A film review by Craig J. Koban
2004, PG, 125 mins.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire / Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst / Dr. Otto Octavius: Alfred Molina / Harry Osborn: James Franco / Betty Brant: Elizabeth Banks / Snooty Usher: Bruce Campbell / Aunt May: Rosemary Harris / J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons / Louise: Vanessa Ferlito
Directed by Sam Raimi / Written by Michael Chabon, Miles Millar, Alfred Gough and Alvin Sargent / Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Well, true believers, here’s a whopper for you! SPIDER-MAN 2 is finally upon the comic geekdom and the general viewing audience and - guess what? - it's not only substantially better than its predecessor, but it’s the best and most satisfying film of the summer so far.
To quote Stan Lee: Excelsior!
Spider-Man was always my second favorite super hero growing up (a close second behind Batman), but the one thing that made him a true standout was just how real he felt a person, despite his odd and abnormal super powers. Sure, he may have been bit by a radioactive spider and gained arachnid powers (pretty silly stuff, if you ask me), but what creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did with their creation was make both him and his alter ego – Peter Parker – likeable, light-hearted, funny, troubled, introspective, confused, impulsive, and filled with self-doubt about…well…everything. In other words, they made him instantly relatable to the readers, and how could young readers not relate to a teenage superhero?
Sure, Batman was real too and was a human that relied on brains and brawn
and not super powers. Alas, people
could relate more to the real troubles of Peter Parker.
Readers not only empathized with Spider-man, they could see themselves
being him because he shared some of the same problems we have.
The sequel takes place two years
after the first film, where poor old Peter (Tobey Maguire) still pines over the
love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). He loves her to death, but
feels that he can never be with her for fear of her life constantly being in
danger because of his alter ego. To
make matters worse, being a super-hero is constantly interfering with his life.
A very funny opening scene has Peter trying to decide whether delivering
a pizza for his boss in 10 minutes to save his job or to stop some criminals.
Let’s just say…he loses his job.
To further make matters worse, his late night crime fighting
leaves him tired and late for University all of the time; he is shunned by his
professors and lives in a fleabag apartment because he's broke.
Funny, Batman and Superman never, ever worried about these things.
Meanwhile, Pete’s best friend
Harry (son of Norman Osborne, aka The Green Goblin, whom was defeated and killed
in the first film) still searches for a way to seek revenge on Spidey (he still
is unaware of his secret identity). He
now heads Oscorp and has under his payroll the brilliant scientist Dr. Otto
Octavious (Alfred Molina). Octvious
has an ingenious new invention regarding fusion and energy, but in a
demonstration gone horribly wrong, he has a series of mechanical tentacles
hardwired to his body and spine and goes insane (does a scientist ever not go
insane after something like this?). Dr.
Octopus is born, and becomes a new thorn is Spider-Man’s side.
even go further askew for poor Peter. He
soon discovers that Mary Jane is seeing another man (Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah
Jameson’s son, no less) and that she is losing faith in his friendship.
Aunt May’s house is up for foreclosure. Worst of all, Peter's powers are actually starting
to fade. I defy anyone to find me
another super hero as close to nervous breakdown and anxiety as Spider-Man.
Not only that, but when he washes his Spider-Man outfit at a local
laundry matt, he forgets to separate it from his whites!
Hell, Peter even starts to think if being Spider-Man is worth it anymore.
It is for all of these reasons that SPIDER-MAN 2 works so famously. It's kind of everything that the first film wanted to aspire to, but unfortunately did not altogether achieve successfully. The first film suffered (obviously) from being heavily expository and seemed more interested in special effects, action, and the colorful heroes and villains. In the sequel, much more thankful emphasis and attention is given to the human characters behind the masks, and largely the first hour focuses on Peter, Mary Jane, and the people around them. Much more dramatic weight is given to the story and characters, and they are much more fleshed out this time around and given real weight.
Tobey Maguire does an absolutely thankless job in the duel role and takes
great pains to make us believe that there is actually a tortured and troubled
person behind all of this comic chaos. Kirsten
Dunst is also given more to do here; she's less the damsel in distress
more a fully realized character that has real warmth and humility (she has a
pitch perfect scene at the end of the film in Peter’s apartment).
Even Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is also more of a character and less of a
caricature that she was in the first film.
Some of her more tender scenes with Peter, reflecting on her dead
husband, are the most touching scenes in the film.
is also a huge success in the laughs department; it has a dry sense of humor humor that
permeates throughout the story. J. Jonah
Jameson (J.K. Simmons) once again provides some of the film’s biggest laughs
(“My wife lost my check book…time to celebrate!”) and the film just
grows funnier with each of his scenes. There
are also equally funny scenes, especially a hilarious moment where Spider-Man is
forced to take an elevator because his powers have failed (talk about socially
awkward!) . Another inspired moment
includes a musical montage where Peter Parker parades around (after having
seemingly given up being Spider-Man and trying to live a normal life) with
"Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" playing in the background.
One scene in particular made me laugh hard, as it poked a not-too-subtle
reference at Tobey Maguire’s actual real-life back injury (that nearly
prevented him from doing the film).
The film also does not disappoint
on the level of action and special effects.
A scene early in the film with Dr. Octopus in a hospital will have
several EVIL DEAD fans jump up and cheer with approval. Many of the action set pieces are equally inspired, such as a
climatic fight between Dr. Octopus and Spider-Man on an elevated train (which
concludes in a moment that will surprise all viewers).
The special effects are also a huge improvement this time around, as
Spider-Man and company seem to have more weight and dimension and feel less like
computer graphics. It’s amazing
what a great job director Sam Rami did with integrating the CGI effects so
seamlessly into the live action. I
was very impressed with Dr. Octopus and the work done here.
He is so much more of a threat than The Green Goblin, and feels more real
is the real deal. It’s the
best sequel since
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
and is so perfect in so many
ways, both large and small. It’s
really a poignantly told love story with richly detailed characters that just
happen to be radioactively powered super-heroes.
The first Spider-Man got what made his world tick half right, but Rami
and company completely mastered his universe with this one. They realized that the heart of this character is to invest
heart into the character and screenplay, and to make him fully real - a
young man filled with doubts about love, himself, and his place in the world.
They added the much-needed component of drama that made the early Stan
Lee stories so enticing. I think
that the reason people loved the comics so much was not to see Spider-Man duke
it out with a crazy bad guy, but rather to see all of the real-life obstacles
that often impeded his ability to deal with both the bad guy and life in
general. That is why SPIDER-MAN 2 is so unique and special, and
it’s a rare summer blockbuster that invests more time in the people in its
universe and less in action and special effects.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) 1/2
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
And, for what it's worth, his ranking of the SPIDER-MAN films:
1. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
2. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) 1/2
3. SPIDER-MAN (2002)
4. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) 1/2
5. SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007) 1/2