Review of Spider-Man 2
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 7/17/04
The dread franchise film has killed off many a potentially interesting character (Superman, Batman, Ripley, Rocky) & given leases of life to characters that are paper-thin (Indy Jones, Jason Voorhees, Catwoman). The latest franchise film is Spider-Man 2, directed by Sam Raimi. The 1st Spider-Man was probably the best comic book film ever made- mostly because its leads- Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, & Kirsten Dunst as his love- Mary Jane Watson a) can both act (unlike, say Christopher Reeve as Superman), b) are well cast (unlike Michael Keaton in the 1st 2 Batman films). & c) have chemistry (unlike Reeve & Margot Kidder in the Superman films). Maguire, especially, is so good an actor that he is 1 of those rarities that can run a panoply of emotions through just his eyes. He is almost irresistible to watch onscreen.
This 2nd film in the franchise is not leaps & bounds
better than the 1st, nor is it a disappointment. It picks up &
maintains the original’s qualities better than any other franchise film I’ve
seen. It’s as if the 2 films were parts of a ½, as if both were filmed at the
same time. Writers Michael Chabon, Miles Millar, Alfred Gough, & Alvin Sargent deserve
alot of credit for that feat. Still, there are differences in the 2 films. The 1st
set up Spidey’s world, this film accepts that premise with a quick recap in
the opening credits. The villain in this film, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina-
soon to be Dr. Octopus) is better than the 1st film’s Green
Goblin, yet is still underdeveloped. Perhaps by the 3rd film, with
Spidey’s persona firmly established, we will get a villain with more
psychological underpinnings. Doc Ock is simply another take on the mad (or
obsessed) scientist. The end of this film establishes the original Green
Goblin’s son, Harry Osborn (James Franco) as the probable villain in the next
film. This is good in that we have seen him develop his reasons for hating
Spider-Man over the 1st 2 films, but bad in that Franco simply has
shown no depth in the part- he’s a pretty boy, period.
Whereas the villains have been relatively weak in both films the net result is a rich characterization of Peter Parker’s internal landscape, as well his love of & with Mary Jane. Also developed more is his relationship with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), & some possible future set ups with Daily Bugle assistant editor Robbie Robertson (Bill Nunn)- who may know who Peter Parker is, & his boss- the acid tongued J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) who steals his scenes with caustic barbs at everyone. There are a # of moments that appear in this film that would be unheard of in other superhero flicks- Peter being offered & accepting chocolate cake from a poor but attractive female neighbor in his tenement, Mary Jane kissing her new fiancé, John Jameson- Jonah’s son, in a way to evoke her upside down kiss with Spider-Man from the 1st film, & some moments of warmth between Doc Ock & his wife before she is killed.
As for the actual tale of the film? Doc Ock wants to create endless nuclear fusion. His experiment goes awry & 4 metallic arms with artificial intelligence are grafted to his body. He goes insane. His project was funded by Harry Osborn, who took over Oscorp after his father Norman (Willem Dafoe- who appears in a cameo near film’s end) died. Doc Ock becomes obsessed with proving his project can work, so goes on a crime spree to fund it. He makes a deal with Harry for the element to fuel his project in exchange for his bringing Spidey to Harry- who plans on slaying the man he believes killed his father. Peter, meanwhile, is doing poorly at Columbia University, has alienated Mary Jane with his undependability, & eventually starts losing his spider powers due to angst. He then gives up his alter ego, & vows to win Mary Jane back from astronaut/hero John Jameson- her new fiancé.
After an initial clash with Doc Ock at a bank robbery the 2 clash again when Ock kidnaps Mary Jane, & forces Spidey to save an elevated train from crashing off a track that ends abruptly. Doc Ock had sent the train speeding to its doom. After saving the train by sending out countless webs to slow the train down, Spider-Man is exhausted & passes out. A whole train full of passengers sees who he is (the film’s major weakness being that for a superhero who frets his real world ID would be dangerous to those he loves he sure takes off his mask alot), then tries to save him from Doc Ock, to no avail. Spidey is delivered to Harry, who also finds out Spidey’s real identity, & is shocked by it, enough so to drop the knife he planned to murder him with.
In the end, Doc Ock’s experiment goes awry again, & Spidey convinces him to shut the experiment down. In a classic nod, the villain proves he is more misunderstood than evil by sacrificing himself to destroy his creation. But, we do not know if Doc Ock is dead, for sure. I hope that he appears in a future sequel because Molina is a fine actor who made far more with the character than what the writers gave him- especially in his eyes, whose soulfulness can match Maguire’s. The ending, with Mary Jane saved, & finding out that Peter is Spidey, is sort of predictable, & it would have been alot better had she not stood John Jameson up at the altar- a total cliché, although if it pushes that character to villainy in later films it will be worth it.All in all, a very good film, & along with the 1st film, simply the best superhero films ever made. I hope the writers from this film stick with the whole series because, next to Batman, Spidey probably has the best pantheon of villains in comic book lore. Future baddies could include Dr. Doom, Venom, Carnage, the Sandman, Rhino, the Lizard, & Electro, among others. But, what makes good writing in such a film valuable are the little moments- like Peter’s confession to Aunt May about how & why Uncle Ben really died, a surreal moment on an elevator between Spidey & a shocked citizen, references to other characters in the Marvel Comics universe, allusions & parallels to Oscar Wilde’s The Important Of Being Earnest, & a street musician singing the old Spider-Man tv cartoon series theme song from the 1960s. Such touches are what invigorate this franchise above the others & what killed off the increasingly dark & directionless Batman franchise. Sam Raimi proves he is a director who knows how to milk a proven commodity without imposing his own distorted ‘vision’ on it- unlike Batman director Tim Burton.
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