Marvel Movie Madness! Part 23: Spider-Man 2
Even better than the first?
Part 23: Spider-Man 2 (2004, 93% @ 242reviews)
Directed by Sam Raimi, starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco
Alex: Spider-Man 2 shows Sam Raimi at peak form -- a mischievous filmmaker with a big budget and the studio trust to do whatever the hell he pleases with the expectation that a great huge blockbuster will come out of it. It dutifully treks the path laid out at the end of Spider-Man: Peter Parker is in the city as a struggling college student, Mary Jane is making strides in her acting career, and Harry Osborne picks up the Oscorp pieces in the wake of his father's death. Spider-Man 2 has the same semi-serious bubblegum tone as the first, but with the distinct advantage of having a much juicier villain: Dr. Otto Octavius, whose arc from romantic scientist to Dr. Octopus to repentant villain is simple but always compelling.
Spider-Man 2 to me represents the finest example of comic book filmmaking. It's a joyous adolescent story where kissing and declarations of love are everything, sex is fantasy, and emotions like betrayal, anger, and jealousy are presented at maximum. Raimi delights in juggling everything at once without pushing the tone of the movie too far in any direction. Parker struggling with and abandoning the Spider-Man persona gives that emo flavor the series is known for, but Raimi keeps things fun with personal flourishes, like his cameo as passerby hitting Tobey Maguire on the head with a briefcase, or a shot during the climatic fight where he just had to throw water on Kirsten Dunst wearing a skimpy shirt. And the scene where Dr. Octopus is born on the operating table -- cheesy Dutch angles and hyperactive shots of Doc Ock's arms ripping apart surgeons and nurses - is inspired lunacy.
The only shame is, again, its heavy leaning on already-dated CG work. Other than that, Spider-Man 2 equals The Dark Knight in sheer comic book film entertainment.
Tim: Can I pick a couple nits with Spider-Man 2? Why did Harry Osborn think it was a good idea to hold a public demonstration of the fusion device without making sure it worked first? How good can Mary-Jane's performance be -- in an Oscar Wilde play, no less -- when she keeps missing her lines and staring forlornly into the audience? Why on earth did Peter take off his mask when he was attempting to stop the runaway train? And why is Peter constantly falling down, getting stepped on, dropping stuff, etc.? I mean, I know he's supposed to be an everyman, but it gets a little sadistic after a while, you know?
Whatever. This movie is pretty terrific -- Spider-Man 2 gets a lot of the big things right, so it can be forgiven its small lapses. In a lot of superhero movies, there's no real feeling for anything or anyone outside the frame, but the Spider-Man films do an excellent job of showing a New York City teeming with life -- people have jobs, go to school, and seem to be living life, not just waiting to run screaming when the heroes and villains go to battle. The fight scenes are electric -- you always have a good idea of where Spidey and Doc Ock are in relation to each other, and even their most gravity-defying battles maintain a certain internal physical logic. The climactic battle is suitably chill-inducing and tense, and the scene just afterward, with Spidey and Mary-Jane on the giant web, has a delicate beauty that's comparable to the ice-skating scene in Peter Jackson's King Kong -- it could look ridiculous in lesser hands, but Raimi makes it incredibly poignant and romantic.
Luke: I'll be honest, I just don't get the praise for this movie. Sure, it's fun enough, but it's not as narratively clean and well-paced as the first film -- and it sows the seeds for the round-in-circles overstuffing of the third instalment (which I don't think is any worse than this one). Where in the first movie the birth of Spider-Man and Green Goblin were nicely developed as parallel plotlines (nevermind the GG suit), here the story initially meanders for a large chunk through Peter's uninteresting personal crisis and his romance with MJ, while Doc Ock feels more like the "guest villain of the week" without having a great personal connection to Spidey's arc. I thought Peter's decision to give up his powers seemed a bit arbitrary at the behest of the script, as if it were designed to set in motion endless corny speeches about "choosing what's right" and "being a hero" -- both from Uncle Flashback and Aunt May, who really started to annoy me in this (seriously, like how many syrupy lines about heroism is she going to dish out?) Design-wise Doc Ock is definitely a better villain, even though Alfred Molina's about as scary as your grade school math teacher with a mild temper, and the action sequences are pretty well done -- though the "weightless CGI" is still a minor issue. The movie does, as Tim says, reach a nice emotional crescendo at the end with Peter and MJ finally getting their stuff together, but to me this feels like a place marker for a better story that needs to be addressed...
Ryan: I'm somewhere in between Alex and Luke. I thought Spider-Man 2 was a fun and entertaining follow-up to the first movie, slowly expanding the Spider-Man universe while fleshing out some of its existing characters a bit more. On the other hand, unlike a lot of what I've read and heard, I didn't find this to be an exceptional improvement over the previous installment; I enjoyed both films pretty equally.
I agree that Doc Ock felt like a "villain of the week," but he was adequately worked into the ongoing story, and in the end, don't all superhero movies suffer from this unfortunate plot device? Unless you somehow introduce all of a hero's would-be villains in the first installment of a planned franchise (bad idea to being with), every subsequent film will feature the hero encountering a baddie with whom the audience will have little or no prior connection. The "villain of the week" phenomenon is somewhat unavoidable, I think. Oh, and I thought Alfred Molina was great in the role. In the comics, Doctor Octopus always looked a bit like Elton John in a jumpsuit, so I don't think Molina had much to live up to in the "visual menace" department.
In any case, though I sympathize with some of Luke's gripes, I thought the movie struck a nice balance between the big action scenes and the more dramatic elements. I'm still not sure I understand specifically why so many place this film at the top of the franchise (and for some, the entire genre), but it's definitely a good time at the movies, both for Spider-Man fans and for those seeking great popcorn entertainment.
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