"Spider-Man 2" is as close to the spirit of the comic-books than the original.
It has all the trials and tribulations that Peter Parker endured while being
the crime-fighting, wall-crawling hero, Spider-Man. Let's face it: working two
part-time jobs, attending college and fighting crime is quite a workout for any
young man, no matter how ambitious. This sequel is busy with character details
and large-scale action. It has more story and bigger obstacles to confront but
it isn't as surprising as the original.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is shown right at the start to be consumed with
problems. He works part-time at a pizzeria but never seems to deliver it on
time, even when he changes into Spider-Man (a minute later means free pizza for
anyone). He also works part-time for sturdy, no-nonsense J. Jonah Jameson (J.K.
Simmons) but is in danger of losing that job because he can't get any good pics
of Spidey. Peter is also failing science classes and failing to acknowledge his
love for Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), who is about to get married to an
astronaut. His best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), questions Peter's
loyalty when all Pete photographs is the web-crawler, the same person that
killed his father. And to compound the weight on Peter's shoulders, his Aunt
May (Rosemary Harris) may lose her house for failure to pay the mortgage! Oh,
did I forget to mention that our friendly neighborhood arachnid has trouble
spinning his web and keeps falling from enormous heights?
"Spider-Man 2" also has a new, threatening villain, namely Dr. Octavius (Alfred
Molina), a truly ambitious scientist. He has a new scientific discovery:
combining fusion with nuclei to generate an energy source similar to the sun.
This energy source will help keep electrical bills down. To control the source,
Octavius uses four mechanical tentacles fused to his skin, generated by a
transmitter which allows him to maneuver them. I am still not clear why four
tentacles are needed, but scientific questions should not logically be asked of
any comic-book movie. An accident overrides the system, causing the transmitter
to short out and leaving the tentacles to do what they wish. Octavius becomes a
monster on six legs (known as Doctor Octopus), tormenting most of New York City
and robbing banks to fund the ultimate fusion reactor. But how can Spidey fight
him if he has chosen to relinquish his crime-fighting duties?
"Spider-Man 2" is not an action spectacle, certainly not as hair-raising or as
fast-paced as the original. Rather director Sam Raimi and novelist Michael
Chabon attempt to fashion the human characteristics and foibles of Peter
Parker. Very wise move. There are many welcome scenes where Peter merely talks
to his aunt (who has some idea of why people need heroes), Mary Jane, Dr.
Octavius, Harry, his seething pal, and so on. There are some witty exchanges
between Parker and his landlord who insists that Pete pay his overdue rent. But
something is missing, perhaps some aura or level of surprise. The movie starts
in fits and spurts, like a broken engine. There is a blandness in the direction
when Raimi aims for those endless close-ups of Maguire's cherubic, sincere
face. The movie feels inert at times, hardly as invigorating in the dialogue
scenes as in the high-powered action scenes.
There are moments to savor, though. An intense fight sequence aboard a speeding
train where Spidey fights Doc Ock results in a truly hair-raising,
heart-stopping moment where Spidey...well, I wouldn't dream of giving that
away. Doc Ock's T-Rex-like rampage where he climbs on buildings and swings
those tentacles with enormous force are true marvels of special-effects (though
I could have lived with less cars thrown against the screen). And Peter and
Mary Jane's relationship unveils new angles - can he ever admit to her the
truth of why they can't be together? And what about Harry Osborn's own strong
dislike of Peter's devotion to Spidey? Honesty is one of the virtues that this
movie insists upon - it builds character for a superhero.
Don't get me wrong: "Spider-Man 2" is entertaining in its own way and more
character-driven than we have any right to expect (Molina makes an inspired Doc
Ock). My Spidey-sense just tells me that it could have been so much more.
Copyright © 2004 Jerry Saravia