extremely unlikely A+ in his and Bill’s history presentation. Unbeknownst to them, the happiness of 27th Century San Dimas, California relies on the success of Wild Stallyns (sic), so a cool dude called Rufus (the late George Carlin) is dispatched to make sure the assignment is a knockout. The boys bag a host of historical figures to give their impressions of present-day San Dimas, impeded by the unreliability of their phone booth, the threat of execution in medieval England, and the meddling of Ted’s uptight father.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has much more to offer than the dumb amiability of its title characters, though this is a good part of its charm (Reeves in particular is uncommonly cheerful). The script makes good use of the double incongruity the plot device offers, getting comedy out of the pair plucking figures such as Socrates, Napoleon, Beethoven and Freud out of history, as well as the historical figures’ reactions to modern day California. The mall scene and Napoleon at the water park are standouts, but there is always something going on in the film that, at a trim 83 or so minutes, never does anything simply to beef up the running time.

It also has fun with its sci-fi elements, the choice of phone box/booth being, presumably, a nod to Dr Who’s TARDIS; and while you can drive yourself mad with the paradox that Rufus would not visit them unless they ultimately succeeded which wouldn’t happen unless Rufus visited them (if you follow me), the film knows and revels in this with the Eddie Van Halen conundrum and the business with Ted’s Dad’s keys. Speaking of Van Halen, the noodly riffs accompanying Bill and Ted’s air guitar movements are also cute.

If I have to gripe, the cursory introduction of the princesses as love interest is so brief as to be almost totally redundant, and Beethoven’s keyboard masterpiece in the shopping mall contains no keyboard whatsoever, as far as I can tell. But the film is full of so much charm, playfulness and invention that you hardly notice flaws, and are left totally inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s exhortation to ‘Be excellent to each other’ during Bill and Ted’s exciting (and educational!) history concert. In an age where comedy is pitched at the level of getting laid, naked or drunk for laughs, to watch a film that entertains by doing none of these things is indeed – how best to put it – most excellent. Bodacious, even.

Blade Runner

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: 2019: Alarmed by a massacre on an off-world shuttle, the police order ‘Blade Runner’ Rick Deckard to seek out and destroy the latest generation of Replicants, robots virtually indistinguishable from humans. His deadly game of hide and seek is complicated by his relationship with Rachel: beautiful, intelligent, and one of the Replicants he is assigned to ‘retire.’

Based on the Philip K Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridley Scott’s second future-based film (the first being Alien) was infamously messed about with by nervous studio bosses concerned at the ambiguity of the film’s denouement. This review is of the 1992 director’s cut which restores most of Scott’s vision.

And what a vision it is. Calling on the services of 2001 effects maestro and Silent Running director Douglas Trumbull, Blade Runner presents a vision of the future that is both credible and convincing, Los Angeles presented as a perpetually dark city where neon tubes provide the main source of light and adverts are projected onto buildings, where hovering police cars patrol the poor, immigrant-filled quarters of town. It’s not a unique vision, but only because the style has been copied in endless films, games, and television shows since (Total Recall – based on another Dick story – perhaps unsurprisingly springs to mind).

Rising high above the poverty are glittering buildings such as that belonging to the Tyrell Corporation, the makers of the ‘more human than human’ Nexus 6 Replicants that Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been assigned to kill, or rather ‘retire’. Such care has been taken in the set design of this building (inside and out) and others, and in the costumes for Deckard, elderly ‘Creator’ Dr Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and his special project Rachel (Sean Young, looking like a film noir femme fatale), it is hard to tell when the film was made.

Of course, clues are given in details like the CRT televisions and primitive computer graphics, and the age of the actors is fairly obvious; but by and large Blade Runner succeeds because it projects a view of the future which does not have 1982 stamped all over it. This is also true of Vangelis’ sparse, spacey score which adds greatly to the atmosphere.

The story itself is a very simple game of hide and seek. The Replicants are led by Roy (Rutger Hauer), who with the help of Pris (Daryl Hannah) gains access to genetic engineer J F Sebastian (William Sanderson) and via him, their ‘Maker’ Tyrell. Deckard must find and retire the Replicants, but he is distracted by Rachel, who does not know she is a Replicant until Deckard conducts tests on her.

