“Woah, he stole that guy’s pizza!”
In my Top 10 List of Comic Books Films, I placed ‘Spider-Man 2’ at the hallowed #1 place (click here to view my Top 10 List). It’s been a while since I watched it, so I thought I’d pop it in the DVD player (it was either that or go to the cinema and watch Spider-Man: Homecoming. My fiancée couldn’t be bothered to go to the cinema…). Spider-Man 2 is a film I’ve watched countless times (as with Spider-Man, I watched it more than three times at the cinema alone!). However, every time I watch Spider-Man, its flaws become more and more apparent. I love it regardless, but still understand its flaws. However, each viewing of Spider-Man 2 only causes its brilliance to shine brighter than before.
It’s hard for a superhero origin story to break free from its constraints. I can think of a few that have broken the boundaries: Batman Begins, Guardians of the Galaxy, Blade, Spider-Man. But they all follow the same structure. The sequel is where the real quality can be realised. Think of the great superhero films, and most of them are sequels. The Dark Knight, X-Men 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)…Of course, a lot can go wrong with a sequel (see most Marvel Cinematic Universe sequels, for example). But with the origin story out of the way, the characters and general themes in place, the sequel opens a door to greatness.
“The power of the sun, in the palm of my hand”
And Spider-Man 2 is a sequel that found greatness. Not by accident, but by focusing equally on Peter Parker the human being and Peter Parker the superhero. A few weeks ago I rewatched Batman Returns, and was stunned by how little either Batman or Bruce Wayne are in it. Neither are particularly memorable. The focus is more on the villains and Tim Burton’s depiction of Gotham City. Here, Peter Parker is weighed down by Spider-Man. We see Parker at the beginning losing his job and almost failing college because of his duty of being a superhero. He looks exhausted. Tobey Maguire can’t help but beg for your sympathy, whether he’s missing the last canape or delivering pizzas a few minutes too late. He’s a man who doesn’t know who is he, or what he wants. Does he want Mary Jane? Or does he want to play superhero? Does he want a normal life, or is Spider-Man more important than life itself? But his superpowers seem to be failing, so does he have a choice at all?
There’s enough angst and uncertainty here, from both Parker and Mary Jane. She’s still in love with him, but knows she must move on. She can’t wait forever for him. Kirsten Dunst and Maguire make their love for each other tangible; there’s gorgeous chemistry between them. She’s following her dream as an actor, but is still, in a way, held back by one Peter Parker. Should she go backwards or forwards? Their exchanges sometimes verge on being cheesy, but even then it’s a lovable cheesiness. Most films could look at Spider-Man 2 to create a convincing relationship between two people. It’s just there, spoken or unspoken.
If Spider-Man 2 sounds gloomy, then fear not; there’s enough humour in here to float everyone’s boat. Bruce Campbell’s cameo once again brings giggles to the screens. But there are little gags that tickle the laughter buds. At the beginning of the film, Sam Raimi cuts the scene like an action scene. But it simply Parker being shouted at by his employer. There are bits like this sown throughout the film that raise a laugh. Of course, JJ Jameson gets the lion share of the laughs, but Raimi seems to have an eye for low-key humour. Even Spider-Man touching a car and setting its alarm off brings a smile to the face.
Raimi has an eye for humour, but his eye for horror has never left him. In the first Spider-Man, his lust for horror seemed to be downplayed. Here, he’s given more freedom, and there are a few scenes that rival anything from Evil Dead (minus the blood, brains and gore). Here’s one aspect that makes the villain of the piece, Dr. Octopus, one of the most compelling villains in superhero films. After an experiment goes awry and four mechanical arms are welded to Otto Octavius’/Dr. Octopus’ body, he’s taken to the hospital. The doctors decide to chop the arms off, but the arms have a life of their own. They ravage the doctors in a series of quick cuts, zooms and screams. Of course, we don’t see any blood or anything. But that doesn’t demean its sense of horror.
One of the major criticisms of Spider-Man was the awful costume for the Green Goblin. Here, however, the designers have created the perfect mechanical arms for Dr. Octopus. They each have their own personalities and feel alive. They are reminiscent of the raptors in Jurassic Park. They are a menace of their own, but Alfred Molina plays Octavius with pizzazz. From a simplistic point of view, Octavius is similar to Norman Osborne: great scientist, experiment goes wrong, becomes superpowered and insane. But there’s a greater sense of tragedy with Octavius. He’s motivated by his desire to create fusion, unlimited power for the world. It’s a desire that causes him to turn to villainy.
“There’s a hero in all of us…”
It may be a film heavily involved in drama, but it doesn’t spare on the action either. In my humble opinion, Spider-Man 2 features one of the very best action sequences in superhero films in the guise of the train sequence. It’s a marvel to look at, in terms of editing, tempo, suspense and excitement. On the whole, each action sequence is an improvement on the first film’s sequences thanks to the more realistic CGI. Of course, there are moments where it looks like a video game, but more often than not you’ll be too involved in the story to notice.
Spider-Man 2 has plenty of things to balance: Parker’s duality, Mary Jane’s love, Dr. Octopus, Harry Osborne’s descent into madness. But it manages each of them with delicacy. Everything ties into each other, whilst leaving plenty to be explored in the threequel. There’s plenty of relatable drama on show, mixed with scintillating action sequences. The theme of superheroes struggling with their being has never been handled with more precision and care than in this film. It’s not a dark film by any means, but there’s plenty of emotional heft and tear-jerking moments to erase any notions of lightness. A film doesn’t have to be about terrorists or perversions to be dark. It can just give a bittersweet ending that leaves you gasping for the next film.
VERDICT: 10/10 Spider-Man 2 is the peak of superhero sequels, and a great sequel regardless of its superhero nature (I may be biased as Spider-Man was/is my favourite superhero…)
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Click here for my review of Spider-Man (2002)