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Movie Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 (DVD)Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Starring Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn, Cliff Robertson, Willem Defoe and Satipo.

Directed by Sam Raimi.

I think Spider-Man 2 is a flawed gem where superhero movies are concerned. In terms of action, I think it far surpasses its predecessor. It also does a very good job of moving the story along and developing the characters. Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius is far more interesting and sympathetic than his comic counterpart has ever been. Spider-Man 2 is, I think, about as faithful an on-screen representation of a comic book superhero as has been seen to date. At times, though, it seems that Raimi and company have performed the task of translating the ink-and-paper characters to the screen too well.

Spider-Man has always been about a guy who is, deep down, very unsure of himself. He has been given incredible powers but he is constantly aware that they are both a gift and a burden. Peter Parker lives in fear that his enemies will discover the true nature of his connection to Spider-Man and use his loved ones as leverage in their evil schemes. Never mind the Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, Doctor Octopus or the Lizard, Spider-Man is his own toughest foe. Add to this the fact that he is beloved by some and reviled by others (including Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn), and Spider-Man is about ready for weekly sessions with a psychoanalyst.

The problem with Spider-Man 2 comes when all of this angst and turmoil gets thrown up onto the big screen. Peter Parker is suffering the downfall of maintaining a dual identity and everyone around him is aware of the results: he can’t keep a job, his grades are slipping, he’s always late, always tired. When not swinging through the streets, saving innocent children from evil traffic and generally struggling to make New York a better place for everyone, the man behind the mask is forced to endure a seemingly endless parade of concerned friends and family offering their analysis and advice. It is the over-long, overwrought speeches that make the action-free scenes of Spider-Man 2 difficult to watch. Peter is preached to by everyone from his personal physician to Doctor Octavius, from Mary Jane to (worst of all) Aunt May. The first movie had its overly-earnest bits of dialog, but the sequel really turns up the volume.

This type of stuff works all right in three panels of the comic book, but it’s just too much for the screen. That’s not to suggest that Peter’s problems be “dumbed-down” for moviegoers, just the opposite. Stop beating us over the head with it, or at the very least use a softer hammer.

Spider-Man 2 is, as I said before, a flawed gem. The action scenes are consistently brilliant, imaginative, well-executed and fun to watch. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson made me laugh out loud every time he was on screen, as well he should have, and there were some absurdly comedic moments scattered throughout. Some of these worked (the elevator scene) and one would have worked better if it had been a bit shorter (Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head). In the course of the movie I saw the potential for at least two villains with which Sony and Sam Raimi could assault the web-slinger in future installments. I found the movie to be largely satisfying. If the speeches had been toned down a bit, the flaw in Spider-Man 2 might not have been so noticeable.