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Monday, July 05, 2004
Spider-Man 2 Review
Good sequels are a very rare thing these days. For every sequel that builds on the initial promise of the first movie—such as Empire Strikes Back, X-Men 2 or Superman 2—there is an ever growing list of bad sequels—movies that were basically designed to make a quick buck off the name recognition of the first, usually better films—say for example, most of the Police Academy movies or the second two-thirds of the Matrix trilogy (sorry, but I have a hard time believing that they intended for the movies to go to three movies when they were struggling to get the Matrix made years ago).

But the best sequels are those that not only build on the success of the first movie, but continue the stories begun in those films. Again, I site the examples of Superman II, Empire Strikes Back and X-Men 2. The one thing they all had in common wasn’t the desire to just capture lightning in a bottle again and rake in huge profits at the box office, but the films set out to build upon and expand the universe that was created in the first movie. In many ways, each of these films not only builds upon the success of the first movie, but surpasses it.

And now, we have yet another movie to add to that elite list: Spider-Man 2.

Two years after the first film grabbed up a huge box office and glowing reviews, the web-slinger returns to our movie screens and he’s bigger and better than ever. Director Sam Raimi gets everything in this movie right, namely because he chooses to see this as the continuation of the Spider-Man saga, not just a re-telling of the first film.

He takes all the made the first movie so good and improves upon it. But he also ensures the movie never loses its heart and its characters in the process. It’s been two years since the first movie and we see how the characters lives have changed—how they’ve grown together and grown apart. Raimi wisely chooses to blend together two of the classic Spider-Man storylines from Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man days—the “Spider-Man No More” plotline and the epic battles Spidey had with Doc Ock. Along the way, Raimi and company put their own spin on things, but it’s still true enough to the comic storyline that long-time Spidey fans like myself should be satisfied.

It’s been two years and Peter Parker’s life isn’t any better than it was. He’s still in love with Mary Jane, but won’t allow himself to pursue that due to the dangers it could present to her. The first hour of the movie really puts Peter under pressure—his dual life is straining him. Aunt May could lose the house, he’s fired from two jobs, he can’t be there for Mary Jane or any of his friends, he is getting hopelessly behind in classes and he’s behind on the rent. Each of these storylines is borrowed from the Stan Lee years of Spider-Man and each one piles on until slowly Peter realizes that he may not want to be Spider-Man anymore. Also, he begins to lose his powers (something else that happened in the early Doc Ock storylines and it well used here).

Interwoven with this is the story of Otto Octavius. Octavius is being funded by Harry Osborn to conduct cutting-edge experiments. During one experiment, in which Octavius uses cybernetic arms to manipulate a reaction, things go wrong, destroying the lab, killing Octavius’s wife and fusing him with the arms. The arms slowly corrupt Octavius to a life of crime to try and begin his experiments again and erase his failure. Things soon reach a head when Doc Ock turns to Harry to get more of the fuel needed for his experiments and Harry demands Ock bring him Spider-Man in return.

Let me say this—there is a lot going on in this movie. But with as much action as we see—the battles between Ock and Spidey are nothing short of superb—the movie never loses sight of the central character theme—two men trying to do what is right and how they both fail. Peter is trying to do what is right but selfishly chooses his own way until Ock threatens MJ and brings him out of retirement (along the way, we get a nice scene by Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, taking a decidedly unique view of Spider-Man (he saves her during the film from Ock)) and Ock’s narrow focus on righting the wrong against him and proving he is the genius he knows he is. Each character is flawed and that’s what makes this journey with them so compelling. In the end, each one does what is right and what he knows he must do.

And it does leave the door wide open for Spider-Man 3. The best thing I can say about this one is that it left me eager for 2007 when the next chapter comes our way. It should be a doozy.

There are so many little things this movie gets right—from the perfect portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson by P.K. Simons to the superlative Rosemary Harris nailing the Aunt May part it all works. But the real star of this one is Toby Maguire. The thing with Spider-Man has always been that it’s more about Peter Parker than just Spidey. Spidey is what he can do, Peter Parker is who he is. And Maguire is great as Peter. Seeing him go through hell in the movie and deciding to turn away from his destiny is great. And then the desperate attempts to get his powers back when he realizes his mistake is great too (and features a great in-joke about Maguire and his back). Maguire plays Peter to perfection, just as he did in the first movie. I hope they sign him up for as much as he wants for as many sequels as he’ll do, provided he delivers the goods like he does here.

Along the way, there are a plethora of homages to the original movie and to other movies. Raimi even includes an Evil Dead 2 homage in there. I won’t go and ruin all of them for you, but there are references to the upside down kiss from the first one as well as Peter’s initial jump across the rooftops.

In all, Spider-Man 2 is as close to perfect as summer blockbuster as you will get. It’s worth the price of admission and then some. It’s one of those rare movies that I got really excited to see and it delivered the goods. I walked away with a big grin on my face, eager to see it the movie again and counting down days until we see the third installment.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/05/2004 08:54:00 PM | |
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