Spider-Man 2

UK, 2004. Rated PG-13. 127 minutes.

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn
Writer: Alvin Sargent
Original Music: Danny Elfman
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Producers: Avi Arad & Laura Ziskin
Director: Sam Raimi


Grade: A Review by Frances Nicole Rogers

This review has minor spoilers.

There we were, nearing the climax. I didn't dare to breathe as I watched Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) duke it out on an elevated train. As villains are wont to do, Doc Ock does something particularly nasty and sends the movie into Speedsville. Though my inner film geek wanted to knock Spider-Man 2 down a few points because it smelled like a rip-off, the rest of me desperately hoped that Spidey would save the day. I knew he would, but how?

How he does it is a moment of sheer movie magic. It's not that he does something exceptionally genius. The magic lied within that tense moment when I held on for those agonizing seconds just hoping he'd save them—and, in a way, us—in the nick of time. When it was over, I had a resounding urge to applaud him for being a hero and Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead , The Gift) for directing such a great action sequence, but with the rest of the audience I held my applause and kept watching, anxious to see what would happen next.

The moral of this story is: Spider-Man 2 is awesome!

Just when I thought Hollywood had stopped making halfway decent summer movies (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban notwithstanding), along comes Spider-Man 2. At last, a summer movie that isn't mind numbing, boring, unimaginative, and a waste of money! Here is a movie that's fun, creative, breathtaking, and worth more than the six-fifty student discount/matinee price, and it's nothing more than a campy comic flick!

Spider-Man 2 is about a nerd who can't win when he's not in his Spidey suit. Somebody could make that into an art house masterpiece. Director Sam Raimi isn't that somebody, nor is screenwriter Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People , Unfaithful). But it's the lack of pretension in Raimi's direction and Sargent's script that makes the movie such a blast. They aren't afraid to be campy, corny, or cheesy—a comic flair that is sadly missing from so many of today's angsty comic book adaptations.

Spider-Man on a train
Spider Man hops on a train in Spider-Man 2.

In this picture, our nerdy hero Peter Parker has every reason to be gloomy. He loses his job as a pizza deliveryman, his job as a photographer hangs on a thin thread, he's failing his classes, he can't pay the rent, and he doesn't have enough time to spend with either his best friends Harry Osborn (James Franco) and Mary Jane “MJ” Watson (Kirsten Dunst), or his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). When Peter's powers start to peter out, he can no longer find an escape behind Spider-Man's mask. Spider-Man becomes a “dream” to him, and Peter Parker a more alluring reality with the promise of a successful academic career, a steady job, and a relationship with his long-time crush, MJ. He makes the choice to start anew as just plain Peter and tosses his Spidey suit in the trash.

Handing most of the screen time over to Peter Parker rather than his alter ego in concept was risky, but in execution brilliant. Spider-Man 2 does a superb job showing the kid behind the mask as one who is subject to realistic problems stemming from the time-consuming and often thankless occupation of being a superhero. Maguire gracefully plays the role of conflicted young man and carries the film. Frankly, the series should end the moment Maguire steps down (as he almost did at the beginning of Spider-Man 2's production) because nobody can fill his shoes now, not when he has created such an endearing character and maintained a consistent performance through two pictures.

Meanwhile, there's a villain on the loose. Dubbed “Doc Ock” by tabloid editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), Dr. Otto Octavius began as a docile scientist whose brilliant mind was commissioned by Oscorp (the company once owned by Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn, now passed to his son, Harry) to create an abundant and self-sustaining energy source. Otto's hopes of helping the good of mankind crash down with the rest of his studio when a demonstration of his invention goes horribly awry, leaving him with four metal arms attached to his back. Worse still, these metal arms have minds of their own, and they now have the power to convince him to do evil deeds—namely, to rebuild his dangerous invention.

Octavius is the most poorly developed character in the movie. His transformation from sweet to malevolent is barely justified by his hearing voices in his head (those of the metallic arms). That, however, has no bearing on Alfred Molina's fantastic performance. Molina plays both sides of his character with such skill that he makes up for the poor writing. He's just as much a thrill to watch as the gentle Otto as he is as the malicious Doc Ock.

Spider-Man 2 dumps all the Matrix-y effects of the first movie in favor of fighting and defensive techniques that are less distracting. The only thing Spider-Man 2 has in common with The Matrix is its cinematographer, Bill Pope, who does a fine job of shooting this sequel. One thing Spider-Man 2 didn't improve on was the score. Danny Elfman must be suffering a creative dry spell for him to follow the disappointingly conventional Big Fish score with this unimaginative one.

A comment about the future of the Spider-Man franchise (with SPOILERS):

Spider-Man 2 ends at a crossroads that will make or break the series. At the end of the film, Harry has the opportunity to avenge his father by taking up the mantle of the Green Goblin, Peter has made the choice to continue being Spider-Man, and MJ has chosen Peter despite the danger of being romantically linked to him. These are all continuing threads that have been established in the first Spider-Man and can be neatly tied up in the third, ending the series as a trilogy rather than a continuous and never-ending franchise.

Canon purists will insist that such-and-such villain be included in a future Spider-Man film, and that such-and-such a villain cannot fit in the third movie but must have a plot of his own. However, it would be a shame to see the Spider-Man franchise go down the toilet for the sake of a few villains and an extra bit of cash. If the filmmakers focus on story and not profit, perhaps they will realize that Peter Parker's story, as it is told in the films, need not go any further than Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man has already defined his place in the world and relationship with himself. Now he needs to define his relationship with his friends.

Review © July 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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