Spider-Man 2 (2004)

15 Mar

2004_07_spiderman2

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember in “Superman II,” when Superman thought about living a human life, rather than a superhero life, just so he can have a relationship with Lois Lane? She must’ve been quite a woman—indeed, she was and you couldn’t blame Superman for wanting to retire from being Superman. Being a superhero is like carrying a burden with you. You can’t do the things you’d love to do some of the time, you can’t reveal your secrets to anybody because your enemies may come after them to get to you, and you think you’d be better off as a socialite rather than an independent, mysterious figure.

Peter Parker wonders the same thing in “Spider-Man 2.” For about two years now, he has led a double life. First, he’s Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the nerdy but likable college student. Then he’s Spider-Man, the web-slinging, costumed vigilante. Much like Clark Kent in “Superman II,” Peter realizes the burden he’s carrying as Spider-Man. It interferes with Peter’s life—it makes him late for class, it causes him to be fired from his pizza-delivery job, it alienates him from his friends (including Mary Jane and best pal Harry Osborn, played by Kirsten Dunst and James Franco), and never gives him a chance to live. He can never have what he wants while leading this double life. Maybe it’s time to give up being Spider-Man.

That central theme is one of many great aspects of “Spider-Man 2,” a thrilling, awesome, and—when it needs to be—touching superhero movie. “Spider-Man 2” has action, drama, and light comedy to keep it interesting. Thanks to a well-thought-out screenplay, masterful direction, and good acting, this is a top-notch superhero movie. It has interesting likable characters to watch and root for, and stellar action sequences that actually mean something. I can think of a few other superhero movies (or other action movies, for that matter, but I’ll keep the references short in this review) that share both of those elements—the first two “Superman” movies, Tim Burton’s “Batman,” 2008’s “Iron Man,” and especially Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (those last two references were released after this movie, of course). The original “Spider-Man” only had the interesting, likable characters, but was a little short on the action scale.

The villain in “Spider-Man 2” is also interesting—even more so than the Green Goblin in the original film. He is nicknamed Doc Ock (and played by Alfred Molina) because of his mechanical, artificially-intelligent limbs attached to his spine. He was a brilliant scientist on the brink of a breakthrough before something went terribly wrong and his machine was destroyed, the robotic arms took lives of their own (it’s not as silly as it sounds), and his wife was killed in the process. Therefore, he became the villain Doc Ock, recreating the machine that could harness the power of the sun, robbing banks to pay for some of the equipment. This is where he becomes Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, as they fight for the life of Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who is caught in the middle of all this and (it should be added) not afraid to strike at her captor with her umbrella.

This subplot involving Doc Ock is interesting—Doc Ock is being manipulated by the artificial intelligence of the mechanical arms. He’s not a monster; he’s just becoming one.

The action scenes are riveting. One sequence, in particular, is a standout—it involves Spider-Man in a desperate race to stop a runaway train before it runs off track. I don’t know how they managed to pull it off, but I don’t care. I just loved watching it. I was hooked, interested, and on the edge of my seat. The special effects are outstanding and much better handled than in the original. And while we’re speaking of top-notch special effects, I did believe there were metal arms attached to Doc Ock throughout the movie. Odd thing to praise, but OK.

The drama also works in “Spider-Man 2.” I already mentioned the central theme of the movie, which was Peter wants to give up his superhero life. Also noticed are the scenes in which Peter copes with the guilt he feels because of his uncle’s death. Then there’s the scene in which he finally tells Aunt May why it was his fault that Uncle Ben is dead. Also realized is the subplot involving Harry as he wants nothing more than for Spider-Man to be destroyed for killing his father, who, if you recall, was the Green Goblin in the original film. There’s a great sense of revelation in James Franco’s face in one particular scene.

“Spider-Man 2” is a rarity—a superhero-movie sequel that is better than its predecessor. I liked the first film fine (I gave that three stars), but I felt that there were some elements about it that were either overplayed or not played well enough. This sequel is just what I was looking for, and had just the right upgrades I felt it needed. The effects have upgraded, Spider-Man is just as interesting as the always-likable Peter Parker, and the villain is a complex character. It’s a highly satisfying sequel, and a great superhero movie.

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