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The Marvel Movies: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

by on June 22, 2011
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The sequel to 2002’s landmark “Spider-Man” starts with Spider-Man frantically web-slinging through the city, racing against time … to deliver pizza.

It’s a simple sequence that puts a stamp on the rest of the movie and perfectly introduces this film’s central idea: While being a superhero is pretty cool, it sucks if you want to have any kind of real life. Peter is finding life as the wall-crawler difficult to manage; the demands of saving the city, breaking up bank robberies and muggings, keeping kids out of the paths of moving trucks and stopping super-villains from destroying / taking over the city puts some kind of cramp in holding down a job, going to college and maintaining relationships with the people you love.

But it also captures the thrilling essence of being Spidey and it was, as moviegoers and fans, our best look at Spider-Man fully realized and in action on the big screen. It was exciting, funny and marvelous, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.

This time around, Peter (Tobey Maguire) finds himself tiring of being Spider-Man, considering he can’t keep a job, get to Mary Jane Watson’s (Kirsten Dunst) latest play or write papers on guys like Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina).

Soon his anxiety starts manifesting itself by his powers coming and going, Peter decides neither he nor the city really needs Spider-Man and he gives it up. Then an accident leads to four mechanical arms being melded to Octavius’ body, and a new villain is born: Dr. Octopus.

The Spider-Sequel, as many superhero sequels have been, is freed from the constraints of the origin story, allowing director Sam Raimi to stretch his characters, flesh them out more and connect the powers and action sequences to the character arcs, as well as explore the nature of a hero, showing us that heroism isn’t all wine and roses and requires sacrifice.

And the action sequences are to date among the most thrilling in any superhero film, with Spider-Man and Doc Ock fighting in  mid-air, tumbling toward the pavement below, Spidey staving off six arms instead of just two. Ock is a different-enough villain than the previous film’s Green Goblin to keep things fresh without deviating too much from the initial setup.

An extended battle through the city that ends with Ock and Spidey fighting on top of an elevated train is the film’s centerpiece, a fantastic fight scene that ends with the train out of control, only Spider-Man able to keep it from plummeting 30 feet to the ground below. It ends with an emotional beat, a fantastic show of trust and a parody of the “You gotta go through me” sequence from the first film.

These columns, though, are as much about revisiting these films as much as visiting them, so I have to mention watching this film in the context of seeing it in 2011, after the disastrously bad third go-round. Many of the flaws of the third film are evident in the first two and, perhaps for the first time in a franchise, the flaws carry backward to expose flaws we initially may have missed.

As in the first film, the movie is plagued by bad editing and dialogue, most notably in the scene where Peter and Octavius share coffee and good times. The dialogue is rife with generalizations that scream “movie banter” (“We met on the college steps,” “I was trying to explain the theory of relativity, and she was trying to explain T.S. Eliot,” “T.S. Eliot is more complicated than advanced science!”)

The Harry/Peter arc continues to be hit or miss. Harry blames Spider-Man for killing his father and resents Peter for profiting from Spider-Man pictures. There is a great moment where Spider-Man saves Harry from being injured or perhaps killed by flying debris, only for Harry to look at him and say, “This doesn’t change anything,” then takes on a comic-book villain tone when, afterward, he says, “He humiliated me by touching me.”

There are also smaller touches that were unnecessarily sappy, like Spidey lecturing a couple of kids he pulled out of the street, the return of street singers crooning the ’60s-era Spider-Man cartoon theme song and smitten women-on-the-street shouting “Go Spidey, go!”

Raimi does makes good use of his conventions, most notably where Ock’s arms spring to life in a hospital in a scene that calls back to Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies and bringing back Bruce Campbell to again antagonize Spider-Man. (In the first film, he was the ring announcer for Spidey’s foray into pro wrestling; this time, he’s a snooty theater usher. A particularly clever Internet rumor had him pegged as the illusionist villain Mysterio in the third film; alas, he was merely a French maitre ‘d.)

He also pokes fun at Maguire himself. The film flogs Peter Parker incessantly and Maguire lampoons himself. When a back injury threatened to force Maguire to pass on this sequel, Jake Gyllenhaal was set to step in for him. In the film, Spidey leaps from a building in an effort to re-harness his powers, shouts “I’m back! I’m back!” only to plummet back to the ground, smash a wall and bounce off a car, standing gingerly and saying “My back! My back!” It’s a silly, but fun, moment of self-awareness.

But all told, “Spider-Man 2” builds on the good will of the first film by delivering in spades and, (tiny) warts and all, “Spider-Man 2” remains one of the more memorable, fun and delightful superhero movies made to date.

Next Time: Blade is back, and this time he…sucks!

Previous Marvel Movie Entries

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade (1998)
X-Men (2000)
Blade II (2002)
Spider-Man (2002)
Daredevil (2003)
X2: X-Men United (2003)
Hulk (2003)

The Punisher (2004)