"Spider-Man 2" is one of those films that are one of a kind. One of those rare sequels that surpass the original on every level. Very few films can ever do that, because by then the writers and filmmakers have run out of ideas, the actors become boring, and the concept basically wears down.
With comic books movies it's a whole new playing field; can you make a franchise, one that is decades old, one that has legions of fans, appealing to the masses without alienating anyone? Director Sam Raimi, whom I've always underestimated, is up to task and fortunately succeeds on every level. The most recent franchise I can think of where the sequel was much better than the original film was "X2", a film accomplishment, and "Spider-Man 2" should definitely go into the hall of fame.
What makes Spider-Man so appealing after all these decades? His versatility. The fact that he's the every man, the guy that would live next door to you. Raimi focuses on that "every man" appeal by showing Peter Parker in his element. The sequel to the 2002 blockbuster, and based on the legendary storyline from the Spider-Man comic books, we see Peter Parker yet again juggling his life trying to keep it together while juggling two jobs, an education, his aunt, and his part-time job as Spider-Man. Peter who is still in love with Mary Jane denies his feelings for her despite her blatant hinting and keeps her at a distance.
Meanwhile Harry Osborne, son of Norman who died at the hands of Spider-Man as the Green Goblin, is plotting his revenge on Spider-man attempting to track him down. But at a hero's weakest times a new evil is always born and a genius scientist by the name of Otto Octavius has invented a new science where he can create a small sun which can be used as a substitute for electricity, but when something goes horribly wrong, his lab begins crumbling and explodes killing his wife and forever grafting his mechanical tentacle-like tools to his spine.
Now, the once gentle, soft-spoken man is a mad insane criminal known as Doctor Octopus. He wants to rebuild his machine, but makes a deal with Harry Osborne becoming his assassin and must hunt down Spider-Man, but there's one problem: Peter has forever given up his crusade as the web slinger after confrontations with his friends, and after his powers begin fading in and out in battles. Now convinced that he, and the people in his life would be better off if he was never Spider-Man, he abandons the garb trying to live his life normally. Now he must go back to it to save Mary Jane after Doc Ock demands Spider-Man. Can he stop Doc Ock from destroying New York? Well, you have to see the movie to find out.
"Spider-Man 2" is one of those summer releases that the entertainment media tries to lump in with the other big-budget fodder, but it's not, it's completely drawn away from everything else, because while it has a lot of special effects, there is also a story. And speaking as a hardcore comic book fan, while the original film was great, and I loved it, this is much better because we're given a lot of sub-plots that the writers develop to their fullest and never leave one stone unturned.
What's so great in this film is the
character interaction. In the first film it felt as if the story was a
clothesline for the action, but here the action is a clothesline for the
Parker juggles two jobs, is struggling in his education, has to restrain his feelings for his true love, must struggle to pay his rent, is bullied still, must worry about his aunt who is struggling to pay the bills herself, and must fight crime as spider-man, a basically thankless job, not to mention the psychological struggle of the guilt of his uncle's death he's still faced with and continues battling.
We feel for Peter's situation and we want to see him get the girl, get the job and get the glory, but he's still the underdog regardless of how many times he saves the world. This speaks to teenagers and adults in many ways and lets people know that we're capable of many things and it tells us that regardless of his superpowers Peter Parker is still human.
What makes Parker such a strong person is not the powers it's the obstacles he faces and endures constantly, that's what makes him so special. Sure, with his powers he can rob a bank and become rich, but he chooses not to, he lives as a hero should, and sometimes the best heroes are the ones that go unnoticed, and boy is Spider-Man unnoticed. Tobey Maguire returns once more as Peter Parker, the quintessential actor who was born to play Parker with his quiet humility, every man looks, and mere innocence is perfect.
After some problems with his back which caused a halt in production, and possibly replacing him with fellow actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Maguire is in full form. While Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors, Maguire is the best choice for Parker, and he proves why to a great extent. Director Sam Raimi pulls another whammy by choosing excellent character actor Alfred Molina whom you may have seen in "Boogie Nights" and "Frida", as Doctor Octopus, an unexpected but smart choice.
I'm a huge fan of his work and this smart casting reflects well upon the studio. Molina who has stunned in performances where he's nearly unrecognizable, is an excellent villain; he's never over-the-top in his performance as the mad Doc Ock, and he's never wooden. He presents the sly yet intelligent poise of a scientist with a million tricks up his sleeve and becomes quite the match for Spider-man. Two geniuses with powers battling one another fighting on opposite sides.