Aside from a chase which sees the other Replicants killed – exotic dancer Zhora and disturbed manual worker Leon – there is little action other than the final hunt in the creepy building where Sebastian lives. Again, atmosphere is key here, and the scene where Deckard searches for Pris among Sebastian’s weird toys is nothing short of brilliant.

As with the special effects, the film’s script thrives on attention to detail. The provoking questions of the test used to expose Replicants and Rachel’s vivid childhood memories that blind her to her artificiality are just two examples of the film’s intelligence, which creates atmosphere in the absence of action and raises significant questions. If the Replicants are virtually human, do ‘humans’ have the right to enslave or destroy them? What, in fact, constitutes being human? Not to give the game away, but Roy’s last speech is a thing of beauty, as is the ‘proper’ ending to the film that the director’s cut restores.

However, you can understand why studio bosses may have wobbled. In the era of The Empire Strikes Back and E.T., this is a science fiction film with no laser gun duels or spacecraft battles, few laughs, zero merchandising opportunities and an ambiguous ending. Blade Runner is undoubtedly serious stuff and there are only so many times you can use the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘atmospheric’ when the word you really want to use is ‘slow.’ Blade Runner excites the mind rather than the heart, but it should be seen: as the director intended, and on as big a screen as possible.

A Mighty Wind

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Following the death of folk music impresario Irving Steinbloom, his family work to bring together the acts he made famous for a tribute concert in New York’s Town Hall. Trouble is, there are only two weeks to organise the concert and not all the acts are in the best of mental states to perform at the live, televised concert.

A Mighty Wind is Guest’s third documentary-style film, following on from Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show. All three films were created in the same fashion: Guest wrote the story together with co-star Eugene Levy, but all the dialogue is improvised by the actors. Although the overall effect here is not quite as successful as the grand-daddy of mockumentaries, This is Spinal Tap, this is arguably Guest’s best entry in the genre.

One reason for the success of the film is the familiarity of the cast with each other’s temperaments. The ensemble cast is headed up by Bob Balaban as nervous organiser Jonathan Steinbloom, but it is in the bands that the chemistry really shows: The Folksmen – Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean – have the sort of rapport you would expect from their incarnation as Spinal Tap, but they do not play their characters as Tap grown old so much as what the rock band’s fathers would have been like. It is good to see them riffing off each other, in all senses of the word.

The (New) Main Street Singers, most notably John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey, are all good fun, but the stars of the show are unquestionably Mitch and Mickey. Their reunion provides the film with a strong emotional centre and some of the film’s best scenes; Levy’s spaced-out performance as Mitch is balanced superbly by Catherine O’Hara as world-weary Mickey, reliving an almost forgotten dream. In turn, she is balanced by Jim Piddock as dull husband and catheter salesman Leonard.

Mitch and Mickey’s story also provides an anchor to the film; although A Mighty Wind is consistently funny, the actors’ enthusiasm tips some of the gentle humour into silliness, whilst other jokes float by unnoticed. The best lines are delivered by Fred “Wha’ happened?” Willard (excellent as the New Main St Singers’ manager) and Ed Begley Jr as the Public Broadcast Network producer whose Yiddish is as good as his Swedish. Not all the performances work – Jennifer Coolidge makes do with a funny voice for laughs – and, as usual with Guest, the ‘What happened afterwards’ ending is hit-and-miss. Even here, though, I liked Shearer’s transformation from a bald, bearded bass player into a far more glamorous one.

Musically, Mitch and Mickey are given the most memorable tunes; but all the music, most evident in the concert itself, sounds like authentic folk, albeit with a comic leaning, and adds to the warmth of the film. To say that A Mighty Wind is a ‘nice’ film sounds patronising, but this is exactly what it is: an affectionate comedy with uplifting songs and, a bit of headboard-banging aside, nothing to alarm the children. No violence, no malice, just a love for gags and music. It may not change your life, but it will certainly brighten up a wet weekend – and have you humming for weeks.

