Tobey Maguire and Alfred Molina in Spider-man 2.
It's pretty rare for a sequel to surpass its predecessor, but Spider-man 2 manages to do it. Blending humor, drama, and action, it raises the bar a notch for the super-hero genre. Although it does share the original's habit of dipping into the well of sap a couple of times, it does it less often than the first and without lowering the overall entertainment level of the movie.
Spider-Man is the most human of all super-heroes. Obviously, he has incredible super powers, but the problems he deals with as Peter Parker are the problems of ordinary people, i.e. money, love, work, and college. It is from this humanness that the movie gets most of its strengths, and it's why, like the first movie, the scenes of Peter Parker out of the Spider-man costume are more entertaining than the scenes with him in the costume.
It is from these moments that the movie draws some of its most humorous scenes. How many other super-heroes have you ever seen washing their costume in a Laundromat? And one of the funniest moments comes later in the film when Peter thinks his life is back on track in a montage accompanied by the 70's classic "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
The story begins two years after the original ended. Peter is living on his own now, struggling to balance his life as Spider-man with college and several part-time jobs. Mary Jane is an actress. Harry Osborn is running Os-Corp now that his father is dead. And Aunt May is having trouble paying her mortgage.
Trouble enters the story when another experiment funded by Os-Corp goes horribly wrong. Through a freak accident, Dr. Octavius (Alfred Molina, giving a much subtler performance than Dafoe's over-the-top Green Goblin) is transformed into Doctor Octopus. Seeking to continue the work that created him, Doc Ock goes on a crime spree to finance his plans, with only Spider-man to stop him.
Unfortunately, for the city of New York, Peter Parker is having a crisis of faith at the moment. His desire to have a normal life finally outweighs his feelings of responsibility and he throws the spidey-suit away and expresses his love to Mary Jane. It isn't until someone close to him is put in mortal danger that Peter is forced to decide once and for and all who he really is.
The special effects have matured along with the storyline. In the original, it was overtly obvious when Spider-man switched from live actor to CGI animation. You can still make a pretty good guess when it happens here, but it is much less jarring. The only moment that is overdone is the elevated train scene, which is a scene that derails on several levels. The effects are obvious and it contains the movie's largest amount of sappiness at the end of it.
Many people deride big summer blockbusters as being soulless spectacles. I would cite the two Spider-man movies as arguments against that opinion. Although they contain big special effects and super-heroes, their characters are the heart of the story. Peter is someone that you root for, care about, and want to see succeed. It's fantasy escapism all right, but its quality, 4-star escapism.
Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Spider-man 2.
Scott pretty much covered it all. Dr Octopus is a much better villain than The Green Goblin. Dr Octavius is a flawed human who ends up being controlled by artificial intelligence and his own ego. The Green Goblin was just nuts.
The love affair between Peter and Mary Jane is moved along nicely. Unlike the ridiculous Superman/Lois Lane relationship, this one takes a more natural course. This is a superhero movie, but it has a better love story than many love story movies.
My ten year old loved this movie but complained that there was not enough action. With such great characterization, I can do with less action.
Tobey Maguire in Spider-man 2.
I agree that Spider-Man 2 improves on Spider-Man. It has better special effects, the story evolves more, and unlike the first movie no time is wasted on the set-up. It also tries to inject more humor, some of which works - the street musician singing a tribute to Spider-man - some of which doesn't - the scene with Hal Sparks in the elevator.
Tobey Maguire is great as Peter Parker and he gets to play Spider-man more this time around, having several scenes in costume but minus his mask. The entire cast is good with Rosemary Harris as Aunt May being the standout this time around. Her role is larger than in the first movie and she seems more real and less campy.
I've never been a huge fan of the superhero genre. I always think things like why don't the police just have a sharpshooter put a bullet in Doc Ock's brain while he's rampaging through the streets of Manhattan? Or can't they just follow him to his makeshift riverfront lab and blow it up? I know I'm supposed to just accept these things but since this movie tries for a higher level of realism than most movies of the type I feel justified.
And couldn't the writers come up with a more original way of creating the villain, instead of relying on another Os-Corp science project gone awry?
Regardless of these minor flaws Spider-Man 2 is a nearly perfect superhero movie that beautifully balances the human story with the action scenes.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (2004)