Spider-Man 2 Review

Posted: May 2, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

The Summer Movie Season is upon us, and with it comes the promise of a barrage of numerous blockbusters, all looking to make you fork over some of your cash. But while the multiplexes are bombarded with new big-budget movies every week from now until the beginning of September, I thought I’d do something interesting this year and bring you a special series, titled “Barrage of the Blockbusters”, wherein I review a different big-budget film — good or bad — that made considerable bank. The reviews shall be released each and every Friday from now until the end of the season, i.e. when the dust has settled and schools are back in session. So, kick back, grab some popcorn and a nice cold drink and enjoy the reviews.

First up, to coincide with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is a certain sequel from ten years ago …

Release Date: June 30th, 2004

Running Time: 2 hours and 7 minutes

Written by: Alvin Sargent

Directed by: Sam Raimi

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Which film can we owe this “superhero renaissance” that we’ve been experiencing the good part of the past decade to? Let’s look back almost ten years, after Bryan Singer’s first X-Men and even X2, to June 30th, 2004, when a certain sequel showed us just what these types of movies could be. Spider-Man 2 is a superhero movie which demonstrates everything that can go so right about the genre, and it also still remains the best film to feature the Webhead to date. To say that this is a great film would be an understatement. This, quite frankly, is one of the very few superhero films that is … I can’t think of any other word: perfect.

We pick up the story a bit after the ending of Sam Raimi’s first entry in the franchise. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is having a hell of a time trying to balance his newfound life as self-appointed savior of New York City, a.k.a. Spider-Man, with everything else. While he may be cleaning up the streets of crime successfully, Peter’s personal woes just continue to pile up. His academic performance at college is suffering greatly, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is going through serious financial difficulties, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is trying her best to coax Peter into a relationship, unaware that Peter has vowed to keep her in the “friend zone” to best protect her from Spider-Man’s enemies, and his relationship with best friend Harry Osbourne (James Franco) is facing strain due to Harry’s intense desire to get vengeance on Spider-Man for his father’s death, and he’s annoyed Peter won’t help out, seeing as how Peter is Spider-Man’s “personal photographer” for the Daily Bugle. Even his laundry is getting ruined because of the Spider-Man suit; what’s a guy to do? But things begin to change once Peter becomes acquainted with Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a brilliant nuclear scientist in the throes of trying to perfect sustained fusion power. However, Octavius’s experiment goes horribly wrong, killing his wife and permanently welding four self-operating mechanical arms onto his body; thus Dr. Octopus is born. “Doc Ock” soon begins terrorizing the city as he attempts to retry his failed experiment, this time on a much larger scale, but this comes in the middle of Peter’s serious identity crisis. With everything in his personal life crumbling apart due to his responsibilities as Spider-Man, can he truly be the hero that the city needs, or is he just better off being the nerdy and unburdened Peter Parker?

Of all the original three Spider-Man movies, it’s Spider-Man 2 that’s held up the best. Time hasn’t exactly been kind to the 2002 original, and Spider-Man 3 … well, we all know what happened there. What really sets Spider-Man 2 apart is that it’s the one film in the series to most satisfyingly and successfully explore the psychology of Peter Parker and examine the effects and consequences being a superhero has on his life. Now, I’ve never been a comic reader, but I do happen to know that the main reason Spider-Man has always been so popular is because despite his extraordinary abilities, he’s still a human being with real and relatable problems at the end of the day. And if there’s anything that this movie is keen on representing, it’s that aspect of the character. Here, we see firsthand that’s it’s not so easy being a superhero, an idea that had been touched upon before this film, but not really explored in great detail before Sam Raimi came along. Unless you want to count Batman Forever, but then again, who would?

In recent years, I’ve come down pretty hard on Tobey Maguire’s performance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, especially after Andrew Garfield swooped in and did a hell of a more naturalistic job in The Amazing Spider-Man two years ago, but in that case, I’m talking more about the first and third films. In this one, he somehow nailed it. Maguire’s Peter has always seemed to have more of a puppy dog innocence about him, which makes him sometimes endearing but also sometimes annoying, however that innocence works here given the character’s big arc in this film. Maguire effectively captures the frustration and desperation inherent in all of these situations, and his performance here is so good, that to desperately root for him is so easy to do. When Peter comes to his two big realizations about his identity and responsibility in this film, they really do feel like big moments because Maguire sells the evolution so wonderfully. But his isn’t the only great performance on display. Alfred Molina is terrific as Doc Ock, because like Peter, there’s a sadness to his character born out of his circumstances which makes him a sympathetic villain rather than just one that’s simply teeth-gnashingly sinister. Like all great villains, we understand his motivation, which makes the conflict that arises between him and Spider-Man that much more compelling. In fact, this whole cast is uniformly great at portraying their respective characters as so conflicted. James Franco and Rosemary Harris both shine with more meaty material, and Kirsten Dunst is also particularly good at portraying Mary Jane’s woefully confused state of mind.

That praise extends to the script by Alvin Sargent, which is the basis for all this captivating drama. In true sequel form, the stakes are raised considerably for our hero throughout and in such different ways, too. Peter just can’t catch a break in this movie, and that right there is what makes him so relatable; even Spider-Man can’t keep his life together. One minute, he’s worrying about a madman with robotic arms causing chaos and the next, he’s dealing with not having enough money to pay the current month’s rent on his apartment. All of the personal drama is ratcheted up for Peter in this movie, not just because it makes for great drama (which it still does), but because it’s all important to his character evolution. Another great thing about Sargent’s script is that there’s not one single boring or slow scene in the entire thing; it’s wall-to-wall interest.

Then there’s Sam Raimi’s direction, which improved greatly from the first film. Not only does he demonstrate a better talent at integrating special effects more naturally, he also shows a knack for staging some pretty spectacular action scenes. Two words: train fight. The big pre-climax fight between Spider-Man and Doc Ock is nothing short of amazing; it’s fast-paced, intense and enormously exciting. But as great as all the action scenes are, the quieter and more dramatic ones hit the mark just as strongly. An argument could be made that Spider-Man 2 is as much of a character drama as it is an action movie, and it’s because Raimi shows such a clear understanding here of this universe being brought to life, especially all of the subtleties and nuances of it.

In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find something to complain about when it comes to Spider-Man 2. Sure, some moments can be cheesy, but it’s all part of the charm of this movie. Even someone like me, who’s had no exposure to the comic book incarnation of Spider-Man whatsoever, has to admit that it really does feel like this film captures the essence of what Spider-Man is all about. This is a terrific movie in every sense of the word, and it just makes me sad to think that the greatness that is Spider-Man 2 was followed by the mess that was Spider-Man 3.

****/****

Comments
  1. le0pard13 says:

    Agreed! Fine look at the best of Raimi’s Spider Man.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    One of the best superhero movie sequels of all-time. It’s a bit tonally-off in some spots, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that just about every move here is calculated perfectly. Good review.

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