Review: Spider-Man 2

US, Sam Raimi (2004)

: Spider-Man 2What a great, totally fun, extremely satisfying and exciting big screen blockbuster!

Yes, yes, I realize that I’m wildly behind the times, having not yet seen a slew of summer movies, but I’m slowly catching up. Thursday was Before Sunset, and yesterday I played hooky from work for a couple of hours to catch a matinée of Spider-Man 2. It’s visually eye-popping, the special effects are tremendous and the action is exciting but what makes it a great movie is the story, the characters and the acting. Spider-Man 2 is intelligently written, it has a story that’s complex and so much more than good vs. evil, and–most importantly–it’s got a lot of heart.

Spider-Man 2‘s strength is two-fold: It doesn’t rely on special effects to tell the story, and the story isn’t really about Spidey fighting the bad guy (Alfred Molina, fantastic as Doc Octopus.) It’s about Peter Parker coming to terms with who he is, and what it means to be Spider-Man. He’s grappling with the responsibility that comes with his super hero abilities, and how it affects the relationships with those people most important in his life. Spider-Man/Peter Parker is a sympathetic, human and vulnerable character, a credit to the writing and Tobey Maguire’s portrayal. Peter feels guilty over the death of his uncle, he can’t have the girl he desperately loves because that would put her at risk, his best friend hates him because he’s responsible for his father’s death, and the media keeps painting Spider-Man as a menace to society. Peter’s conflicted and alone. That makes him, and the movie, so much more interesting and emotionally satisfying.

Superman is boring (both in and out of the cape and tights.) Batman is dark, brooding and humorless. It doesn’t say much for the character that we’re going on our fourth actor in the Batman franchise. Plug ’em in and crank out a movie. (Though for the record, I have higher hopes for Christian Bale as the caped crusader. But, I digress.) Spider-Man is different, and more interesting, for the reasons I’ve stated above. Plus, watching him swing through skyscrapers is so fun to watch on the big screen. Admit it, Superman flying through the air (straight as an arrow, arms out in front) is not very interesting to watch. And Batmobile car chases aren’t much better. Batman’s super power is driving fast and using a utility belt. Big whoop. Spider-Man swings, and leaps, and somersaults, and crawls, and falls, and does all these amazing things with webs–it’s just a lot more interesting to watch, and gives the creative team a lot to work with. Heck, the Spider-Man 2 trailer is more exhilarating to watch than all the Batman movies rolled in one.

Tobey Maguire is terrific in the dual role. Alfred Molina is a superior bad guy than most comic book hero film baddies. His character is a melding of motivations, good and bad. He’s intense and believable, without chewing on the scenery and resorting to strange mannerisms or line readings. Kirsten Dunst is getting a bit tired as the winsome love interest, and Rosemary Harris is a bit precious in the thankless role of Aunt May. Finally, the bad guy who’s set up as the cliff-hanger at the end (I won’t say who)…well, he’s really pretty one-note and dull. I trust that the real Bad Guy role Spidey will be pitted against in S-M3 will be a character (and actor) with more depth. But these are minor irritants in an otherwise top-notch entertainment.

Spider-Man 2 pretty much had me at the opening credits, with the comic book illustrations perfectly capturing the mood, and surviving as a “Previously on Spider-Man” recap of the first film. I loved Chicago’s cameo in the film, as backdrop during the battle between Spider-Man and Doc Ock on a speeding elevated train., and I laughed when the street violinist sang the Spidey theme song from the old TV show. [*****]

4 thoughts on “Review: Spider-Man 2

  1. WARNING: Comic Book Geek Alert
    DISCLAIMER: I love comic books
    Whew. Okay, that’s out of the way. It is heartening to see people who haven’t read comic books are beginning to enjoy these stories that are decades old in the making. What’s interesting is how these adaptations have had to stand up on their own as movies outside of their original source material. Even more interesting is the aspect that a lot of people feel that by making the transition to movies, comic books are “moving up” into a more culturally respectable storytelling medium. This implies that if you didn’t like the movie, you most certainly wouldn’t enjoy it’s “made for kids”, lesser source. Which is too bad.
    The thrill that people are beginning to get out of a movie like Spiderman 2 is actually miniscule compared to the excitement of reading the real thing. Especially from the beginning of the story arcs. A lot of people try comic books, but enter the medium in the middle of things, much like starting to watch “24” or “Alias” mid-season and not understanding what the fuss is about when Jack gives a sidelong telling glance at the end of an episode. Or entering “Memento” halfway through and wondering when you can get your money back.
    It is also ironic that Batman is often viewed as the gadget driven, super-toy character, when in the world of comics he has always been the most character driven. The TV show and the movies have done their source material a great injustice over the years. Batman is about human frailty, blood revenge, base sick evil (not just the I want to rob a bank or rule the world variety), the father/son relationship, and it had the suppressed sex hookup down long before television. I am hoping the new Batman adaptation captures what the book has always been about – a dark human revenge story about a detective suffering from a childhood trauma (parents murdered in front of him), no super-powers, lots of psychological problems, more money than God, and no therapist. We’ll see.
    As people have bemoaned for years about their favorite book being adapted into a movie, it’s just not the same thing. Fortunately for comic books, movie-makers like Sam Raimi (Spiderman), Bryan Singer (X-Men) and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) are die-hard comic book fans who are doing their damndest to translate the power of comics to the medium of film. Even they will tell you that even with millions of dollars and cast/crews filled with talent, they only come close to matching the thrill of a great comic book. But bless them for trying.
    Thank you, Kathryn, for this space to rant.

  2. No, no Charlie, thank *you*!
    One thing that I didn’t mention in my review (but which you knew) is that I’m not a comic book fan at all. It’s a credit to the Spider-Man filmmakers that they were able to create a film that stands on its own and doesn’t rely on the comic book geek fan base to make it a success.
    It all comes down to respecting the source material and not screwing around with it to make it conform to the Hollywood action genre rule book.

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