Rarely does a sequel match up to the original movie, or even surpass it, and I can say with confidence that this has occurred with Spiderman 2. Usually comic book movies tend to falter after the first movie, but like X-2, the sequel to Spiderman includes a well written story, great character development, and respectable acting, not to mention some awesome special effects, that despite occasional overuse, are spectacular.
Our story resumes two years later with Spiderman, AKA Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), attending college and living on his own in a ramshackle Manhattan walk up with a shared bathroom. He still pines over Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who has gained notoriety as an actress and has decided to move on with her life, with or without Peter. However, his tortured love life isn’t Peter’s only trouble related to his web spinning alter ego. He’s failing his classes and is admonished by his one-armed professor, Dr. Curt Connors (Dylan Baker). His friendship with best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) is strained due to Harry's increasing obsession with getting revenge on Spiderman for his father’s death. Peter is also troubled by his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who has fallen on hard times since the death of his uncle Ben, for which Peter feels responsible in bringing about. If that weren’t enough, he’s broke and has been fired from his job as a pizza delivery guy, and his tenure with the Daily Bugle, which has soiled Spiderman with its ink, seems dicey from moment to moment.
Peter’s luck starts to turn when he meets his hero and subject of his paper, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina: Frida, Identity) a brilliant physicist who is exploring the advantages of fusion. Octavius, under the sponsorship of OsCorp, now headed by Harry, is on the brink of creating a newer, cleaner, cheaper form of energy. Impressed by Parker’s intelligence, Dr. Octavius and Peter form a fast friendship. He invites Peter to the demonstration where he will reveal his work and make OsCorp (and himself) rich and famous.
Of course things go horribly wrong and Octavius is transformed into the multi-tentacled Doctor Octopus. The steel anaconda-like appendages that Octavius used to control his experiment have now melded with his nervous system and are controlling him. They “speak” to him and drive him into a mad state, bent on crime and rebuilding his shattered experiment. He becomes a danger to the city and his newer, bigger fusion experiment threatens to destroy it.
This all comes so inconveniently as Peter decides, in a tear-filled exchange with the dearly departed Uncle Ben, that he is “Spiderman no more”. He then finds himself free to pursue his love with Mary Jane, although she’s become engaged to an astronaut, (Daniel Gillies), son of J.J. Jameson (played to perfection by J.K. Simmons). Free of his responsibilities as a superhero, Peter skips about New York to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. While he’s no longer beset with web-slinger worries Peter occasionally has pangs of conscience when he witnesses someone in need and can’t help out. Anyhow, we all know that Peter will become Spiderman if for nothing else to fight his one-time mentor and now enemy.
The first part of the movie is light on action and more devoted to character development and setting the tone of the plot. Director Sam Raimi expertly pulls this off by letting us see each character conflicted and having to make an arduous choice and grapple with some type of distressing loss. I was relatively impressed with the acting, chiefly by Rosemary Harris and Alfred Molina. Harris is fantastic as Aunt May and unwavering in her portrayal of the white-haired matriarch widowed so tragically. She is heartfelt in her role, each time she speaks, be it about her beloved Ben or her rousing speech to Peter about everyone’s need for a hero. In listening to the encouraging homily, that she delivers with such conviction, there’s a subtle underlying hint that she knows of her nephew’s secret identity. Only an actress with the depth of Harris accomplish that.
Alfred Molina, is right on target as the dark-spectacled menace Doc Ock. While not as over the top as Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Molina’s Dr. Octopus is right up there as a formidable villain. Molina, a talented actor with an immense and versatile range, transforms from warm to wicked with style and ease. From his loving words with wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy) to his epic battles with Spiderman on the structures of the Big Apple, Molina brings his chameleonic breadth and devilish smile to his character as Spidey’s fearsome adversary.
James Franco comes into his own as the anguished Harry Osborn whom after Octavius’ experiment fails, faces financial ruin and seeks solace in the bottle. He strikes a deal with Doc Ock that sets up groundwork for Spiderman 3, which will also feature some familiar faces in some fiendish forms. Tobey Maguire has also grown more adept in his role as Spiderman/Peter Parker. He shows this off during a poignant scene where he makes a confession about that fateful night to his Aunt May. Kirsten Dunst also hones her part as M.J. although I thought she was cutest as that little kid vampire.
Spiderman 2 does get tangled in a couple places and for that I can’t agree with Ebert in calling it “the best comic-book movie ever made”. The movie was about 20 minutes too long, and ended about 4 times, each of which was either predictable or cheesy. Some of the scenes were a bit campy and unnecessary, namely the subway scene where for no real reason Spiderman unmasks, and uses some less than efficient means to stop the runaway train. There was also an out of place scene where he accepts a snack from his cute neighbor, that absolutely went nowhere. The CG was applied too heavy handed in this film, especially in a couple of the fight scenes, making them look somewhat cartoonish (yeah, yeah, I know this is a comic book movie).
Scored powerfully by Danny Elfman, Spiderman 2 is a fun, interesting follow up to the original and a worthy representation of Stan Lee's comic book creation. I really loved Molina as Doc Ock and Tobey Maguire is becoming his character. I am looking forward to the the next installment, and hope that it is the best of all of them.
Notes: Dr. Conors (Baker) and John Jameson (Gillies) are set to return as villians Lizard and Man-Wolf, respectively, in Spiderman 3.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Spiderman 2 spins a great story. Recommended.
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