After making his debut in the original and fairly decent
‘Spider-Man’ in 2002, the web-slinger comes roaring back onto the
silver screen in ‘Spider-Man 2’ with a fierceness that should make
heroes like ‘The Hulk,’ ‘The Punisher’ and ‘Hellboy’ run home
crying to momma.
‘Spider-Man 2’ improves on every aspect of the original and
brims over with edgy excitement and genuine summer movie joy. It’s
the quintessential summer movie.
The original ‘Spider-Man’ was more of a cookie-cutter comic book
movie: a loner experiences a tragedy, (in Peter Parker’s case, the
death of his uncle) and decides to use his newly discovered
superpowers to fight evil.
It’s been done many times, and even ‘Daredevil’ (2003) gave the
same material more depth.
‘Spider-Man 2,’ however, gives us more character meat to chew
on. Moreover, the special effects are tighter and more convincing,
and the adventure story and the love story gel more naturally.
It almost feels like classic film noir watching Mary Jane Watson
(Kirsten Dunst) look deep into Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) eyes
and command him to kiss her to prove he has feelings for her.
Maguire’s Parker spends much of this film feeling torn between
his responsibilities as a hero and what he may be sacrificing
because of it. His conflicted state is having an adverse effect on
his web-slinging skills, as he sometimes finds himself in midair
unable to get his web up. (Insert Freudian reference here.)
Meanwhile, Parker finds himself fired from job after job. Being
a superhero is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. He’s constantly
tardy because he’s trying to save lives and deliver pizza in less
than 29 minutes.
Parker is also writing a paper for school about Dr. Otto
Octavius (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist who is hoping to
expand the boundaries of fusion. It’s a dangerous experiment; so
much so that the good doctor has created four mechanical arms that
attach to his spine and take orders from his brain to do the work
Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), is sponsoring
the experiment through his late father’s old company. Harry has
also vowed vengeance on Spider-Man for killing his father, who,
unbeknownst to Harry, was the Green Goblin.
Octavius’ experiment is a disaster, however, and the apparatus
attached to his spine turns into an angry dreadlock-looking monster
with a mind of its own.
The battles between Doc Ock and Spider-Man are terrific,
especially one involving a clock tower and a train. The Doc Ock
villain is a vast improvement over the Green Goblin, who looked
more like something a bad ‘Power Rangers’ episode coughed up.
Amidst the eye-popping special effects and chase sequences, it’s
the little things that make this comic book movie a keeper.
J.K. Simmons steals every scene he gets as the fast-talking
Jameson, editor of The Daily Bugle who pays Parker for pictures of
Spider-Man. Rosemary Harris adds nicely to the tender side of the
film as Aunt May, and Molina’s Octavius matches the hero step for
step in terms of a conflicted psyche.
Maguire proves he is still the right man for this job, even
though he reportedly almost lost the gig to Jake Gyllenhaal (‘The
Day After Tomorrow’) for this second film. We get more of an
opportunity to actually see Maguire in the Spider-Man uniform (no
fair telling how), which makes the computer-generated hero of the
original film seem more human.
I also appreciated Dunst’s Mary Jane refusing to simply be a
damsel in distress. Dunst gives her character a genuine emotional
center, which elicits similar results out of Maguire.
It’s a good match.
Director Sam Raimi, who also helmed the original, has turned all
aspects of this franchise up several notches. By the end of
‘Spider-Man 2,’ he has readied the franchise for the third film,
perhaps dangerously treading on a trap of predictability.
It also begs the question, could any future ‘Spider-Man’ movie
improve on ‘2’?
It’s hard to imagine.
Eppler’s rating: ****
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