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"One of the most essential, memorable super hero movies of all time."
"Raimi not only was fluent in Spiderman lore, but he finds and employs the most important themes."
"Finds its stride, paying homage to the comic with compassion and love."
Spider-Man 2  


Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire
Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst
Dr. Otto Octavius: Alfred Molina
Harry Osborn: James Franco
Betty Brant: Elizabeth Banks
Snooty Usher: Bruce Campbell
Aunt May: Rosemary Harris
J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons
Louise: Vanessa Ferlito
Review July 2004

"Everybody loves a hero," says Aunt May. Especially one who wears their heart on a string, one who sacrifices for the greater good, one whose pains and joys are understandable, and most importantly, one who is inherently human. These are the qualities that can be found in "Spider-Man 2," a film that brilliantly balances heroism with humanity. In this sequel, we find Peter Parker overwhelmed with responsibility, juggling work and school, not to mention a secret identity. On the verge of calling it quits, Parker encounters a new super villain named Doctor Octopus, whose sinister plot beckons a return to Spiderman's crime fighting ways. Returning for seconds in "Spider-Man 2" are director Sam Raimi and an expert cast consisting of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and newcomer Alfred Molina. Together, they help create one of the most essential, memorable super hero movies of all time.

Peter Parker is struggling with his dual identity. He works as a pizza delivery boy, but fails to deliver on time; he goes to college, but fails to show up for class; and as a super hero, he fails to earn the respect and appreciation of the community. Add to that the sadness he feels when the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson, starts to date?an astronaut. Yes, life is certainly difficult for the web slinger. In fact, it's become so overwhelming and unrewarding, that he throws in the towel. And all across town, crime starts to rise. Asks the Daily Bugle on its cover in large, bold print: Where is Spiderman?

Meanwhile, at Oscorp, a physicist by the name of Dr. Otto Octavius, claims to have successfully controlled the fusion process. Sponsored by Peter's friend, Harry, Octavius puts on a demonstration of revolutionary proportions. However, his experiment is not fool proof. A slight miscalculation leads to disastrous results. The tentacles Octavius was wielding to control the fusion process become merged to his spinal cord before the energy can be defused. And from the wreckage, a deformed and disgruntled super villain emerges. Dr. Octopus, as he is commonly referred, attempts to reconcile his losses by rebuilding his life's work. However, to do so, he resorts to a life of crime, stealing and pillaging the town for money and parts. As relationships get more complex and the world is in desperate need of a hero, Peter Parker soon learns that there is really only one person who can save the day.

My best friend once said, "Marvel Comics are all about ordinary people who have super powers thrust upon them." It's what gives their characters depth and empathy unlike many other superheroes that inherit their special distinction at birth. In the first installment of Spiderman, we got to know Peter Parker as a science and photography geek. He misses the school bus repeatedly, gets bullied, and yet, lusts after the girl next door. But that was before getting bitten by a radioactive spider. In "Spider-Man 2," Parker's life gets twice as complicated. He gets fired from work, is scolded by his professors, and nearly destroys his relationship with the one person who cares for him the most. He doubts his purpose, has a love that he cannot convey, and a sadness and guilt about his past that haunts him. These are the qualities that make him so vulnerable and sympathetic, and it's these qualities that make for an enticing human drama.

That's not to say that "Spider-Man 2" is devoid of action. It just means that it's a complete picture. Reflecting back on the first film, it was obvious that the action elements and special effects were no match for the human elements. The weight and gravity of the CGI was off, making Peter Parker look like Mario when jumping from building to building and making Spiderman look like he was light as a feather. And when Spiderman and Green Goblin spoke to one another, it was like watching something as inanimate as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But with this go around, the filmmakers have almost twice the budget, blending real and artificial cuts of Spiderman fluidly and making the fight sequences more natural. I was even amused by Octavius' tentacles, like the snakes on Medusa's head, which develop personalities of their own.

Directed by Sam Raimi, the film pays tribute to Amazing Spider-Man # 50, entitled "Spider-Man No More," when Peter Parker struggles to deal with the social responsibility of his newfound powers. And by combining the background story of Doctor Octopus from Amazing # 3, it became very clear that Raimi not only was fluent in Spiderman lore, but he finds and employs the most important themes. For instance, he takes the time to develop Peter Parker's daily pains, his relationship with Aunt May, his complex love interest with Mary Jane, and his shared passions with Octavius. In doing so, he elevates Parker into a hero that people can rally around. He also makes Octavius more compassionate, allowing us to understand his motivations and share in his sadness. By doing so, we see Doc Ock as a more realistic villain, one who is a product of his environment instead of a villain without substantiation.

Casting is one of those subtleties that one only notices when an actor or actress is in the wrong role. And when everything is clicking, it rarely gets the praise it deserves. But in this series, you'd be hard pressed to find any miscasts. Tobey Maguire is the perfect Peter Parker. Just listen to his voice, the inflections of which reveal his confidence, his concern, and his distress. Equal to the task is Kirsten Dunst, who displays her usual charming self on the outside but with shaky confidence on the inside. And new to the series is a carefully crafted performance from the Tony nominated Alfred Molina, who evokes compassion and psychosis as Spiderman's rival. And lastly, Spiderman would not be complete if it were not for the splendid return of J.K. Simmons and Rosemary Harris. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson tosses in some of the best one liners of the film in deadpan fashion and Harris' textured performance as Aunt May resonates with simple sincerity, clearly inspiring Peter to move in the right direction.

If there were any drawbacks to the film, it would involve the suspension of belief. For instance, I had a hard time believing that Peter's lack of concentration was to blame for his inability to shoot webs. Instead, it appeared as an obvious ploy to insert a punch line - one with Spiderman in an elevator and another when Parker lands on his back. As a literal Spiderman fan, I always felt it would have been more logical if his web shooters were manufactured as opposed to mutated. And this would have made more sense in this instance. Also disturbing was the immunity of Octavius' tentacles to the fusion core. Telepathically controlled, these metal appendages were unaffected by the magnetism of the core - not once, but twice. In fact, the pull was so strong that the filmmakers show dozens of taxis in the heart of the city getting moved. And yet, Doc Ock keeps on swinging!

"Spider-Man 2" is the first comic adapted film in recent memory to successfully connect its action sequences with human drama and make the whole thing worth watching. We care about Peter Parker, Aunt May, Mary Jane, Harry Osborn, and even feel sympathy for the villain, Doctor Octopus. But the reason we care is because the filmmakers care. From the directing to the writing to the casting to the acting, "Spider-Man 2" finds its stride, paying homage to the comic with compassion and love. Yes, everyone truly loves a hero. Especially when that hero is just like you and me.

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