In 2002, director Sam Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp re-defined the superhero movie with Spider-Man. Remaining true to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original creation, the filmmakers transferred an iconic character and story to the big screen with a level of care and detail calculated to please everyone from the most slavishly devoted fans to relative comic book neophytes.
That was just a warm-up. With Spider-Man 2, Raimi unleashes the big guns and delivers not only the undisputed best superhero movie of all time, but also a flat-out amazing film.
Spider-Man 2 picks up shortly after the events of the first movie. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is struggling to maintain his dual existence as a college student by day and a costumed crime-fighter by night. He’s behind on his rent, perpetually late for his classes, and has fallen out of touch with love interest Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco). With the shadow of his uncle’s death still hanging heavy over his head and heart, even Peter’s relationship with his beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is strained.
When his superpowers start to fail him, Peter begins to question his purpose in life. With the sacrifices he has to make in order to be Spider-Man too much to bear, he is more than willing to use his loss of powers to give it up for good. Naturally, that doesn’t last long.
Without your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to keep things in check, crime quickly spikes. But the bigger problem is Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a talented scientist who goes mad after a freak accident fuses four mechanical arms to his body. With the entire island of Manhattan in jeopardy, Peter Parker is torn between leading the life he wants to lead and the life that has been forced upon him.
Spider-Man 2 outclasses its predecessor in almost every category.
As Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Maguire displays an almost uncanny understanding of the superhero psyche. He does equally well at playing the geeky Parker talking quantum physics as tossing off one-liners while battling evil as Spider-Man. While in the prior film he was more often forced to react and respond to situations, this time around he is both more confident and more decisive in driving the course of events.
Kirsten Dunst, who had precious little to do in the first film, finally gets to inhabit the character of Mary Jane as comic book fans have come to know and love her. Rather than just serve as the token damsel in distress, she is a much more active participant. Her feelings for Peter and her frustrations with his secrets are the emotional crux of the film.
Likewise, James Franco gets to bust his acting chops in his quest for revenge. He continues to harbor a deep loathing for Spider-Man, who he blames for the death of his father, Norman.
Alfred Molina does quite well at playing both the brilliant, caring Dr. Octavius and the stark raving mad Doc Ock. Though he is not as omnipresent in this film as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin was in the first, he makes excellent use of his screen time to add a depth and focus not often found in comic book villains.
Writers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon, and screenwriter Alvin Sargent have created a fantastic story. The script compresses nearly thirty years of character development into two hours, yet it is completely tight and seamless. Every scene exists for a specific purpose, and every action is driven by the characters. The film also uses humor more frequently and more effectively than the first; these moments of levity are what truly make Spider-Man 2 stand out from other films in this genre.
Raimi’s direction is virtually flawless. Scenes of extended conversation are every bit as compelling and tense as the web-slinging battles atop New York skyscrapers. Simply put, Raimi gets it. He understands what a Spider-Man film should be, and he delivers yet again.
Believe the hype. Spider-Man 2 is an amazing, well-crafted, thoroughly enjoyable movie. Though super-hero films are still riding high at the box office, it’s doubtful we’ll see another one this good until 2007, when the third installment is released.