July 1, 2004

Spider-Man 2 (Review)

In short, Spider-Man 2 has got action and humor and they haven’t screwed up the characters.

But beyond that, Raimi has reinforced what drives Spider-Man, and given that to us in a way that understands why we love this superhero so much and where in our hearts we connect with him. It’s a great summer blockbuster worthy of all the good press its getting. And it’s well worth the price of admission.

Tobey Maguire returns as the web slinger in a thoroughly satisfying sequel which surpasses the original Spider-Man. With his origin out of the way, we’re able not to more deeply explore the consequences becoming Spider-Man has had on Peter Parker’s life. Isolated from his friends Mary Jane (Kirstin Dunst) and Harry Osborne (James Franco) and failing in normal life, Peter’s problems begin to spill out beyond their previous boundaries.

But, as always, there is a mounting danger. This time, it is in the form of Dr. Otto Octavius played much differently than I expected by Alfred Molina. Doc Ock has never been one of my favorite villains, I confess, but Molina and director Sam Raimi have really created a completely new character. The comic book Dr. Octopus had his own complexities going for him, but the new character fits neatly into the film.

Some reviewers called the beginning slow and I found myself being glad they were taking time with the plot. The action is meted out, which is a wise decision in my opinion. Raimi could easily have made an empty film with lots of CGI. In the earlier days of computer special effects, that alone might have filled the seats and sold popcorn. Are CGI finally starting to become so commonplace that a good director must turn to characters and plot to keep an audience interested? Jackson used CGI in Lord of the Rings rather then being used by it, and Raimi doesn’t wallow in effects either. This trend (if it is one) bodes well for the future.

The focus is on Peter and his decisions. Spider-Man is always about the consequences of the decisions we make. In life, this is something we all face. Will we comport ourselves with dignity, humility and grace? With bravery, generosity and sacrifice? Or will we pursue our desires to the exclusion of all else?

We know the decision that Peter Parker will ultimately make. Or, at least we think we do. We know a bit about what drives him. But, as in life, we can never know the consequences. The best we can do is be true to who we are, lead with our strengths and draw power from our honesty.

This film surpasses the first because the stakes are higher and Raimi has chosen to remove some traditional comic book obstacles which allows growth in Peter’s character and opens up wider possibilities for sequels (which will almost surely happen). In short, rather than painting the franchise into a corner, Raimi may be expanding it into more complexity.

There are a lot of welcome notes in this film. A number of moments of warm laughter in commiseration with Peter are extremely endearing. Also, Raimi once again gives us bystanders who are more than just extras, but characters who drive a central point home. Heroes are not people in a made-up story on the screen. Heroes come from a place inside of us. We celebrate heroic spirit and accomplishments in song and story. But heroes themselves can only exist if we nurture courage and conscience inside ourselves and sacrifice to make them a reality.

Is there a more worthy foundation to build a summer blockbuster on?

Posted by James at July 1, 2004 12:35 AM
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i agree on all accounts. i think the plot was alot more complex and interesting this go 'round. hopin' for more spidey in '06!!

Posted by: ryan at July 1, 2004 11:52 AM

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