Spiderman 2

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J K Simmons, Daniel Gillies

‘Just bullshit.’

That’s how Daniel Gillies, the Kiwi expat actor now living in LA who’s got his biggest break in Spiderman 2, describes Tom Cruise vehicle The Last Samurai when Xpress asks if he has a sense of pride at the success of New Zealand on the world movie stage recently.

‘It was fucking derivative and nothing more than a quest for accolades,’ he adds.

I decide to ask him about Lord of the Rings instead. Surely anyone — especially a kiwi — who speaks ill of Peter Jackson’s magnum opus will be put to death in some traditional Maori fashion.

‘It is amazing,’ Gillies agrees, ‘I deeply admire Peter for doing it in the time he did with the resources he had, but I don’t really flush with pride because I look at things from an acting perspective and the cast were largely Americans and Poms. For me it’s just a case of an international film that had a kiwi director.’

Having been acting professionally for eight years (plus two years of full time training), Gillies’ career has taken him all over the world, from New Orleans and London to India and then New York, where he wins the affection of the now-famous Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) away from the titular web-slinging hero.

As the son of newspaper editor J Jonah Jameson, Gillies plays John Jameson, the all-American hero astronaut boyfriend of Watson, now that she’s a well-respected model and actress.

And it sounds like Gillies has found a home in the US. ‘I consider the US home to be honest,’ he says. ‘I love New Zealand but my girl’s here and my closest friends are here, so this is home. For now, anyway — it has to be for my career — it’s basically the nucleus of the entertainment industry.’

Having now worked with Sam Raimi — himself more of a Hollywood heavy hitter after the success of the original Spiderman, — what does Gillies think of him?

‘The person and the director are pretty much one in the same. He has this incredibly biting wit that’s laced cynicism and this wry sense of humour he’s ready to bludgeon you with at any given moment, and yet he’s one the sweetest kindest guys I’ve ever met,’ Gillies reckons.

‘You never know where he’s going to come from but one thing you do know is that you’re always safe with him. He believes in his cast, and it’s really comforting when a director does that. You feel at such liberty to create.’

Create is a seemingly funny word to use when discussing a US summer season blockbuster. For all the waxing lyrical about character and story, most of the movies that come out at this time of year offer little pretence of a story amid the multimillion-dollar, computer generated effects, but Spiderman went against the grain.

Expectations were high that (being a Sam Raimi movie) we’d actually see a good movie with some great effects, where the story and characters came first.

He didn’t disappoint. Even with the necessary 30-45 minutes of character establishment, the plot was engaging, the characters were people we cared about and identified with, and their plight made the action and effects all the more welcome. It was the world’s biggest budget character-driven indie film.

Drawing heavily on the plot of the first film, Spiderman 2 gives us a true continuation of the Peter Parker/Spiderman story instead of coughing up a rehashed plot just to separate teenagers from their money. Parker (Maguire) is still a loser, only now it’s not just the badge of high school nerd he has to wear.

Studying, working and fighting crime have taken their toll, and he’s become so exhausted his powers are starting to desert him, his wrist spinnerets spluttering tiredly with no silk left at the most inopportune times (like when he’s about 50 storeys in the air).

He’s also still trying to maintain a friendship with the girl of his dreams (Watson), even she’s given up on him and his constant broken promises to her because of his having to spend his free time chasing criminals.

As he said in the first film, Parker’s powers are truly his gift and his curse — he can never reveal himself and bask in the glow of heroism he deserves, with no choice but to watch as his life and relationships fall apart. Not making it any easier is the now bitter and twisted Harry Osborn — son of Spiderman’s last enemy, the Green Goblin — having sworn to kill Spiderman in vengeance and none too happy with Peter for his unofficial position as Spiderman’s photographer for the Daily Bugle.

Meanwhile, a benevolent scientist (Molina) is transformed by a scientific accident into a new threat to New York and Spiderman’s latest nemesis. Sent deranged with power by the four giant mechanical arms attached to his body, Dr Octopus is hell bent on building and perfecting the power source that turned him into a monster — even if he has to kill to make it happen.

With more plot strands than an American summer holiday worth of blockbusters, Spiderman 2 tells more than one story, dealing with more than one relationship or predicament deftly. Well-structured and thick with characterisation, it weaves its way cleverly through the same quiet, drama-driven scenes and roller coaster-like action sequences as the original did, with just as much finesse in scripting and storytelling.

The original was closer to perfect — in some sequences, Raimi gets too close to Bruckheimer territory for comfort. As the people Spiderman’s just saved crowd surf his exhausted body to safety, arms splayed in a Christ-like pose, you’ll find yourself stifling laughter.

And once or twice, special effects that never should have left the cutting room floor have made their way into the final cut, looking like a shoddy Playstation game promo.

But as long as Raimi doesn’t let too many studio hack touches through the web (see what we did there?), a new instalment in the Spiderman franchise will be a welcome addition to any event movie season.

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