Movie Review
Spider Man 2
2004
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina
B+


who knew being a superhero could be so rough?

Yes, okay, we are all aware of the constant battle to protect good from evil. How exhausting that unrelenting pressure must be: to take up arms against a seemingly endless freak show of demented villains forever bent on destroying both you and the earth, if not the entire universe. And sure, we know about all of that "great responsibility" that comes with great superhero power. We have long been aware that a true hero can never truly rest, for trouble lies around every corner. It can't be easy.

Yet for most of those heroes, we also imagine there's a certain confidence. If you do the right thing, put your special powers to full use, and never let up, things work out in the end. It's all good, not only in terms of the world's continued existence, but also when it comes to the superhero's mental well-being and self-esteem.


"Now that's what I call, 'hopping a train'! Ha ha ha! Get it? Why is nobody laughing?"


But for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in Spider Man 2, life is not all good. In fact, whether as an average human, or as superhero Spider Man, life sucks, big time. He's poor, living in a nasty apartment, and he just lost his job delivering pizza. He's failing his college classes, he's forever tired, his jerk of a best friend distrusts him, his beloved Aunt's home is being foreclosed on, and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), the girl he loves but cannot tell, is marrying an astronaut. How's that for a kick in the red unitard?

Worse still, the amazing Spidey power that allows Peter to shoot super strong webbing from his hands, enabling the friendly neighborhood Spider Man to swing about the city and protect us from harm, has begun to fail him on occasion. This superhero performance anxiety has left Peter limp with worry and regret. We wonder if being Spider Man is more trouble than it’s worth for Peter. And his habit of constantly shooting himself in the foot and then sticking that foot in his mouth doesn't help. If the filmmakers wanted to add a subtitle to their movie posters they could easily have gone withSpider Man 2: Curb Your Enthusiasm .

But that is not to say the movie is a downer. In fact, it is more engaging and enjoyable than any comic-inspired movie in the last 15 years. Along the spectrum of the-little-guy-suffers-nobly, this one falls closer to Rocky than to the Book of Job. And that means Spider Man 2 ought to be a good time for all kinds of viewers: those with bronze busts of Stan Lee on their mantle and those who don't know a Green Goblin from a Green Lantern.


"Et tu, Brutus?"


Spider Man 2 is a tight movie. It hits the right notes at the right times and is as good as any comic book movie could aspire to be. Why? It captures the comic book sensibility spot on, from its quirky feel, bright colors, and brisk, but never hyperactive, momentum. Its villain is interesting and complex. Alfred Molina is Doc Ock, a once brilliant scientist held prisoner by a quartet of unstoppable and evil robotic arms. And director Sam Raimi—whose Evil Dead resume is apparent in a handful of truly dark and twisted scenes—knows exactly when to play against convention, and when to embrace it wholeheartedly. Its action scenes are well-paced and exciting, but never gratuitous or overlong. In recent years we've learned that great computer graphics alone do not impress; they have to serve the story and its characters. And in under two hours Spider Man 2 has more visceral thrills than both the last two Matrix installments. The great last action sequence here is relatively short; there is no drawn out grand finale for finale's sake.

The first Spider Man was fun, but was weighed down with both a basic, bland exposition, and a chintzy villain. But this film is truly a sequel rather than a retread, and thus we get to the marrow of Parker's struggles. At the forefront are the everyday human guy problems, not the kind that involve monsters. How does he relate with Mary Jane? Why is he Spider Man, and what does it mean to be a hero? How does Peter balance his own needs with those of the community? We actually get the opportunity to think about capital-letter subjects like Love, Identity, and Purpose. To be sure, they're couched in a friendly comic book setting. But it allows us to connect with the story rather than simply watch it. More than its look or sense of cool, Spider Man 2 succeeds because of its humanism. A description might start with, "This is a story about a guy, " and end with a kiss that he shares with the girl he loves.



By: Rob Lott
Published on: 2004-07-02
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