2004, Columbia. Directed by Sam Raimi. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker, Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson.
Decent Films Ratings
|?Teens & Up|
Content advisory: Stylized, sometimes intense comic-book violence; fleeting mild profanity.
Buy at Amazon.com
Spider-Man 2 (DVD)
By Steven D. Greydanus
At last! At last! This is what a comic-book movie should be!
No: This is what a Spider-Man movie should be — freewheeling, rip-roaring, hilarious, heartfelt, over the top.
That last adjective represents a claim I made for the first
Nothing in the original prepared me for the sheer energy, creativity, wit, and daring of this sequel.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a
Other heroes have made the transition to live action with relative ease, Superman in particular doing it, successfully, in at least a half-dozen different incarnations. Even Tim Burton’s Batman had his moments. As for the
But if Spider-Man falls short of being the quintessential comic-book movie,
Even the opening credit sequence echoes the original while simultaneously going beyond it, using the CGI web effects from the original opening as the basis for a far more dynamic eye-candy sequence, juxtaposed with photos and paintings by talented comic-book painter Alex Ross reestablishing the characters and recapping the plot points from the first film. The opening graphics alone are so entertaining that I stopped reading the credits to watch them.
Spider-Man 2 captures the essential issues and dilemmas of hero-hood better than perhaps any previous movie, even Superman II. Going beyond
It also touches on the necessity of being honest in relationships, offering a fresh take on the classic dilemma, definitively articulated in Superman II, of the conflicting claims upon a hero by the world and by his best beloved. It’s all done on a cartoon level, of course, but the filmmakers’ affection for their characters is palpable, and they pull it off.
At the same time,
Partly this is because of Spidey himself, who’s faster, smoother, more convincing, more spider-like than before. Computer effects are still evident, but less glaring. And both Maguire (or whatever stuntmen may share the costume with him) and his CGI counterpart have learned to move and carry themselves more like the hand-drawn original.
Those weaving, menacing tentacles make Doc Ock a far more engaging and dramatic foe for the leaping, lightning-quick
Their most spectacular battle, a bravura sequence involving an elevated train, is a breathless action tour de force, and highlights not only the antagonists’ powers but also Peter Parker’s true heroism and capacity for self-sacrifice. (At one point Peter’s sacrificial heroism leaves him stretched out cruciform and potentially broken against Doc Ock’s chosen instrument of torture — a christological echo previously noted by Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News.)
I say Peter’s heroism and self-sacrifice, rather than
The story, set two years after the first film, takes its time initially establishing how times have changed. Peter is now in college, living in a New York apartment rather than his Aunt May’s Queens house. He works two jobs to try to pay the rent, while Aunt May struggles with mortgage payments she can’t make. (Alter egos like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne never had to worry about money.)
Peter’s high-school buddy Harry Osbourne (James Franco) is following in the professional footsteps of his late father, technology entrepreneur Norman (Willem Dafoe) — whom Harry doesn’t know was also the Green Goblin. Harry blames
Harry is sponsoring Dr. Octavius’s research, which promises the rather unimaginative goal of unlimited cheap energy for everyone. The filmmakers have substantially rethought Octavius’s nature and ultimate tragedy from his comic-book origins, all to the better. Molina’s performance is everything it needs to be and more, and his tentacles are startlingly like characters in their own right. (One hole in the Octopus effect is that while the scenes with Doc Ock suspended by his arms are perfectly persuasive, whenever Ock is on his own two feet he never really looks as if he’s actually lugging that weight around on his back.)
Part of what makes
Most of the supporting cast, including Aunt May, Mary Jane, Harry, and even Jameson are utilized both more and better than in the first film. Aunt May gets a key speech utterly in keeping with her role in the comic book, and MJ as a character is a bit more fleshed out (though her wardrobe thankfully keeps more flesh in). MJ’s complicated non-relationship with Peter has become easier to care about, though there’s still a bit of rote stiffness in it.
There are a few plot glitches, though not much that couldn’t have been patched with a single line of dialogue. The most important and glaring involves a scene in which a character succeeds in driving a bargain with Doc Ock, though he’s obviously in no position to do so. Shortly afterwards, a character finds Peter in a public place where it’s not easy to see how anyone could have known he would be.
But these are trifles next to the film’s rewards. If in the end I was less than entirely satisfied with the original
Here at last is the