Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Spider-Man 2

Directed by Sam Raimi.
2004. Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
Alfred Molina
James Franco
Rosemary Harris
Donna Murphy
J. K. Simmons
Elizabeth Banks
Dylan Baker
Bill Nunn
Bruce Campbell
Emily Deschanel

Like a lot of kids fresh out of high school, Peter Parker (Maguire) is struggling to make ends meet. He’s living on his own for the first time but is on the verge of being kicked out of the room he rents due to his inability to come up with the rent. This is despite his working two jobs, one as a pizza delivery boy, the other as a photographer for local newspaper, The Daily Bugle. He is also a full-time college student but struggles in class because of those two jobs plus the even more massive responsibility he thrust upon himself. He also patrols the city streets as Spider-Man. With so much going on, his chances with MJ (Dunst), the girl of his dreams, are diminishing quickly to the point of zero. His relationship with best friend Harry (Franco) is a bit volatile because most of the pics Peter gets published are of Spider-Man, whom Harry feels is responsible for his father’s death but doesn’t know is his best friend. Under the weight of all this, the gifts Peter received from his famous spider bite are failing him. Just in case all that weren’t enough, a new threat arises when a failed nuclear experiment by world-renowned scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina) goes awry, resulting in the fusion of himself with four mechanical arms that are seriously interfering with his brain. They begin causing him to try and finish his experiments regardless of the method or consequences.

It’s widely known that Spider-Man’s story is a metaphor for puberty. Of director Sam Raimi’s Spidey flicks, this is the one that leans hardest into the symbolism necessary to make that work. It’s a bit ironic because Peter is now out of high school, but Raimi takes the high risk and reaps a high reward. In his favor is the fact that this same symbolism readily applies to the newly adult. The constant changes in a teen’s body are equated with the massive amounts of stress people put on themselves or have put upon them in their day-to-day lives as grown-ups. In this case, it manifests itself as his Spidey powers not always working. On the surface, that might seem silly. However, many of us have suffered physical ailments derived from things such as a lack of rest, poor performance at work, problems with our loved ones, or some other issue in some other area of life. Peter has all of that going on and it’s leading to both a physical and existential crisis. He’s not sure who he is, or what his purpose is. The one thing he’s sure of is that he wants to be with MJ. Unfortunately, he has no idea if that’s even possible. If it is, he doesn’t know if he could be the person she deserves. Raimi’s patient storytelling pulls us closer to Peter than we were in the previous movie. Our empathy runs deeper.

Tobey Maguire is also to be lauded for our emotional connection to his character. It’s not the type of performance that immediately blows your mask off. It’s the type that relies heavily on just one of the actor’s qualities. That attribute is Maguire’s ability to maintain Peter’s innocence no matter how weary the world makes him. We never get the sense that he is becoming jaded. We feel like he is being rundown by the world around him. That world threatens to extinguish the flame that makes him great, but he somehow holds onto it. Even when he thinks he can’t be Spider-Man, he treats it like he is about to start the greatest chapter of his life. He may give up on certain aspects of his life, but he always understands that he can be amazing in some other way. Therefore, it’s all the more heartbreaking when we see him going through one problem after another. We can’t help but root for the guy and not just because he’s Spider-Man.

His other booster is his chemistry with Kirsten Dunst as MJ. It’s already the fulcrum of the first movie. It performs the same duties here but with the added caveat that MJ desperately wants to be with Peter. Since she doesn’t know the truth of Peter’s identity, she’s completely justified in her frustrations with him. Her desperation transfers to us. We yearn for them to be together. We have nearly as much invested in their relationship as they do.

Maguire’s and Dunst’s excellence might sneak up on you, but Alfred Molina’s will not. As Doctor Octavius, he gives us a fully fleshed out human being caught in a situation that has spiraled out of control. Even at his worst, he’s a sympathetic character desperately trying to make amends for a horrific mistake. The character is better written and performed than Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from the previous movie. Like Dafoe, Molina does go over the top when in full-on villain mode, but he’s just restrained enough for us not to dismiss him as a caricature. The real selling point is what he does before he gets anywhere near being the bad guy. We meet him as Peter does. He’s aloof, clearly doesn’t want to be bothered, but we understand that, like Peter, he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Peter breaks through all of that rather quickly for us and sets Molina up to give us one of the sweetest scenes in any Spider-Man movie. It’s simply Octavius, his wife Rosalie (Murphy), and Peter conversing over dinner. They gently rib him, give him advice, and demonstrate how much they love each other without bashing the audience over the head. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful Donna Murphy is in this scene. In only a few minutes of screen time she makes a huge impact on the film because of the emotional connection to her mate that she effortlessly conveys.

All that emotional mumbo jumbo is great, but none of it would swing if the superhero stuff didn’t work. The special fx have been tweaked and improved in enough ways that it holds up even better than its predecessors. The problem of Spidey lacking the weight of a real person seems to be have been solved. However, it’s still a bit of a problem when Doc Ock and our hero are fighting. That said, Doc Ock’s mechanical arms look amazing. The real center piece of the entire film, and perhaps Raimi’s entire trilogy, is the train sequence. It combines perfect fx work with all the emotion of the saga to this point to create a scene that still stuns.

Of all the Spidey flicks I’m revisiting during the run-up to my viewing of Spider-Man: Far From Home, this is the one I was most looking forward to yet simultaneously dreading. I held it in such high regard, I wasn’t sure it could live up to the way I remembered it. Thankfully, it does. Our hero is given numerous things that he must deal with in order to move forward in his own life, and eventually the lives of millions of others. The key is that the movie ties them all together in a way that feels organic and never overwhelms the main story.


  1. My all-time favorite comic-book movie. Beautiful summary of it.

    1. Thanks. It's a great choice, does so much right.

  2. Looking at my own list, this is still my favorite Spider-Man film. It's got a lot of action, humor, and drama. Plus, it wasn't afraid to be cheesy (though I still wish it didn't have the awful emo music soundtrack). Alfred Molina I thought was the best villain of the series at that point up until Adrian Toomes/the Vulture showed up. I just love what Molina did as he wasn't initially a bad guy but someone who just got lost in his grief and desire to do something great.

    I also enjoyed the moments with Rosemary Harris in the film as it was good to see her in some big sequences as well as helping Spider-Man get one up on Doc Ock. And of course, the film has what I think is the greatest deleted scene ever...


    1. Doc Ock is a great villain, and Molina is awesome. Rosemary Harris might be the best thing about this series.

  3. This is a great summary of one film I love. I still think Tobey Maguire is the best Spider-Man but that’s just me. You gave a great review which makes me want to see it again.

    1. Tom Holland is my face, but I wouldn't argue with anyone picking Maguire. He's great. Thanks!

  4. I'm going to my 10th Wiggles concert tomorrow

  5. This was my favorite Spider-man movie until Spider-verse came along, the only thing that doesn't hold up for me is the CGI, but the rest I still love. Excellent flick.