Spider-Man 2 (“The Amazing Spider-man” was the original, superior name) manages to not only be better than the first movie, but possibly one of the best movies of the summer, as far as big summer popcorn movies go. I’m not sure I agree with Ebert when he says that this is the best superhero movie ever, but it’s definitely one of the best.
The movie picks up a few years after the first one left off. Peter Parker, bitten by a genetically altered spider is still fighting crime in the Big Apple while trying to keep his pizza delivery job, freelance for The Daily Bugle, go to his college classes, have a family life, and hang onto his friends. Mary Jane Watson still loves Peter, though he doesn’t reciprocate that love (for fear that if she ever found out he was Spider-man his enemies could target her, which works except I don’t know who his other enemies might be other than the dead Green Goblin). Harry Osborn is still trying to avenge the death of his father, whom he believes Spider-man killed in the first movie. Aunt May has money problems just like last time out. J. Jonah Jameson is as irascible as ever.
At the same time a brilliant scientist, Doctor Otto Octavius, has worked out the secrets to Fusion Power. I advise that you turn your brain off here since it’s all nonsensical movie science anyway. Don’t even ask why the good doctor needs the mechanical arms to begin with or how a mini-sun can be drowned in the Hudson River.
As much as I enjoyed the first movie, I was never a big fan of the Green Goblin, who looked like a reject from The Power Rangers with silly green armor and constant, annoying cackling (some sort of Joker thing going on I believe). While Dafoe did an amazing job with the split-personality scenes, the cackling was always over the top. This time around the villain is more solid and menacing, but the human factor just isn’t touched on enough to justify some his later actions.
With four indestructible mechanical arms with personalities all their own, Doctor Octopus and Spidey have two really great fight scenes. The fight atop the train (there are no El trains in New York, by the way) should be the pinnacle by which all future superhero fights are judged and the fight on the side of the building felt like a live-action comic-book fight.
I thought the subplot of Spidey losing his powers was weak. I know it was pulled from an old Spider man issue (Spider-man #50 to be exact) but there, at least, he just wanted to be normal and stop being the hero. A crisis of faith, per se. It would have been nice to explain, when his powers were fading, how he could pretty much survive falling forty stories to the pavement. I didn’t like it and it took away from character development needed elsewhere.
A more conservative editor would have eliminated half of the cheesy scenes. Too much screen time was spent showing us that Peter really is down on his luck. The brooms falling out of the closet bit was funny, but twice as long as it should have been. The use of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” was a nice tip of the cap to Butch Cassidy, but also lasted too long. They wisely added more scenes with J. Jonah Jameson, but should have cut the entire scene where they play the old 60s cartoon theme.
However, there was some comedy bits that I did like and wouldn’t change at all. Spider-Man-delivering-pizzas was just a brilliant, fun Stan Lee-way to start the movie. The scene at the theatre with the usher probably went on a bit too long except that it was Bruce Campbell and that made it work.
For me there were one or two too many unmaskings. The one I have the most problem with is in the subway train — this is New York, of course somebody’s gonna tell, particularly if they happen to have a cell phone camera or such handy. “Hey, Daily Bugle? Interested in any pics of Spidey unmasked? What are they worth?” It was a touching scene, but it killed any suspension of disbelief and pulled me out of the movie. I threw up my hands when he took his mask off and I wanted to throttle the screenwriters who do this nearly every super-hero movie. WHY?
My other complaint with the movie was that, for most of it, there wasn’t enough meaningful character development from the supporting cast.
I would have liked to see more development with the Mary Jane Watson/John Jameson relationship. He seemed like a nice guy. We wanted her to dump Flash Thompson in the first film because he was a total jerk. But her relationship with John Jameson was never really developed enough for the audience to get to know anything. The upside down kissing was cute and telling at the same time, but overall that relationship didn’t have any weight to it and when she leaves him at the altar there isn’t much for the audience to feel.
And then we have poor Harry, the one who really got the short end of the stick in this movie. The Franco kid can really act and the movie would have been immensely better had they given him more character development throughout.
Here you have this 20-year-old kid who flunked out of every private school his father ever sent him to and was always looked down on by his father and now he’s running his father’s corporation. What kind of stress is he under? It’s all hinted at, but should have been developed a lot more and intertwined with the “I hate your buddy Spider-Man” obsession, leading to a progressive break-down that culminates in seeing his father at the end. Sure, he had two big bombshells by finding out that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and finding his father’s lair, but there should have been more leading up to his inevitable crack-up and sequel showdown. It’s too bad that Franco’s acting chops were wasted in favor of Tobey Maguire falling down. Mark my words, next movie Franco becomes a huge star.
I liked Alfred Molina as the good Dr. Octavius and as the villainous Doc Ock. I especially liked the interaction between Dr. Octavius and Peter Parker in the lab. Molina is a solid actor and really brings warmth and chemistry between his character and his character’s wife in their all to brief scenes. Thank goodness they didn’t show the glass shards killing his wife. If this was done by Michael Bay it would have been bloody, shocking and rated R.
The screenwriters attempted to make Doc Ock sympathetic to the detriment of the character. Why couldn’t he just blame Spider-man for the death of his wife? Instead, the movie seemed to cast all the criminal blame on the artificial intelligence within the arms while completely absolving Otto Octavius. It also made me shake my head and wonder why such a vital piece of hardware as the chip that protects his higher brain functions would be in such a flimsy and vulnerable spot. Not to mention, the need for artificial intelligence in the arms is never explained and as the audience you are supposed to just go with it. It is cute that they have been given a personality, but it’s only an interesting visual movie moment and not plot-centered.
Like the first one, this felt like a pastiche of other comic book movies. It’s like the screenwriters went and saw the better superhero flicks since Superman and cherry picked the best ideas/moments/sequences from each. I thought the first one was a nice combo of the best aspects of Superman and Batman. Spider-man 2 owes a great deal to Superman II from everything to big superhero battles, sacrifice for love and super power loss. However, the inner conflict of Peter Parker as he struggles with his crisis of faith over the death of his uncle, his love for MJ, his loyalty to his best-friend, and his devotion to the city of New York takes the superhero movie farther than any of its contemporaries.
Of course, I still say the best super hero movie ever is The Matrix (or maybe Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), but that’s just my opinion. Overall, the movie is a great summer getaway. By far, one of the best movies this summer season and one that I’m sure I will own on DVD just in time for Christmas.