The Lion King

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Protected by his doting father Mufasa, lion cub Simba looks over the Pridelands with excitement, knowing that one day he will become ruler of all he sees. However, Simba’s jealous uncle Scar callously usurps the throne, sending the rightful heir into exile full of panic and guilt. Simba makes new friends and carves out a new untroubled life, but a familiar face or two make him aware of his rights and responsibilities.

From their vantage point of Pride Rock, regal lions Mufasa and Sarabi (voiced by James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair) present their first-born son Simba to their respectful subjects – zebras, giraffes, hippos and so on. Not everyone is delighted by the new arrival, however; Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) resents being pushed down the line of succession, and tricks the young, impetuous cub (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a child, Matthew Broderick as an adult) and his lioness friend Nala (Niketa Calame/Moira Kelly) into visiting the dangerous elephants’ graveyard, the lair of savage hyaenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings). Alerted by his fussy majordomo, hornbill Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), Mufasa rescues the youngsters, but the incident sparks an idea in Scar’s mind. He places Simba in the path of a buffalo stampede, then sets up Mufasa for a fatal fall and lays all the blame on the distraught cub.

Simba flees and grows up trying to forget about his past, aided by easy-living pals Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), a tuneful meerkat and warthog combo; but reminders are never far away, especially when Nala turns up with dreadful tales of Scar and the hyaenas’ desecration of the Pridelands, soothsaying Baboon Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) hot on her heels. Will Simba confront his own guilt – and his treacherous uncle?

Although Disney are naturally upbeat about their movies, many of which are (apparently) timeless ‘Classics’ as soon as they’re released, even the most sycophantic of supporters would concede that films such as The Black Cauldron and Oliver and Company did little to enhance their reputation in the 1980s. However, the decade ended with The Little Mermaid and the impetus provided by its success snowballed into Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The majestic gathering of the animals with which the film starts can only have been made by people who absolutely love animation, and the rest of the film aims for equal levels of excellence.

Famously, The Lion King was the first Disney animation to feature no humans, and it’s all the better for it; the characters are beautifully animated, combining just the right amounts of cartoon cutesiness and animal grace. They are given vocal talents to match, too: the wonderful rich tones of James Earl Jones, the weary sarcasm of Irons, the buffoonish blustering of Atkinson, the arch wisecracks from Lane, the sinister menace from Goldberg.

The script is full of smart little jokes, especially for Timon and Zazu (his interrupted rendition of ‘It’s a Small World’ is a lovely little in-joke), but the overall feel is grand, epic, the tale of a great tradition. The film is sincere about the circle of life, in ecological terms (Mufasa’s speech about Antelopes eating the grass) as well as hierarchical, Mufasa and Simba being from a line of kings who rule to keep the land in balance. And on top of all that, the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are mostly of high quality* and are backed up by Hans Zimmer and Lebo M’s evocative, African-tinged score.

If there are nits to be picked, they are largely down to matters of personal preference which others will say act in the film’s favour. The Lion King is not exactly over-burdened with plot, and what there is plays out as a junior-school reduction of Hamlet (ie. taking out the incest, contemplation of suicide, and the possibility of Nala going mad and drowning herself in the watering hole). Which is fine, but older viewers may just yearn for something a tad meatier – although the climax is brilliant and provides as much drama as you could possibly ask for.

And some may take issue with The Lion King’s philosophical stance. I wouldn’t call it fascistic by any stretch, but it is interesting to contrast The Lion King with the equally charming Babe: one says that you’re born into a role and that you’re letting yourself and others down if you deviate from it, by (for example) adopting the dropout philosophy of ‘Hakuna Matata’; the other says that your status at birth shouldn’t hold you back from changing your life as you see fit. I’m not suggesting that these competing philosophies are writ large on the screen, or that they have any bearing on the quality of either movie: but the messages are there and are worth pondering.

Anyway, if little of this seems like a review of the movie, it’s because The Lion King is simply a marvellous film with so much to recommend it that niggles over a lack of complexity or originality** only act as slightly dull spots which boost the shine of the whole. Funny, moving and beautifully brought to life, I definitely feel the love for one of Disney’s genuine classics.

NOTES: 1The ‘Special Edition’ loses a point for the reinstatement of ‘Morning Report’. It was obviously not good enough to be the first song of the film proper, so why inflict it on us now?

