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Spider-Man 2
2004 - PG-13 (for stylized action violence) - 120 Mins.
Director: Sam Raimi
Producer: Joseph M. Caracciolo, Stan Lee
Written By: Alvin Sargent
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Brooke Adams, Dylan Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Bruce Campbell, Daniel Gillies, Donna Murphy, Vanessa Ferlito, Ted Raimi
Review by: Joseph Kastner
   
You would think a sequel to one of the highest grossing films of all time (sixth on the list once 'Shrek 2' swings past it sometime this summer) would have an easier road to completion but what kind of challenge would that be for the Amazing Spider-Man? As the original film was raking in nearly $115 million on its opening weekend and smashing box office records, the ink was drying on the deal to develop two sequels. Unfortunately production for the sequel didn’t start off on the right foot with Tobey Maguire, fresh off his new horse-racing drama, 'Seabiscuit', holding up the film’s start date due to complaints about back problems. It didn’t take long for the rumors to start churning out webslinger possible replacements, including Kirsten Dunst's boyfriend, Jake Gyllenhaal. But Tobey bounced back and in a small way, though inadvertently, he demonstrated one of the film’s prominent themes.

The story picks up several months after the last film, with Peter Parker balancing his personal life and the life of New York’s favorite web crawler, Spider-Man. No one said the life of a superhero was going to be easy, though no one said it was going to be quite this hard either. Peter Parker tries as hard as he can to live a normal life but every time he’s handed the opportunity to keep his promises, whether it be showing up to Mary Jane’s performances, performing his job correctly or paying the rent, the role of Spider-Man gets in the way, thus allowing friends and family to suffer. As Peter does all he can to balance his two lives, those in the real world are moving on with theirs …

Mary Jane, tired of waiting for Peter to admit his true feelings for her, plans instead to marry the son of J.J. Jameson, a handsome and successful astronaut. Aunt May, struggling after the death of her husband, falls behind on her house payments and faces eviction from the bank if the late payments aren't met. Even his best friend, Harry Osborne, has moved on and taken over operations at Oscorp … but the anger left by the death of his father at the hands of Spider-Man still remains and threatens to push him over the edge.

The family business is all that keeps Harry sane and he has big plans for Dr. Otto Octavius’ new device to create and control fusion power, which, in essence, puts the power of the stars in the hands of mankind. But in a freak accident which results in the death of Octavius’ wife and the fusion of the mechanical arms to his spine, Octavius goes on a rampage to finish his work, possibly taking half the city with him if he fails again. Just as he is beginning to enjoy the retirement he has taken from the superhero life, Peter Parker must again put on the suit and fulfill the promise he made to protect the innocent and bring justice to those who deserve it.

The story for 'Spider-Man 2' is without a doubt one of the best comic-book adaptations ever put on screen and excels beyond the expectations set not only by the original but every comic-book franchise that has come before it, including that of the winged one himself, Batman. That said, the storyline does have a few flaws. Among them, the entire discussion of fusion power between Doctor Otto Octavius and Peter Parker is unnecessarily complex with lots of strange and pseudo-scientific jargon.

There are moments in the film that seem to drag on but they are easily forgiveable. Odd, random shots of normal civilians end up being annoyingly intrusive. One specific scene when Spider-Man (costume and all) makes his first appearance, a woman shouts, “You go, Spidey!” - it ends up being a cheap laugh that could have been left out, along with several long focus shots of people screaming and running in terror. Not that they weren’t needed but it was the amount of time Raimi wasted on them which in turn slowed the film down.

Special effects are also uneven. A sequence where Spider-Man swings between two helicopters over the rooftops of Manhattan on his way to another crime scene is quite possibly one of the worse computer animated sequences presented this year and is a severe disappointment compared to the previous film. The problem is that the computer graphics are way too obvious and ends the film on quite a sour note considering most of the effects were spectacular.

Most of the cast from the original film are back for another go-around and there is substantial improvement in their performances from the last time we saw them. One performance that doesn't disappoint is Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The non-superhero side of the character appears to get more screen time then in the original which isn’t a bad thing. Maguire is given a lot more room to demonstrate emotionally what the character of Peter Parker is going through; at one end attempting to fulfill the promise he made to his Uncle Ben in the role of Spider-Man while at the same time trying to lead the life of a normal human being. Kirsten Dunst, returning to the role of Mary Jane Watson, gives another wonderful performance by maintaining the “girl next door” charm she had in the original film but at the same time demonstrating a character that is desperately yearning for something more. Mary Jane is not another dimwitted damsel in distress as the connection between Spider-Man and Peter Parker slowly begins to develop in her mind.

It’s hard to say who’s the better villain, the Green Goblin (who could forget that terrible costume) or Doc Ock, but even if Doctor Octavius’ performance wasn’t quite what everyone may have wanted it to be, Alfred Molina fits the role.

The only truly bad mark out of the entire cast is James Franco, who drops the ball with his over the top and, at times, flat-out ridiculous performances as Harry Osborne. And just when you thought he was gone for good … don’t miss the quick and clever cameo of William Dafoe as Norman Osborne, which, in turn, hints at the possible villain for the third film.

'Spider-Man 2's emotionally driven messages of self-sacrifice and heroism are what truly set this one apart. Where the first film hammers the idea that even the most unlikely of individuals can be heroes, the sequel drills home the belief that there is a hero in every one of us - an especially poignant message in this post-9/11 world.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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