It may be rated PG-13, but Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” is no kiddie picture. Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your kids to see the further adventures of Spidey (Tobey Maguire) as he once again defies gravity, common sense, and a host of other improbabilities. And seeing the blue and red suit on the big screen will no doubt make your kids rise up and clap like Michael Moore at the prospect of the Oscars instituting an all-you-can-eat buffet in the upcoming Academy Awards. Even so, be aware that your kids are liable to keep asking you when the film is gonna be over. Then again, who cares what kids think.
“Spider-Man 2” returns the entire (surviving) cast from, with Maguire once again donning the mask, Kirsten Dunst (“Bring it On”) as aspiring (and now successful) actress Mary Jane, James Franco as revenge-minded Harry Osborn, and Rosemary Harris as the indomitable Aunt May. This time around Spider-Man has to contend with the menace of the multi-metal “armed” Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) as well as his own humanity — and all the weakness that comes with it. As his life falls apart and nothing seems to be going right, Peter Parker begins to lose his will to be a hero.
It probably comes as no surprise (since the trailers have already spoiled it) that Peter eventually gives up being Spider-Man at some point in the movie. For adults, or at least anyone over 15, Peter’s very personal struggles with his angst-filled life makes for an excellent sequel to the Origins Story of the first film. It’s also no shock that Peter eventually rediscovers Spider-Man because, as a cameo by the deceased Uncle Ben points out, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
For genre fans, “Spider-man 2” will most definitely feel like the “Empire Strikes Back” to “Star Wars”. The sequel is not only more adult in theme than the first, but there’s almost no introduction to the characters. In lieu of a recap, Raimi and company employs artwork during the opening sequence. I don’t know who was commissioned to do the art, but the style and the feeling they engender reminds this ex-comic book geek of one Alex Ross.
One of the reasons why there’s a distinct feel of unbroken continuity between the first and the sequel is the return of Sam Raimi as director. Like Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, if you were to view “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” one after another, you would never know that they were made 2 years apart. Aside from maintaining creative flow, Raimi pulls one of his favorite gags involving his muse (or is that victim?) Bruce Campbell. As well, fans of Raimi and Campbell’s “Evil Dead” pictures will get a kick out of the operating room scene where Doc Ock reawakens as a villain. Can you say, “‘Evil Dead’ returns in style!”? Hell, Raimi even throws in a chainsaw for us real fans. Now that’s fan love, baby!
Is “Spider-Man 2” better than the original? It just might be, even though one must always give the original props for, well, being first. As a continuation of the story, “Spider-Man 2” will definitely carry the “Empire Strikes Back” feel for those who knows what that means. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the years to come, and after many sequels have come and gone and disappointed, that “Spider-Man 2” is the film most fans will consider to be the best of the franchise. It has everything one wants in a Spider-Man movie: action, romance, fantasy, and a massive helping of angst. And what makes all the angst worthwhile is that they’re all justified.
Of course all of this isn’t to say that “Spider-Man 2” is boiling over with angst. In a lot of ways it’s a very funny movie, with some very inspired comedy bits, including one where Peter makes a leap of faith between two buildings.
Although it’s been a decade or so since my last Spider-Man comic book, there are a number of cameos in “Spider-Man 2” just for comic fans. Dylan Baker gets the Harvey Dent treatment, playing Peter’s one-arm professor, Curt Connors. (Let’s just hope the powers that be don’t decide, willy nilly, to change Connors’ ethnicity.) Also, as he continues his neverending quest to avenge his father’s death, young Osborn makes a discovery that will no doubt lead to his masked return in a later sequel.
As just a comic book movie, “Spider-Man 2” also delivers. Doc Ock and his indestructible tentacles are presented by way of seamless CGI, and there is enough superhero action to remind people that it is, after all, a superhero comic book turned into a movie. That said, the mano-a-mano confrontation between the webslinger and Ock on a moving train will no doubt be the film’s main highlight. But even though it definitely meets — and in many respects surpasses — the standards set by the original, it’s to the credit of the director, actors, and writers that I found “Spider-Man 2” to be most intriguing when Peter Parker is onscreen.
And hey, for an old guy Stan Lee sure can still move, huh?
Sam Raimi (director) / Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon, Alvin Sargent (screenplay)
CAST: Tobey Maguire …. Spider-Man/Peter Parker
Kirsten Dunst …. Mary Jane Watson
James Franco …. Harry Osborn
Alfred Molina …. Doc Ock/Dr. Otto Octavius
Rosemary Harris …. May Parker
J.K. Simmons …. J. Jonah Jameson
Donna Murphy …. Rosalie Octavius
Daniel Gillies …. John Jameson
Dylan Baker …. Dr. Curt Connors