Molina is just excellent as Doc Ock with great moments of introversion between he and his tentacles which seem to take on a life of their own being somewhat controlled by his sub-conscious desire to commit evil, and he has a great scene in which the character of Otto Octavius advises Peter on love and winning Mary Jane's heart; he's an intimidating and somewhat scary foe for Spider-man to face, and parents with children, be warned there's a rather intense but amazing scene where his tentacles take on a life of their own killing a group of surgeons in a medical room, and if you look closely you can see a mini-chainsaw, a very subtle reference to Raimi's "Evil Dead" franchise in which his character/hero Ash wields a chainsaw to kill demons. It's a very cool nod to movie geeks from Raimi.
It's a well-done impressive sequence Raimi approaches in a horror atmosphere cutting the dramatic soundtrack, as we only hear the sharp screech of the tentacles and the screaming of the doctors as they fight for their lives. Raimi, experienced in horror, and known for directing the cult horror film "Evil Dead" approaches Spider-man with such brilliance and skill, every scene is hard to ignore, and every scene seems to have taken sheer precision and focus, many of the sequences even seem like moving paintings.
The supporting cast is always good with supporting characters that are equally interesting as Peter Parker, including Mary Jane Watson who is about to marry John Jameson an astronaut who is the son of J. Jonah Jameson. Though she likes him, she's still in love with Peter but holds on to the illusion that she's in love with John because it's a good crutch; she's genuine in the role and very likable, James Franco returns with a bigger role this time as Harry Osborne, a man who now runs Oscorp, obviously in over his head, and still mourns his father's death at the hands of Spider-Man, not to mention Rosemary Harris who is well developed this time around as Aunt May, Peter's mother figure, who is struggling to face life without uncle Ben but still holds onto his memories. She's given a bigger better role, we learn about May, we learn of the influence she has on Peter, and we get a glimpse in her head to see the misery she's experiencing without Ben.
The character interaction is great and the dialogue and situations are never forced, everything flows very well and we want to see the interaction again and again, because the relationships are more complex and are given more dimensions. There are some excellent dramatic scenes that make this movie so watch-able including Peter finally admitting his part in his Uncle's death to his aunt, Peter's dream sequence involving his Uncle Ben as Pete beckons for Ben to let him go, and Harry's confrontation with Peter at Mary Jane's wedding party.
Beyond the drama there are some excellent special-effects and incredible action scenes involving Doc Ock and Spider-man, particularly their first confrontation in which they fight non-stop in a bank and then end up thrashing at each other alongside a building while Doc Ock holds Aunt May hostage, their incredible fight atop a moving train which is an incredible sequence as Spider-Man battles Doc Ock while trying to dodge oncoming bridges, and also manages to get help from some passengers, and last but not least their great fight atop a clock tower which leads to the climax.
The special effects are better this time around; I complained in the original's review that some of the special effects were a bit shoddy, but it's all pretty much cleaned up for this sequel. There are flawless changes between the live action actors and the computer imagery, the tentacles of Doc Ock are the most incredible in the film as they act individually and take on a life of their own as they sometimes command Doc Ock to commit certain deeds. Spider-Man looks incredible this time around with a great physique and realistic motions that actually make him look as if he's a live action actor.
An added touch is the great winks at fans with very subtle references to other Marvel superheroes (Dr. Strange) and creators (ala Mr. Ditkovich, a jab at Spider-Man creator, the late Steve Ditko, and a cameo from Stan Lee the co-creator of Spider-Man who can only be seen briefly), and with walk-on appearances from past Spider-Man characters (Betty Brant, John Jameson, Curt Connors) who interact with Parker throughout the film, we also get to see a really funny cameo by cult actor Bruce Campbell who returns this time around as an uptight theater usher, a nice cameo by comedian Hal Sparks who has a funny exchange with Spidey in the elevator after Spidey's powers fade, and there are cameos by original cast members Cliff Robertson and Willem Dafoe reprising their roles for small but very effective cameos. Comic book fans will love this, general audiences will love this, Raimi has directed a multi-faceted action film for the summer that everyone will enjoy.
I was in the theater with a numerous parents, and children, most notably my nephew who looked forward to watching Spider-Man, but I warn you as a parent don't take your kids unless you expect they'll behave. Twenty minutes into the film with the dramatic scenes and dialogue the children were getting restless fidgeting, talking, walking up and down the aisles but would be at a standstill once Spider-Man was on-screen. So, wait for the DVD release or watch another film, because this is not for kids younger than ten.
Excellent acting, excellent cast, great script, great special effects and wonderful character developments and interaction, "Spider-Man 2" is an incredible, fantastic and rare sequel that is every way superior to the first film.