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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Spider-Man 2

MOVIE REVIEWS

SPIDER-MAN 2  (2004)

Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Elizabeth Banks, Bruce Campbell, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Vanessa Ferlito, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn, Aasif Mandvi, Ted Raimi, Greg Edelman, Elya Baskin, Emily Daschenel, Molly Cheek, Cliff Robertson and Willem Dafoe.

Screenplay by Alvin Sargent.

Directed by Sam Raimi.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.  125 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

 

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Spider-Man 2

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 shouldn't either. 

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.   (6/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted July 3, 2004.

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Copyright 2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted July 3, 2004.