I've never been a huge comic book fan, but I've always
been a fan of Spider-Man. I've found that to be the case with a lot of
people. Even people who could not care less about most superheroes
tend to respect Spidey.
This is because
Spider-Man was revolutionary in comic books at the time he was created.
Here was a nerdy teen who had received extraordinary powers completely by
accident. He was not a beacon of strength like Superman or a rich
masked crusader like Batman. Peter Parker couldn't keep a job,
couldn't get the girl, never had enough time to do his homework, all because
he somehow got stuck with the ability to save the world from evil and keep
it safe for the American way. His powers were a gift, but they were
also a pain in the ass.
This type of flawed hero
has been done to death by now, but Spider-Man did it first and did it
best. This film (and it's predecessor) work for just that reason.
Because director Sam Raimi understands the contradiction of the character.
Raimi realizes that his hero could be just about any teen. The film
has as much fun with Parker's life problems as it does with the stunts and
fights. It remembers, unlike so many films based on comic book
characters, that they are just that... comic and characters.
Because of this understanding, the Spider-Man franchise is simply
the best series of super-hero movies since Superman (1978) and
Superman II (1980).
The Superman comparison is not just
an idle one. Though the series are very different in many ways, the
Spider-Man movies are following a very similar path. The first
movie was terrific and fun, but bogged down a bit in having to tell the
backstory of the characters. The second film allows them to loosen up
and have more fun with the story. Even the basic plotline is the
same for the second film, our hero decided to give up his super-powers for
love, only to have the world threatened by a menace that can only be
vanquished with the powers he has given up on.
The strong foundation that this series can
build upon is the perfect casting of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and
Spider-Man. Maguire's subtle, boyish acting points out even more the
strange twist of fate that makes an everyday kid become a hero. He has
the dramatic chops makes it clear that Peter is being torn apart by his
responsibility, and yet he has the comic ability to keep the conflict
amusing. (There is one scene in which Spider-Man has to share an
elevator which is one of the biggest laughs of this year, just because
Maguire is confident enough to play the situation uncomfortably straight.)
It is also interesting that we are able to
meet our villain, Dr. Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus, before he is
taken over by evil. As portrayed by Alfred Molina, Octavius is a
brilliant, sensitive, good person. When he is part of an experiment
that goes hideously wrong, he is deformed and merged with four all-powerful
metal tentacles. So our villain is much like our hero, someone who has
been thrust into a role that he would never imagined. When the
tentacles take over Octavius' mind and turn him into a rampaging killing
machine, you may not totally buy the science of the whole thing, but you
can't help but feel for the good man who you can still see glimpses of.
Spider-Man 2 also continues to
explore the two main relationships from the first film, his best friend
Harry (James Franco) and the love of his life, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst).
Harry does not get that much to do this time around, he is just around to
get drunk and rage about his belief that Spider-Man killed his father
(Willem Dafoe). (Though the film leaves the door wide open for another
sequel in which Harry will apparently be much more active, which is already
in the works as the second film is released.)
The love relationship with M.J. is a vital
part of this sequel. It is completely believable that Parker would be
as obsessed with her. Dunst is perfectly charming and enjoyable
as Mary Jane, and yet there is something a little distant and too perfect
about her. However, perhaps it is important that the character is a
bit idealized, Peter Parker does not see her as just another person, so we
The important thing is that the movie
respects its story, and its audience. It is funny and clever and light
on its feet. Spider-Man 2 is a comic book film that you don't
have to be a comic fan to like.
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Posted July 3, 2004.