2The Japanese animation Jungle Emperor/Kimba the White Lion never made it over to Britain, so I couldn’t possibly make any comparisons. I have, however, seen a few Youtube clips which are, let’s say, interesting. As the teacher says, there is no new thing under the sun…

Spider-Man 2

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Peter Parker is now in full control of his arachnid-based super-powers, but not remotely in charge of his own affairs, forever struggling to be on time for events in his personal and private life. Whilst Peter battles not to let down his friend Harry, the love of his life MJ, his aunt May, his employers or his college professor, he wonders whether he has room for Spider-Man, even though a menacing new danger to the city means New York needs him more than ever.

Between the exposition-laden efforts of the first Spider-Man and the villain-heavy, revisionist and criminally dance-obsessed Spider-Man 3 falls this movie, unsurprisingly named Spider-Man 2. Picking up smartly from its predecessor, Spider-Man 2 finds Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) a stressed man, failing to balance his secret superhero identity with a part-time pizza delivery job, photographic assignments for the Daily Bugle and a demanding Physics course.

Not only that, but his mind is still full of Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) – now a successful and attached actress – and two reasons to feel guilty: firstly, because he has to hide his secret from vengeful best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), whose father Spidey had to kill. Secondly, because he still feels responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben and therefore his Aunt May’s loneliness, especially as she is about to lose her house. Spidey can just about keep crime on the streets of New York under control, but he is hopeless at his jobs and making dates, causing Peter frustration and everyone around him to despair.

Given all this, it’s something of a surprise that the film can even fit in a baddie, but it does in the imposing shape of Alfred Molina’s Dr Otto Octavius, a brilliant (and surprisingly sympathetic) physicist who falls, following the sort of accident that always happens in comic-book movies, prisoner to the alien, self-preserving arms that he created to manipulate a dangerous fusion-based energy source. Because only Harry has access to the precious chemical needed to recreate the experiment, and only ‘Doc Ock’ can give Harry access to Spider-Man, a pact is sealed that puts Peter and ‘MJ’ in mortal danger; since Peter has resolved to forsake Spider-Man in order to live his own life, that danger is keener still.

From a bravely pessimistic premise that sees Peter fairly unhappy (witness, for instance, his crummy flat), Spider-Man 2 is a gripping adventure that weaves comedy, romance and action around a tight plot that makes good use of characters with little that is wasteful or indulgent. Not only does it pose moral questions of Parker – if you are in a position to look after the weak, are you duty bound to do so? – but also of the villain, with Molina bringing great humanity to the Doc Ock role whilst his sinister tentacles cause havoc.

The cast are all comfortable in their roles, Maguire handling both the action and comedy with aplomb, although as usual everyone is outshone in the comedy department by J K Simmons as the Bugle’s ballsy editor. Franco comes across as suitably conflicted, unable to cement his feelings about Peter into hatred, whilst Dunst effectively portrays MJ’s quandary, in love but unwilling to wait for Peter forever. And whilst some may feel that the film is a little light on web-slinging, the action sequences arrive at regular intervals and are both convincing and exciting when they happen, the stuntwork and CGI both a big step up from Spider-Man.

You could also argue that at times the film has the characters explaining the plot out loud to themselves, and at others – especially during the slightly soggy middle third – the story’s sentimental bent tips over into outright gooiness: although I believe it has the best of intentions, and Rosemary Harris delivers the lines with great tenderness, Aunt May’s ‘everybody needs a hero’ bit is too much for me.

Still, the film is to be congratulated for fully considering the burden of saving people’s lives on the superhero, and since the soggy part picks up to an impressive balls-to-the-wall finale, including a thrilling subway train sequence (religious imagery and all) and Doc Ock kidnapping MJ but ultimately doing the right thing, a pause for breath is not entirely a bad thing.

Spider-Man 2 is by no means perfect but manages to achieve an all-too-rare balance between action and characterisation, mass-market appeal and comic-book fandom, young and old and (perhaps most interestingly) male and female interest, winding up with a happy-tense ending for MJ and Peter and a clear set-up for Harry’s involvement in the third instalment. It may or may not be the best superhero movie out there, but it is one of the best paced, best written, and is almost certainly the most human.