****1/2 (out of 5)
June 30, 2004
Tobey Maguire as PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN
Kirsten Dunst as MARY JANE WATSON
James Franco as HENRY OSBOURNE
Alfred Molina as DOC OCK
Rosemary Harris as AUNT MAY
J.K. Simmons as J. JONAS JAMESON
Directed by: Sam Raimi
BY KEVIN CARR
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the DC blockbuster movies of the 1970s through the 1990s. While I love the characters of Batman and Superman, I felt they were tarnished by their silver screen adaptations. The first “Superman” was pretty good, but the sequels really kind of stunk.
And while I love Tim Burton as a director, I though he made a mess of the 1989 film with the Michael Keaton and Prince connections. It was Don Swan in Mark Hamill’s hilarious spoof “Comic Book: The Movie” who pointed out that Hollywood finally got it right with “Spider-Man.” (Although there is some credit to be given to the makers of “X-Men” and “X2,” two fine comic book movies as well.)
Maybe it’s a Marvel thing. Or maybe it’s a maturity thing. Maybe Hollywood didn’t quite mature in its vision of comic books until just recently. That would explain the discrepancy of quality between “The Punisher” circa 1989 and “The Punisher” circa 2004. And I hear that McG has been finally canned from the new Superman movie, so apparently there is a god.
This new film opens two years after the events of the first “Spider-Man.” The webslinger has been fully accepted by New York as its superhero, but Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is feeling the pinch. Still pining for M.J. (Kirsten Dunst), he struggles to keep his job, do his homework and try to have a social life. His two lives clash one too many times, and he is forced to make a decision between Peter Parker and the Amazing Spider-Man.
One of the nice things about good sequels is that you don’t have to waste too much time with origins and character backgrounds. With “Spider-Man 2” coming out only two years after the first, there’s plenty of assumptions that the audience will remember the characters. And with some excellent artwork by Alex Ross over the opening credits, you’ll get your memory refreshed at the start of this film.
If you’ve got a long history of watching superhero movies, you might notice some plot similarities between “Spider-Man 2” and “Superman II.” Both involve the superhero giving up their alter ego for a girl. Both involve conflict between the superhero and the secret identity. But “Spider-Man 2” is handled much more cleanly, and really puts the audience on Peter Parker’s side. No cheesy lightbox effects here.
The characters are a little rough in the beginning. Peter Parker is back to being pathetic, as he was at the start of the first film. Things get a lot better when he faces his conflicts. Whatever sins this film commits at the start of the show I forgave when I saw how they worked out. This is especially true for Mary Jane’s character, who I found myself hating even more than I did in the first film. Her constant need to have a boyfriend (and sometimes one or two more waiting on deck, just in case) make her pretty smarmy.
To her credit, Kirsten Dunst isn’t given much to work with. In fact, I don’t fault her too much for the character of Mary Jane, who is a shallow, self-centered pretty girl spoiled by popularity. This was, after all, a construct of the writers. And by the term “writer,” I mean those that originally created her.
But even then, I can’t fault Stan Lee for M.J.’s shallow nature. It worked in the comics, just as Lois Lane’s nosiness worked in the Superman comics. The only difference between modern Lois Lane and the modern M.J. is that M.J. just hasn’t been updated. But by the end of the film, I did find a soft spot for her, though.
Launching the franchise with the Green Goblin as the villain was a bit risky, I’ll admit. After all, no one was every really able to top the Joker in the Batman sequels, were they? However, Alfred Molina does an excellent job as Dr. Otto Octavius, who is transformed into the cybernetic super villain Doc Ock. He plays the role to the hilt, and only with the grim seriousness that Molina brings to the character does it make him believable. Doc Ock is an old school villain straight out of the comics. He’s a mad scientist who robs banks to fun his deranged projects. It’s as simple as that, which makes him pretty fun.
But it is J.K. Simmons as J. Jonas Jameson who steals the show. He was hilarious in the first film, and he continues to be so in this one. It’s nice to see them giving him a meatier part, and with the introduction of his son John (Daniel Gillies), we’re sure to have plenty more J. Jonas in future movies.
I’ll avoid any spoilers here, but just say that there are three scenes that show how great this movie really is. The first is the “elevator scene” with Hal Sparks. Hilarious. The second is the “train scene” at the end. Very dramatic and powerful. And the “bank scene.” Finally Aunt May gets to kick some butt. Enough said. It’s worth seeing the film for these scenes alone.