Comic book movies are everywhere these days. A month doesn’t seem to go by without Hollywood wheeling out another slickly-produced reinventing of the superhero film. It is getting silly. After a winter of The Punisher, we have a fall of Constantine, Ant-Man and another Blade film. But in between, we have Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man 2 is proof that sequels can work if they are thought out, developed and offered to the film-going public in a smart and intelligent manner. We all know that hero films are not going away soon, but that doesn’t mean they have to suck. Director Sam Raimi thinks this too. That’s why he has once again returned to Marvel’s Spider-Man Universe.
One reason why spider-Man 2 clicks is because of its clever and heartfelt script, penned by Smallville scribes Alfred Gough and Miles Millar with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon. This trio has given us all the action and comic book drama that we could ever want, while providing a warm narrative about, love, friendship and family.
The life of a superhero is not easy. There are so many aspects of life to sacrifice, control and organize. Plus you always have to be vigilant and awake. This is especially true for Spider-Man. As the film opens we discover that Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) finds it hard to juggle his job, his college and of course, his crime fighting. For Peter, this gets really old fast and he begins to look for a way out. In the meantime, his Aunt May is losing her house, and his quasi-girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (now a model and actress) is mad about his estrangement. To make matters worse, his best friend Harry Osborn still wants a piece of Spider-Man for killing his father. Despite all of this Peter retains his‘aw-shucks’ attitude and perseveres onward with nerve-wracking results.
After missing Mary Jane’s play and enduring a haranguing from his professor, Dr. Curt Connors, Peter finally cries uncle and walks away from his double life. Once Peter turns over a new leaf, things begin to happen for him. His grades go up, his mood is better, and to his surprise, chicks dig him. Harry, seeing that Peter needs a hand with his thesis, conveniently arranges for him to meet his new employee, the legendary master of fusion energy, Dr. Otto Octavius.
Octavius becomes a mentor to Peter, instructing him on how to enjoy life while working in science. Peter is enthralled by his work in fusion and renewable energy, and Otto invites Peter to watch his demonstration of his newest creation; a suit that allows humans to safely work in very dangerous places with the aid of a fusion-enhanced body suit, complete with artificially intelligent mechanical arms. Things take a nasty turn when Octavius makes a miscalculation during the demonstration, transforming into a villainous megalomaniac who bows to the artificial intelligence now welded onto his spine. The now-evil Octavius (dubbed Dock Ock by Peter’s Boss, J. Jonah Jameson) unleashes a nasty crime wave across New York that presses Spider-Man back into action. From here on out, Peter’s renewed sense of duty and purpose drives him (as Spider-Man) to fight Doctor Octopus.
As Spider-Man fights crime and saves the city, something remarkable happens, his love life falls into place, his family life gets worked out and his overall focus becomes clearer. He is a man who becomes comfortable with who he is and what he must do.
Director Sam Raimi once again works his magic to deliver a terrific film. By returning most of the crew for the first film, he manages to keep the charm, depth and character development of the first film intact. Danny Elfman’s score is expansive and beautiful, capturing the texture and feel of the film.
The returning cast once again shines. Despite an annoyingly bountiful number of facial close-ups, Toby Maguire remains enjoyable as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. It would be easy for him to just show up and clock in, but he doesn’t opt for the easy ride. Instead, he reaches in and brings Parker into a different light. In Spider-Man-2 he gives the character just the right amount of edge and charm to keep the audience intrigued. Kirsten Dunst returns as Mary Jane, but this time bringing more range to the role. Dunst’s Mary Jane has matured and found herself in the two years since the last film. She’s gotten more nerve, become more self-assured and more independent. She also has a few uncanny inclinations about Peter Parker. Rosemary Harris returns as Aunt May. The writers have fleshed her character, allowing Harris to actually act during some emotionally tense scenes with Maguire. James Franco is also edgy as Harry Osborn. His acting has improved since the first film mainly because he has been given something to work with here.
Then there is Alfred Molina. Every superhero needs a nemesis and Molina is perfect. The veteran character actor (Boogie Nights, Frieda) brings a kindness and warmness to Otto Octavius that makes you like him. Then as Dr. Octavius becomes Dr. Octopus, he twists this all around, making him a sinister, tortured merchant of evil.
Sometimes, the second film in a series is the one that is the least exciting or interesting because directors repeat the formula that worked the first time around. This is the exact opposite with Spider-Man 2. It is a methodical movie that provides the next logical, step for this franchise. It takes the story, characters and tension of its predecessor and harnesses it with even more action, character depth and drama. Raimi and his crew have managed to recycle the sets, atmosphere and anxiety of the first film while injecting it with enough new energy to add a new dimension to the web slinger. Spider-Man 2 is a surprisingly well-acted and action-packed movie experience.