Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker

MPAA Rating:  (for stylized action violence)

Running Time: 2:07

Release Date: 6/30/04

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Review by Mark Dujsik

As far as superheroes go, Spider-Man seems, to me, to be one of the more accessible and sympathetic. As he strains to balance his secret identity and his heroic deeds, he is continuously reminded that his lifestyle is marred with reluctance. The classic overachiever, he feels a drive for perfection—to live up to the standards set by everyone around him and, more importantly, himself. And yet he's still basically a kid, so he wants the girl, too. In his mind, these two desires are diametrically opposed, and in Spider-Man 2, the conflict comes to a head. In typical Spider-Man fashion, the development of each loose end of inter- and intra-personal conflict is reluctant. In trying to balance the personal drama and action inherent to the continuing story of the web-slinger, the first sequel falls slightly short. One of the charms of Spider-Man was the way in which we came to relate with the hero by focusing not only on his origin as a superhero but also on his daily life. This movie gets the characters where they need to go, but it doesn't develop their struggles to a satisfactory level.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is out on his own in New York City, delivering pizzas to make the rent for a small, destitute apartment where the landlord always asks for money (and which Peter very rarely has). Things aren't going to well for the newly independent Peter. He loses his job for being late and failing to deliver a big order on time, and his schoolwork is starting to falter. There's also the Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) dilemma. Fight it as much as he likes, Peter is still in love with her, and by all accounts, she loves him. Also, his best friend Harry (James Franco) is upset that Peter has hidden the identity of Spider-Man from him, even though he killed Harry's father (in Spidey's defense, his father was a villain intent on destruction). It's enough for a superhero to toss aside his latex suit, which is exactly what Peter does. To complicate matters further, while working on a fusion experiment, scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) has a set of mechanical arms fused to his spine, and the machinery that operates them turns him mad and sends him on a mission to complete his experiment, even if its success could destroy half of the city.

Admirably, Alvin Sargent's screenplay spends a good amount of time on scenes involving the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane. The back-and-forth nature of these scenes, as both alternately show interest in the other while the other rejects it, though, becomes a bit too much like the stuff of teenage soap opera ("teenie bopera?"), and the inclusion of Mary Jane's fiancé simply adds to it. The fact that John Jameson (Daniel Gillies) has no character beyond being the astronaut son of Peter's boss at the Daily Bugle J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons, again stealing every scene he's in) simply emphasizes his role as a plot contrivance. Peter's scenes with Harry suffer less, but when the big moment we've been waiting for in which Spider-Man's identity is finally revealed to the vengeful Harry, the script avoids it. We want this scene to play out, but duty calls. Spidey must once again save Mary Jane (who somehow ends up braless and wet again) and stop Octavius. I suppose this is the point—that Peter's personal life is and will always be interrupted by his responsibility as a hero—but in terms of defining these characters and their relationships, it too often feels like a copout.

The movie has a great villain in the form of Octavius, who is later called Doctor Octopus, or Doc Ock for short (Jameson has a great line: "Guy named Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs. What are the odds?"). As in the first film, the villain's alter-ego is a mentor to Peter, admiring the young man's talent and handing out advice to help him grow ("Intelligence is not a privilege; it's a gift."). After the arms have melded to his spine, we witness Doc Ock's first villainous deed, as he lay in a hospital bed, set against the soundtrack of the doctors' screams, pulverizing, metallic blows, and a whirs of a surgical chainsaw (they make everything nowadays). Later, he and Spider-Man battle it out along the side of a building, as Peter's aunt May's (Rosemary Harris) life hangs in the balance, but all of this is buildup for the movie's centerpiece action sequence as Doc Ock and Spidey catch a moving elevated train. As much as these scenes work, Octavius is too interesting a villain to be reduced to building a device that will ultimately destroy a city, which has cliché written all over it, as does the final showdown that takes place in his equally trite abandoned warehouse hideout.

These characters are inherently engaging, and their relationships are complex enough to merit more development than the movie gives them. If the denouement of Spider-Man 2 is any indication of how these affairs will progress as the saga continues, Peter and Mary Jane may be facing even more complications, while Peter and Harry will most likely never have the personal confrontation for which we hoped. Or I could be wrong, but either way, this installment sells its prospects short.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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