Spider-Man 2 Review
First of all, Spider-Man 2 is a sequel which does assume that you’ve seen the original. So does this review, which contains spoilers for the earlier film. Even so, there’s a brief reprise of the major events of the first Spider-Man in comic-strip form during the opening credits. But once those credits have ended, Spider-Man 2 hits a melancholic note that it sustains more or less throughout. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) may have secret superpowers, but that doesn’t mean he can hold down a job. Even with the aid of his arachnid side he can’t deliver pizza on time. His studies are suffering due to tiredness: all that late night crimefighting is taking its toll. The image of his on-off girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is all over town in an advertising campaign, but MJ herself, tired of Peter’s commitment problems, is seeing former astronaut John Jameson (Daniel Gillies). And to make things worse, Peter’s superpowers are beginning to fail him.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter’s friend and the son of millionaire Jack Osborn, who as the Green Goblin was Spidey’s adversary in the first film, has problems of his own. Hitting the bottle as a result of his father’s death, his urge to succeed causes him to invest in the researches of Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist working on energy through atomic fusion. But the experiment goes wrong and Octavius becomes Dr Octopus, with four deadly metal tentacles attached to himself. Only Spider-Man can save the day, but has he given up fighting crime for good?
Although most of the cast and crew from the first film are back on board for this sequel, there are some interesting newcomers. Main screenwriter Alvin Sargent is mostly known for such down-to-earth character-led films such as Julia and Ordinary People rather than big-budget fantasy (although he did do some rewrites on the first film). Another one is Michael Chabon, who gets a story credit. Chabon may be a Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist, but he knows his comics and pulp fiction quite thoroughly, as a read of his novels (such as Wonder Boys, less so the film version) will make clear. This combination of talents might have something to do with the fact that Spider-Man 2 is much more character-driven than your average fantasy blockbuster. Some half a dozen major characters have their inner conflicts. Even Dr Octopus is far from the one-dimensional evil mastermind he could have been. And at the heart of the film is the Peter/Mary Jane/John love triangle, which will be presumably further developed in the third film.
That’s not to say that director Sam Raimi doesn’t deliver when it comes to the action setpieces. Early on, there’s a terrific sequence where Spider-Man battles Doc Ock inside, outside and up the side of a bank, while rescuing Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) as she hangs on with just an umbrella. This is matched by a fight on top of a train in the latter stages. Tobey Maguire, vitally, makes us care for Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst is equally affecting as Mary Jane. Supporting performances are all good, including brief reappearances from Cliff Robertson and Willem Dafoe, whose characters died in the first film, and cameos from Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell. There are a couple of good jokes too, such as a scene where Spider-Man’s costume is mistaken for fancy dress, and a busker’s tuneless manglings of the Spider-Man theme song. All in all, Spider-Man 2 repeats what the first film did well, and improves on it. It’s a bigger, more polished sequel and bodes well for the third in the series, which will presumably come our way in another couple of years.