Superhero Month: "Spider-Man 2" Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Superhero Month: "Spider-Man 2" Review

-- Rating: PG 13 (violence)
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: June 30, 2004
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Movie sequels are really hard to pull off, as most seem to be mere shells of the first installments. It's even more difficult when the subject is one of the world's most-loved superheroes. However, "Spider-Man 2" has more than conquered that obstacle. It's like being dropped right back into a world that is familiar and hasn't changed too much since the last visit. Tobey Maguire still plays a Peter Parker who continues keeping his love for Mary Jane Parker (Kristen Dunst) a secret. He is also still dealing with being handed the burden of responsibility that comes with his great power. This stress does not come without a toll, as he has trouble paying his bills, and his Aunt May (Rosie Harris) is about to lose her home to foreclosure. College is going down the tubes as his grades swirl down the drain.

Mary Jane goes from being the girl next door to growing fed up with Parker's excuses. She ends up engaged to an astronaut, which has to be a blow to Peter's ego. Plus, a precarious situation has developed where Parker's best friend, Harry Osmond, begins to have an obsession with Spider-Man. He wants vengeance for the death of his father, although it was unknown to Harry that his dad was the Green Goblin. A rift develops between the two because Parker won't rat out Spider-Man. Even with his life being a mess and people calling for his head, Spider-Man continues saving people's lives. The endearing thing about Spider-Man is that he doesn't have the luxury of making his hero status a vocation like rich Bruce Wayne can for his alter ego, the Batman. He has a living to make, but he's human, and the pull of the needs of others tugs hard against his own needs.

One professor sees great potential in Peter, and that is soft-spoken genius Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). In a scene that is a typical trope, the experiment that Octavius conducts goes horribly wrong and leaves him deformed and combined with four mechanical arms that fuse to his spinal cord. They also possess artificial intelligence and influence Octavious's behavior to force him to take part in some nefarious deeds. He goes on a citywide rampage to steal money and components for a new terrorizing device. The Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) dubs him Doc Ock.

Rami does an excellent job of giving the audience action scenes but still remaining true to the nature of a comic book. He doesn't need to use gimmicks, such as the comic-book panels that were used in Ang Lee's rendition of "The Hulk." Viewers get a goofy feeling from Doc Ock's sentient arms as they come to life, but there's also a horror quality that melds very well. This is superhero and villain at their best, and Spider-Man creator Stan Lee should be proud of this effort.

This quality is seen at the start of the film, as a recap of the first film's events is unfolded via paintings by Alex Ross. Recaps are generally very heavy handed, so this was an appreciated and beautiful way to jog the memory. The film has a quality that keeps the viewer interested, not only because of fantastic action sequences but also because people end up genuinely caring for Peter Parker's struggles. Peter's life is the point of the movie, and the themes resonate with many viewers. He has his moments of getting knocked down, but he gets up again. It is a tale that anyone who has ever had to balance his or her life with service to others knows all too well.

This is an excellent addition to the most beloved of superhero movies, because Peter was thrust into this situation by circumstance, and he rises to the occasion. Maguire's performance makes his sadness, disappointments, and hopes palpable. Even James Franco's portrayal of Harry's maddening descent into destructive obsession is spot on, and it's downright chilling. Comics and science fiction are full of tales of those who concentrate on one matter above all else and often serve as cautionary tales, but Spider-Man is king for this purpose.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. Viewers, as outsiders looking in, want the good guy to win. Simmons offers some hilarious comedic relief with his goofball newspaper editor, Jameson. The movie also has a memorable scene in which a deflated Parker is made to smile and reflect when he comes across an Asian lady playing a guitar while singing "The Spider-Man Song." Plus, the last line by Mary Jane is inspiring and is delivered with perfect punch by Kristen Dunst. This is storytelling at its finest and may be the best of this series of "Spider-Man" films.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5