Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is easily one of the most unlikeable protagonist characters in comic book film history. Not unliked by fans, fans somehow love this quote unquote underdog (Tobey’s fans are his biggest supporters that frankly will die on that hill no matter how many better actors portray the role), but by other character’s that appear in 2 films and possibly director Sam Raimi – who returned to direct after the first film. Peter’s employers think he is lazy, laughing at the mere mention of Peter trying to keep his head above water, college aged students step over him, bump into him while Peter is late for class after falling to the ground, Peter’s so-called best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) doesn’t stop blaming Peter for not turning “the bug” in for the death of his father (like he was close to his father to begin with), and Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst) strings Peter along like some lost puppy – toying with his heart.
Seriously, Sam Raimi’s version of Peter Parker is a laughingstock, a punching bag, constantly being made the butt of the joke, the loser who can’t keep a job or pay rent for that astonishingly small apartment, the disappointment to his friends and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). Maybe the title should be Spider-Man 2: Punching Bag. It suits him. When Peter Parker isn’t being mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, his alter ego Spider-Man is being idolized by the young and the elderly and fetishized by women who only see him for the tight spandex he wears to fight crime.
Picking up right where they left off with a fairly similar story, nearly identical to the first film with its structure. The only difference is Peter already has his powers – super strength, spider-sense, and organic web shooters. How does the web shot from his wrist? Are there tiny holes large enough for the shooters or is the thwip that powerful to break through the fabric and not disrupt the integrity of the suit? Rant aside, Spider-Man 2 follows its predecessor with its plot. The boy does everything to impress the girl, the villain who is like a father figure to Peter who also teaches him a life lesson, It’s all right there clear as day but with a different villain. It’s like that one kid in a group who didn’t do any of the work but still gets an A+.
But regardless of its similarities, and there are a lot, Spider-Man 2 has Peter in college studying Physics and failing at it, Mary-Jane is on Broadway, and Harry is the head of Oscorp funding scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) on the brink of achieving clean energy through a fusion reaction. Aunt May sells her home while J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) is still out to make Spider-Man a public menace despite everyone at the Daily Bugle telling him otherwise.
And still with all the personal growth Sam Raimi’s characters have achieved, Peter and Mary-Jane have zero chemistry together, barely able to speak their minds to one another without Peter saying, “Oh Boy Yeah” and having MJ repeat it only for the two to look awkwardly away and bottle up their feelings even more. Is it just me or does every performance aside from Molina sound flat in their deliveries? Alvin Sargent’s script barely comes to life with nearly every actor and actress sounding robotic. There’s no energy to be found outside of the action, which is elevated from the first. One thing this film has going for it is the action sequences between Doc Ock and Spider-Man. High flying/falling off buildings to a bank sequence that finally has Spider-Man sound a bit sarcastic to an adrenaline pumping train sequence that is one of the most iconic sequences in comic book film history.
The good news is if you didn’t see Spider-Man before watching this, the opening credits do a wonderful job recounting the story, the bad news is you missed out on the better film of the two. Go back and watch the first to get the emotion and see how it all began with Spider-Man’s origin.
Reading this, it sounds like I dislike Spider-Man 2 – quite the opposite, I enjoy this movie, Tobey was my introduction to the character as a teenager, but the writing of the character is too big an issue to simply ignore. Just because I like this film doesn’t mean I can’t point out its glaring flaws. Watching Tobey and Kirsten together is uninspiring again, you’d think in their second film together there’d be some spark (that’s not what love is). But the one thing the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies get right is traced back to Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s the centralized theme that Raimi chose to focus on and frankly he nails it. Tobey’s Peter fully understands his power and the consequences that come with having the responsibility. The weight thrust upon his shoulders to bare can only crush him for so long.
Despite the weak writing, the flaws in character, the lack of chemistry between anyone, how the character is viewed by others in the universe (a doormat is liked more than Peter), we (as the viewer) still root for Peter (I don’t not after seeing how his character is treated among others). Maybe it’s more sympathetic than actual believing in him – who knows.
Still, Spider-Man 2 has many endearing qualities – action sequences, Bill Pope’s cinematography, visual effects that are well done and hold up years later for the most part, and Danny Elfman’s legendary score. Possibly the best piece of music in a comic book property is the theme.
Spider-Man 2 is a film I feel a lot of fans watch with rose colored glasses – willing to ignore the flaws or the constant change in tone to an indie horror movie because of what it meant to them at the time of release. At the time it’s the best comic book movie made even with Tim Burton’s Batman or Christopher Reeves Superman. But I implore you to really watch this film with the glasses off – it’s not as bulletproof as you may remember. It’s not bad but it’s not deserving of the top spot either.
If available – watch the director’s cut titled Spider-Man 2.1.
Written By: Alvin Sargent
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Music By: Danny Elfman
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy
Release Date: June 30, 2004
Running Time: 2 Hours 7 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
My Score: 3.5 out of 5
Based On: Spider-Man by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko