Movie Review: Spider-Man 2
FILM REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN 2
By Mark Caro
Chicago Tribune Movie Writer
When we last checked in with Spider-Man, he was saving lovely Mary Jane Watson from the nasty Green Goblin, and a certain critic was complaining that the fun but thin "Spider-Man" apparently had exhausted the franchise's possibilities.
"Although the first sequel already has been ordered (Columbia knows it has marketed a blockbuster), by the end of this introductory installment, the tank seems near empty," this reviewer wrote.
I was wrong.
"Spider-Man 2" gives comic-book movies, sequels and summer popcorn flicks a good name. Until it develops a bad case of verbosity toward the end, it improves upon its predecessor in almost every way, delivering flashier thrills while digging deeper into its characters and adding an overlay of wit.
Almost all of the joy of the first "Spider-Man" (2002) derived from Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) discovering his wrist-spurting, web-swinging spider powers. When the movie actually had to play out its thwart-the-villain plot, the superpowered fisticuffs felt like a compulsory exercise.
"Spider-Man 2" can't offer the surprise of discovery, but it turns out to be a richer story with a sharper focus on Peter's inability to reconcile his everyday identity with his heroic alter ego.
While Spider-Man is repeatedly saving New Yorkers from criminals and disasters, Peter is screwing up at school, showing up late at work and damaging his friendships with his unreliability. This tension is thrown into sharp, comic relief when Peter, trying desperately to keep his job at a corner pizzeria, slips into his Spidey costume and swings into action to deliver some pies within the required 29-minutes-or-they're-free time.
Not only can't he tell Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) that he missed her stage debut because he was busy thwarting crooks, but he still feels he can't proclaim his love for her for fear of making her a target to his enemies. Then again, she finds herself in so much peril in these two movies that he might as well just whisk her off to Vegas.
Peter's split personality is your basic superhero dilemma, but it's handled with such sympathy and smarts that it becomes universal: Comic book characters aren't the only ones who suffer for trying to lead a secret life, though perhaps only Peter sees his frustrations manifested in his web spurter becoming jammed.
With Maguire and Dunst in the leads, you feel the full force of these emotions. Maguire is one of the most soulful, self-effacing young actors around, coming across as wide-eyed and boyish at one moment, world-weary and wise the next.
As a result Peter inspires in viewers a mixture of admiration and protective instincts like no other superhero. One of his best moments comes on a throwaway line: Lifting a monstrous weight away from M.J., he grunts with a pained smile, "This is really heavy."
Dunst, meanwhile, uses her sleepy-eyed beauty to potent effect as M.J., who has become engaged to a strapping astronaut (Daniel Gillies) because her candle for Peter isn't receiving enough oxygen. Nevertheless, the longing between M.J. and Peter is palpable.
Spider-Man's nemesis this time is a scientist named Dr. Otto Octavius (a pleasingly complex Alfred Molina), whose efforts to create a fusion-powered "perpetual sun" go kablooey, leaving him with four "smart arms" fused to his body. Although Doc Ock lacks the legendary Spider-Man pedigree of the Green Goblin, he turns out to be the more compelling villain.
A mentor figure to Peter before the accident, the scientist finds himself in a battle of wills with his new arms, which have evil minds of their own. In an example of the movie's playful humor, a bystander observes of the doctor's transformation: "A guy named Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs. What are the odds?"
Credit screenwriter Alvin Sargent ("Unfaithful," "Ordinary People"), working with a story by novelist Michael Chabon and the screenwriting team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar ("Shanghai Noon"), with adding colors to the "Spider-Man" palette. Even side characters such as Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) are written with a depth lacking in the first film, while J.K. Simmons' brash newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson once again steals every scene he's in.
Also raising his game is director Sam Raimi, who returns to the franchise with a surer sense of tone and greater ability to integrate the character drama with impressive set pieces, such as a fight on a runaway elevated train or various battles that send cars flying. Yes, Spider-Man still looks cartoonish as he swings from buildings, but the lack of realism plays like a valid stylistic choice; the action scenes boast an undeniable exuberance. Staying true to his exploitation-film roots, Raimi infuses this A-level blockbuster with B-movie energy, complete with campy close-ups of screaming pedestrians.
The movie gets a bit bloated toward the end, as Sargent and Raimi use five scenes to communicate what two might have. But you can forgive this superhero for overstaying his welcome because in "Spider-Man 2" he's flying high.
Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Alvin Sargent; photographed by Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski; production designed by Neil Spisak; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad. A Columbia Pictures release; opened Wednesday, June 30. Running time: 2:05. MPAA rating: PG-13 (stylized action violence).
Spider-Man/Peter Parker - Tobey Maguire
Mary Jane Watson - Kirsten Dunst
Harry Osborn - James Franco
Doc Ock/Dr. Otto Octavius - Alfred Molina
May Parker - Rosemary Harris
J. Jonah Jameson - J.K. Simmons