Spider-Man 2
Starring:
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco
Directed By :
Sam Raimi
Grade
A

Synopsis: About two years have passed between the events of this film and those of the previous Spider-Man movie. Peter Parker (Maguire) has moved to NYC and is attending college while trying to pay the bills as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper and a sometime pizza delivery boy…. While moonlighting as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man! Needless to say, he's got a full plate. He can barely pay the bills, much less help his financially struggling Aunt May, he doesn't have the time or energy for schoolwork, and he takes his lumps as Spidey only to have half of NYC agree with the Bugle that he's a menace! Not to mention that he's grown estranged from his best friend and former roomy Harry Osborn (Franco) since the death of Harry's father Norman. Pete doesn't want to reveal to Harry that his dad was the insane criminal known as the Green Goblin, but then he also can't tell him why he knows Spider-Man didn't murder his dad. And he can't cover up his association with Spidey, since he seems to be the only one that can get close enough to snap pictures of the web-slinger (his bread and butter!) The one thing that would make his life better is his abiding love for Mary Jane Watson (Dunst), whom he loves too much to endanger by entangling her in his life as Spider-Man. If anyone ever found out his secret identity, everyone in his life would be in danger…

Evaluation: I'm a geek, I'm a gamer, I'm a movie-buff, but in my roots I'm first and foremost a comic fan. One of the best comic book movies ever, 2002's Spider-Man succeeded so well mostly because it was so loyal to the source material. That is the key in any adaptation. Now obviously, with a book, a TV show, or a comic series, the problem is in condensing so much material into a shorter time span, and doing it all to different beats, since you're not working with a serial medium or one that allows for tons of exposition. The main thing is to stay loyal to the spirit of the work, if not to the absolute letter, incorporating tidbits wherever you can, much like in LOTR. In that, Spider-Man 2 has done exceedingly well.

The story loosely follows many of the elements in the later early years of the Spider-Man comics, specifically the 'Spider-Man No More' storyline, even borrowing the famous comic book cover for the scene where Peter leaves his Spidey costume in the trash. It's touches like that that show a real reverence for the source material, and that's what makes Raimi the perfect director for this vehicle, more so than any skill with directing action or effects. Speaking of which, while Spider-Man always has lots of drama, the action definitely doesn't fail to disappoint either. Not only do you get to see Spidey stopping some more random petty crimes, but there are major stunt sequences, and the fights with Doc Ock really take it to the next level from the fights with the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin's strength as a villain is that he was somebody close to Peter's personal life, but at the end of the day, he's still a pretty regular guy. Not like he has four freakin' extendable tentacles coming out of his back! Spidey's battles with Doc Ock are real knock-down, drag-out affairs, with the two falling off buildings and pummeling each other on the way down! Spidey's speed, agility, and reflexes versus an opponent who can attack and block with six limbs…it's pretty amazing, and in my opinion the highlight of the movie. The downside of this is that, while ILM did an amazing job with the CG, and it looks even better than in the previous film, it's still not seamless and many sequences look like an animated Spidey, a la the animated Neo from Matrix Reloaded's Burly Brawl. Similarly to that film, it doesn't really take away much from your overall enjoyment. [Also, they show Spidey holding up buildings and basically being super-strong, and he beats the hell out of Doc Ock…why isn't one punch from him taking this regular guy's head off!? I expected Doc to keep him away with his tentacles, but he really takes some hits! But I digress…]

Bringing it back to the story front, frankly this is where the movie falters a little. Whether deserved or not, Michael Chabon is a Pulitzer-winning writer, however he's working with Smallville scribes Millar & Gough, and their trademark was all over the script. Some inspired dialogue in spots, and dry in others. Great relationship conundrums mixed with horribly unbelievable plot points. I'll give some examples without really spoiling any plot points for you: as soon as they say the little exposed chip on Doc Ock's back keeps the tentacles from controlling him, who didn't go 'Duh. Well that's getting broken.' Hmm, maybe something that important would be a little better protected? How about that an entire subway sees Peter's face as Spider-Man, but there's not a greedy, selfish, or desperate bastard among them that would snap a cell-phone picture or make an artist's rendering? Part of the appeal of Spider-Man was always that he could be any race, religion, or whatever, and could be a hero to anyone. In this film, like, half of NYC sees him without his mask, and that really strips away that element from the character. And I would've much preferred Doc Ock's personal life to be kept largely separate from Peter's. Not every villain needs to have personal ties to Peter as well, that really minimizes the impact such villains have. Anyway, there are some missteps on the writing side of things.

Thankfully, the movie follows the groundwork laid in the comics and the previous film pretty closely, so it doesn't go too far astray. In particular, it's held together by the capable performances from the cast. All the leads deliver, and Franco specifically steps up and gives me hope for his possibly expanded role in Spider-Man 3. Although I will say it: Dunst is not as hot as she used to be. It's crass, it's crude, but it's true. I was never the biggest fan of her as MJ, but she sold me in the first film. But now…I don't think all comic babes need to look spectacular like in the books, but why MJ? She in particular should be hot, especially now that she's a model! Moving on. Molina delivers a fine if awkward performance, and particularly shines in his role as the renowned Doctor Otto Octavius. J. Jonah Jameson sees a little more screen time, and it is good, although the character of his son John is rather stripped of depth, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some more expanded parts to his story laying on the cutting room floor in favor of a two hour running time for the film. Aunt May is pitch perfect, even more so than last film, and, well…all the supporting roles are really good, and just solidify the air of quality to the movie. The score is once again fantastic, the lighting is dark where grittiness is required, sunnier when the film needs a break. Everything comes together to form a truly worthy sequel.

Who Will This Appeal To?: Comic fans cannot hope for a better adaptation, and anyone who's disappointed on that score is fooling themselves in thinking an adaptation gets better or more faithful. Additionally, Spider-Man always excels at transcending the super-hero genre. He's a young guy with problems fitting in and finding himself and balancing life. His love life is a mess and despite his best intentions, everyone ends up hating him. Who can't identify with that?

Final Verdict: The effects may be better, but the story is a little weaker. In my opinion, this film isn't as good as its predecessor, but that in no way makes it an unworthy sequel. It stands as one of the best super-hero movies in its own right.

Details, details…: Raimi's a guy who appreciates a cameo, and he shows love to his own. Stan Lee makes another movie appearance as a bystander dodging falling debris. Raimi's brother Ted puts in another appearance as JJJ's assistant Hoffman. And Bruce Campbell has another role, this time as a guy who defeats Spider-Man!

- - Jeff Light

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