Directed by Sam Raimi, Spider-Man 2 is an entertaining, smart, action-packed movie that has a lot to offer. It’s been created for all types of moviegoers, striking well-crafted balances between adventure and romance as well as plot and special effects. Even though there is tough competition from Shrek and Jesus, it has a good chance to be the hit of the year because not only are there really good action sequences that people are going to want to see again, but there’s an interesting storyline with compelling, believable characters that have progressed since we last saw them. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is trying, unsuccessfully, to balance his life between struggling college student and web-slinging hero. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is a successful model and actress. Harry Osborn (James Franco) is now running OsCorp, but hasn’t gotten over the fact that Spider-Man killed his father.
The main villain is Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). His work involves fusion, and some of the elements are very hazardous materials, so he wears a device comprised of four mechanical arms enhanced with artificial intelligence to assist him. He is funded by and works at OsCorp. During a demonstration of his latest experiment, things go terribly wrong, as they inevitably must, and the results are that the laboratory is destroyed, Octavius’ wife is killed and the mechanical arms become fused to Octavius’ body. At the hospital, the doctors attempt to remove the device but the arms attack the surgery team and free Octavius from the hospital. He has become mentally unstable from the combination of dealing with the despair of losing his wife and fighting for control of his mind against the artificial intelligence of the robotic arms. He decides to recreate his experiment and robs a bank to fund his work. The Daily Bugle dubs him Doctor Octopus when he goes on a crime spree. Needing more of the hazardous material, he locates Harry, and Harry offers him a deal: Harry will give Octavius what he needs in exchange for Octavius delivering Spider-Man. Octavius is more than happy with this arrangement because Spider-Man has repeatedly gotten in his way. While New York is a big city, their chance encounters are believable results of the plot. It doesn’t feel forced for the sole purpose of having action scenes.
Meanwhile, Peter is having problems being a superhero. He can’t keep a regular job, his grades are near failing, and he can’t be with Mary Jane. If that weren’t enough, he periodically loses his abilities. He gets fed up with being Spider-Man, deciding to chuck it all away so he can just be Peter Parker. Once he throws away the costume, life seems better and there’s a funny sequence set to a popular song from a 1969 film. Of course, we know Peter will be back as Spider-Man once he’s compelled back into action. After all, it’s not called Peter Parker 2.
This plotline for Peter is my biggest problem with the film. I don’t understand why they are rehashing this theme again? It was dealt with in Spider-Man, when Peter had to come to terms with being partially responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. Over the course of a few hundred comic books, it’s understandable having Peter frustrated and giving up once in a while, but not in back-to-back movies. The issues he deals with in this film are minor compared to Uncle Ben’s death, so I don’t believe him giving up because of them. This storyline would have worked better in a later movie.
The cast does a good job with the standouts being Molina and JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Molina’s Octavius isn’t over the top like Dafoe’s Green Goblin from the first film. He conveys a lot with his face and voice as moods change. Jonah is still hysterical and has more scenes. He acts and talks like a reporter from a ‘30s screwball comedy, barking out orders to his hapless staff, but he fits seamlessly into this world created by Raimi. The more I see Simmons in other roles, the less I think of him tattooing Beecher’s ass with a swastika.
The fights are choreographed well. My favorite is when Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus are falling from a building and still throwing punches. There a lot of fights and both men take quite a beating. This struck me as a bit odd after a while because Octavius didn’t become stronger from the accident; he just got more arms and since he was a scientist, one good punch should have knocked him out.
In the trailers I winced when I saw that Spider-Man becomes unmasked. This happened in the first movie and seems to happen in almost every superhero film since Batman. It usually drives me nuts. What’s the point in having a secret identity if your constantly showing people who you are? However, my fears were alleviated because of the four times Spider-Man’s identity is revealed, it works in three of the situations. Not only does it make sense regarding the climax and conclusion of this film, but also, it sets up a villain for another film, possibly Spider-Man 3. The only time I didn’t like it was when it happened on an out-of-control subway car in front of a group of people. While I could see the scene was speaking thematically about doing the right thing and none of these people knew Peter, I didn’t understand why he didn’t cover part of his face with webbing so people didn’t him clearly. The scene could have still accomplished the same goal. Even with my criticism, I appreciate the movie trying to say something. The scene was touching and temporarily softened my callous heart.
There many other nice small touches as well. Do Doctor Connors and John Jameson’s appearances foreshadow their alter egos in later films? MJ’s play was a great choice since events in the play relate to the movie. And of course, seeing Bruce “Don’t Call Me ‘Ash’” Campbell. In regards to the comics, the changes were fine. Doc Ock doesn’t have smart arms, but the idea works in the movie. I do miss his bowl cut and giant glasses though.
Now with all that gushing that’s not to say I didn’t dislike some parts of the film.
The opening scene was too silly. Peter uses his Spider-Man abilities to ensure that pizzas get delivered across town in a required amount of time. The whole time I’m watching Peter swinging and jumping around town I’m imaging that all the toppings would be piled in one corner of the box.
There’s an out-of-control subway train that Spider-Man stops by shooting a number of webs onto building and holding the webbing tight. This was very odd because while Peter’s muscles are stronger, I’ve never heard about his joints and ligaments being affected by the radioactive spider, so they should have been ripped out of his body. I found myself wondering why he didn’t shoot webbing onto the tracks to gum up the wheels and slow it down.
The film does get a little too Hollywood between Peter and MJ and seemed to reward Peter too quickly for the decision he made. Considering they’ve already planned for a number of sequels. This part of the story must have been planned before the decision to increase the size of the franchise to six films and counting.
In spite of all that, Spider-Man 2 was a lot of fun and I could see myself going back to see it again on the big screen. That’s a big deal for me. I can’t wait for the next one.