Spider-Man 2 (2004)

July 6, 2012

After the ho-hum first entry of the eventual trilogy, Spider-Man 2 showed a greater promise when the buzz started of its production. It delivers a much better movie, this time shifting to Doctor Octopus and the complicated relationship between Peter and MJ. Spider-Man 2 is considered one of if not the best comic book movie we have in existence by many, so it’s difficult not to be hyper-critical of it’s strengths and flaws, and again, I openly admit to not thinking this installment is that great ahead of time.

The movie jumps right into everyday life for Peter Parker, who is rushing to deliver pizzas to keep his job. He is struggling financially and always late to class. He is so caught up in the rat race that his social life is gone, moonlighting as Spider-Man (y’know, great responsibility and all that) is a tiresome job that seems to be getting him nowhere and no respect. Yes these are hard times for Spidey.

Again, the film’s largest focus is on Peter and MJ’s relationship, which is challenged when she decides she wants to marry some chump we have never heard of and never will again. It’s a cheap shot, because she also seems to be hung up on Peter, who refuses to admit he loves her too, preferring to keep her safe from his enemies (who must be lining up to kill any and all people in Spider-Man’s life, right?). The seeds of their farce of a romance aren’t as blatant here and it seems like there is something between them, but I still cannot buy into it. Do women really go so far as to marry some random dude “just because”? The most endearing moment between them happens at the end as he saves her once more, and it’s rewarding more because I want it to be than it actually is, but it is still a fairly romantic and fun step for them.

Doctor Octopus is a more interesting villain than the Green Goblin (historically, Ock was Spider-Man’s number one enemy until Green Goblin upped his game in the comics), and his tentacles are fun to look at (although their practicality and execution have to be given suspension of disbelief due to size and functionality). Another instance of many in the movies where good-intentioned people become the villain in the end, a common occurrence in Spidey’s life. It’s unfortunate that Doc Ock’s motivations stem from a temporary insanity rather than a more intentional place. By the end of the movie, he wakes from his evil dream and switches back to good, which kind of defeats the purpose of him as a villain.

There is a point where Peter begins to lose his spider powers because he is depressed about MJ. It’s an okay idea which we have already seen in Superman II where the hero gives it all up for the girl, but it’s also somewhat self-defeating because we know it will all work out in the end. I am not sure how much I like a hero who is willing to just giving up his power, and the affects of his decision fluctuate in their impact on him as he survives a fall from the top of a building but hurts his arm when he tries to break a door down. I kind of understand it, but kind of don’t at the same time. Is this all mental? The boundaries and continuity of his power loss is hazy at best.

A highlight of the movie is the surgery room scene where Doc Ock’s tentacles wreak havoc on a handful of doctors. Again Raimi is able to slip in his own homage to himself that works extremely well, harkening to Evil Dead obsessives everywhere. The music drops and suddenly we are in a horror movie. There are some other tidbits of fun such as Bruce Campbell’s small but mighty role, but again, these moments beg audiences who love Evil Dead and Raimi’s other works to laugh and enjoy the nods rather than contributing to the mythos of Spider-Man. The part when J.J. Jameson finally seems to admit his guilt over defaming Spider-Man, only to switch back soon thereafter as Spider-Man returns to action is also pretty fun.

In retrospect there are a lot of warning signs in this movie, an indication of what would come later with Spider-Man 3. Raimi shifts this one into a more comedic and over-the-top place, with characters becoming almost caricatures, pushing them to the extremes of themselves and further away from a realistic tone to comedic and over-dramatic. They are all only driven by one motive, which is boring and too conventional (look at Harry Osborn who can only speak of his hatred for Spider-Man when he opens his mouth). The lack of depth to these characters would go over the edge in Spider-Man 3, but it’s fairly obvious here of things to come.

On the whole, this is easily the best of the Raimi trilogy, but even still it seems scattered and impractical. I would almost rather see an entire movie focusing on just Peter and MJ’s relationship (from scratch), having them deal exclusively with balancing life as a superhero, with the villain and other plot points shoved into the far background. Because this movie is a blockbuster, it seems afraid to do that, favoring the spectacle of elaborate sets and tried action over simple character pathos. There are flashes of humanity and empathy, but all in all the movie is just too one-dimensional to really entice me to care. The times Spider-Man 2 gets things right cannot hide the things they miss, despite the ratio being more favorable than any of the other installments. So it seems Spider-Man 2 just isn’t that great.

Final Grade: C+ (6.5 out of 10)

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