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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Columbia Pictures, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Danny Elfman, superhero


It's not often I disagree with the consensus about a big blockbuster, and being my affable self it's usually to like it more than critics tell me I should, but here's one where I couldn't be further from the mainstream view, which was that Spiderman 2 is a superior blockbuster.  I found it to be completely emotionally uninvolving and with a plot so ridiculous that the attempts to inject humanity and flesh out the characters just seemed nonsensical: I'm all for having the hero of the piece actually have some real-life issues, but all of his supposed angst seems to be filtered through the script editor of The OC or something, and his "real-life issues" seem as far from real-life as you can get.  It's acted well and is certainly glossy, but not for me.  Fortunately for Columbia Pictures, I don't represent the majority, and it has done incredibly well for itself.

For whatever reason, part of the problem with the film is with the music.  I'm not sure why Danny Elfman didn't stay on board till the end, but he didn't, and cues were provided by other composers to stand alongside some of his original score for the movie and some music tracked in from his score for the first one.  Unfortunately, this left something of a jumbled mess, with a cue near the beginning of the movie written by John Debney sticking out like a sore thumb and seeming to be ridiculously out of place.  Fortunately, the extent of Elfman's fine achievement with the music can be heard on this album, representing his original intentions for the movie's music.

Mysteriously, many cloth-eared listeners decreed that the first Spiderman score had no theme, despite it being one of the finest themes in a Hollywood blockbuster since Elfman's tenure as superhero-composer-of-choice began with Batman back in 1989.  A fleshed-out, even ballsier version opens the sequel album with some style.  If anything, his music here is superior even to that he wrote for the first one, with much of the modern sound (provided by electronics) being ditched, but the modern orchestral stylings being pumped up even further.  The action music is truly first-rate.  "The Bank / Saving May" is a thrilling ride with Elfman going for some of his grandest, most impressive orchestral writing in a while.  Perhaps the pick of the bunch is "The Train", ironically one of the tracks which didn't appear in the film.  Christopher Young's replacement cue was actually fine, though again it seemed odd hearing something obviously by another composer come out of nowhere, and it's hard to see what was wrong with Elfman's take on it.  It's a somewhat chaotic but brilliantly-written piece of music.

Elsewhere, there are a few welcome reprises of the romantic themes Elfman penned for the first film, with indeed the most impressive coming in the second half of the piece beginning with "Train", titled "Appreciation", and there is more besides, coming in "MJ's New Life" and the finale "At Long Last, Love" which show the other great side to Elfman; and of course a healthy dose of music for the villain, played with an exquisite touch by the ever-wonderful Alfred Molina, and given a malleable eight-note theme by the composer, heard all over the place, perhaps most impressively in "Doc Ock's Machine".  There is even a brief reprise of the villain's theme from the first movie in "The Goblin Returns".

Those such as myself who bemoan the lack of emotion in modern film scoring would do well to remember that two of the biggest blockbuster series of the last couple of years (Spiderman and The Matrix trilogy) both feature outlandish orchestral music - a good feeling for the soul of the film music cognoscenti, I would suggest.  Spiderman 2 is a super album, certainly one of the year's most entertaining, with never a dull moment.  With Spiderman 3 reportedly in the works already, let's hope Elfman and director Sam Raimi didn't have any sort of falling out and that the composer returns for more of the same next time round.  In the mean time, we have two fine examples of modern blockbuster scoring which are simply streets ahead of what many other composers are writing for this kind of thing.

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  1. Spiderman 2 (3:21)
  2. MJ's New Life / Spidus Interruptus (2:31)
  3. Doc Ock is Born (2:23)
  4. Angry Arms / Rebuilding (2:51)
  5. A Phone Call / The Wrong Kiss / Peter's Birthday (2:07)
  6. The Bank / Saving May (4:27)
  7. The Mugging / Peter's Turmoil (3:21)
  8. Doc Ock's Machine (1:42)
  9. He's Back! (1:50)
  10. Train / Appreciation (6:16)
  11. Aunt May Packs (2:51)
  12. Armageddon / A Really Big Web! (6:28)
  13. The Goblin Returns (1:36)
  14. At Long Last, Love (2:55)
  15. Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head BJ Thomas (3:14)