In a way, we have Sam Raimi’s stab at a superhero trilogy to thank for the current release climate, where it seems as though a new, obscure superhero is resurrected for their own series seemingly every other month. Spiderman 2 happens to be a rather deft approach to the stale genre in the end, which makes it even more tragic that Hollywood has managed to bastardize another good thing by making it all about profit margin and public perception. With a stellar cast and an A-list director, the story of Peter Parker was in good hands and the final product definitely reflects that.
We pick up where the last film left off, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is attempting to live a dual-life as a college student and Spiderman, the savior of New York City. It’s clear that this lifestyle is catching up with him, however, as he begins to strain his relationships and perform poorly in school– in particular, his relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) becomes soured by Peter’s understandable apathy. For school, Peter chooses to write a paper about the illustrious Doctor Octavius (Alfred Molina) and his friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), happens to know him personally. When Doctor Octavious is able to complete his experiment– creating a miniature sun from a highly reactive element– things go haywire and the fallout ends up killing his wife. I neglected to mention that Doctor Octavius has affixed four giant, metal tentacles to his back that allow him to interact with the element more closely than human hands ever could. Because of his failed experiment, his dead wife, and the fact that the “inhibitor chip” that kept the tentacles in-check was destroyed in the explosion, we have a villain that will stop at nothing to finish what he started. Compound that with Peter’s waning confidence in himself and the loss of his super powers and the ultimate showdown is inevitable.
Spiderman 2 is successful on many levels: it’s well acted, it’s well structured, and the CGI is impressive– considering what computers were able to accomplish in 2004. On top of that, Sam Raimi’s fingerprints are all over this thing. From the patented close-ups, to the absurd escalation of the action, and the deliberately campy, cheesy humor that are all present and create a rich, fun world for the viewer to be immersed in. Perhaps the greatest success stems from the appreciation for character development and investment in building an empathetic protagonist. Too often, superhero movies focus on set-pieces and creating those “wow” moments. While Spiderman 2 certainly has those elements, it is contrasted nicely by multiple scenes that humanize Peter, as well as the people around him. In particular, the scenes where Peter gives up the Spiderman persona and is confronted with moments where civilians are in need are particularly moving as we can really feel the internal struggle because we often feel the same way he does– an innocent bystander that is unable to act on their good impulses.
If you had to poke holes in this movie, there’s a walking void in the character of MJ. As with many women that play the love interest, she’s one-dimensional and uninteresting, even hard to empathize with at most points. Instead of openly telling Peter how she feels, she decides to get engaged, all the while holding out hope for a deeper relationship, and eventually calling off her wedding to run back to him. This little pitfall shouldn’t be enough to turn you away from this film, though, as it is a bondafide classic and a cornerstone of the superhero genre.
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