Spider-Man 2 (2004)
After years in development hell Spider-Man made it to the screen in 2002, directed by cult horror film director and comic book fan Sam Raimi. Though hobbled in some way by real-world events the movie still managed to combine Raimi's signature style with a faithful telling of Spider-Man's origins. At the heart was a story about Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), in every other way a normal working-class teenage boy growing up in New York, entering adulthood and learning about responsibility, albeit helped along by a bite from a genetically enhanced spider.
Though he loves Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) he has decided to let her go in order to protect her. Harry Osborne (James Franco), Parker's best friend, is reeling from the death of his father (Willem Dafoe). Harry is not aware that his father was the Green Goblin that terrorized the city, nor that he was killed by one of his own devices, leading him to devote much of his time in pursuit of his revenge against Spider-Man. In Spider-Man 2 we join everyone two years after the events in the first movie, with Harry the head of Oscorp and carrying on his father's work. In this case it's in conjunction with a scientist named Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who is experimenting with cold fusion.
Parker is doing a paper on Octavius, but his life as Spider-Man is affecting his personal relationships as well as his ability to study or hold a job. When Octavius's experiment goes wrong the smart arms that he uses to manipulated his machinery take over and feed his obsessive desire to succeed, and the newly christened "Doc Ock" becomes New York's newest supervillain. However, after rescuing Aunt May from Octavius during a bank robbery, Peter finds his powers are fading. While Doc Ock pursues his goal of making his device work at any cost Parker decides it is time to give up the mantle of Spider-Man and get back to simply being Peter Parker.
Where the first film was all about puberty and coming of age, this one is about young adulthood and uncertainty. Although Parker is obviously an older Millennial in this movie it was still something that rang true for many of Generation X who, though largely in their 30s by this time, were facing similar questions about their place in the world. I think that is why this is still considered, after all these years, one of if not the best superhero film made. Many of its themes carry on from generation to generation, and while Raimi (as well as the bevy of screenwriters that collaborated on this) is certainly not subtle about any of it, rewatching Spider-Man 2 it is obvious there was no need to be. If this was any other superhero film the fact that Peter Parker's personal problems take preference would be a legitimate complaint, but in this case Doc Ock largely exists as a mirror to Parker's own insecurities.
That doesn't mean Spider-Man 2 forgets what it is. There are three major action sequences: the bank robbery, another involving a runaway elevated train and, of course, the final battle between Spider-Man and Doc Ock. There is also a hospital scene, where doctors try to remove the smart arms from Octavius, that would fit in with any of Raimi's horror films. Despite the fact that this has multiple writers - often a kiss of death - they were largely working from Raimi's ideas, and these action scenes are all him. As are a number of classic comic-book style transitions.
Maguire does a wonderful job of communicating Parker's early-life crisis, while both James Franco and Alfred Molina present tortured and tragic villains, with Harry Osborne hurtling unknowing to his own destiny as his obsession with revenge against Spider-Man becomes the single focus of his life. Unfortunately Kirsten Dunst is a weak point. Mary Jane was there for motivation and conflict in the first movie, so it didn't matter if she was fleshed out beyond being what she was to Peter. Unfortunately, this time around the romance is supposed to be on a more adult level, but Watson is still just plot convenience and, at the end, a typical damsel in distress. When she tries to be more it falls flat.
While I believe that Spider-Man 2 largely lives up to its reputation after all these years the age of the CGI shows. Despite a large amount of computer effects Doc Ock's arms are, in most cases, practical effects operated off-screen, and many of the stunts are real and often performed by the actors themselves, including Tobey Maguire doing a backflip over a car when his scooter is hit. Raimi also wisely makes it clear that the New York we are seeing is not ours. Besides the elevated trains Mary Jane's fiancée John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), who happens to be the son of Dailey Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), is an astronaut recently back from a mission to the moon. This is one of a number of alternate New Yorks and Spider-Men, something made clearer recently with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Despite an underwhelming performance by one of the leads and some obvious elements that make it of its time, Spider-Man 2, especially with an hilarious scene added in to the extended version, still puts most of the current Marvel output to shame. It's not afraid to focus on the issues of its main character nor to have a villain that wants to do more than get revenge for some imagined wrong. The one disappointment is that it sets up so much for the third movie that, due to various factors, fails to be delivered. It's one of the perfect examples of how it matters what one is doing now and how quickly fortunes can change.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Time: 127 minutes
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris
Director: Sam Raimi
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