Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery0
Spider-Man 2 – A Movie Flashback
Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest comic book movies of all time. There. I said it. I know Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spidey films has its detractors, and certainly when it comes to the third film in the series, they may have a point. But this, the second movie, is a simply fantastic slice of arachnid action.
With the origin story already told, Spider-Man 2 can simply get straight down business, opening with a fun sequence of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) struggling with a pizza delivery job and using his powers to try and make sure he keeps the job. Naturally, this being Peter Parker, the unluckiest superhero of them all, he fails, and is promptly fired. And that’s what this film gets so right. The Parker Luck. From the very beginning days of the comic, Stan Lee had Peter struggle to balance his two lives, leading to problems in both of them, with Spider-Man getting in the way of Peter’s life and vice versa. This dichotomy provides the starting point for Spider-Man 2, and leads to some classic moments ripped right from the pages of the comic, including a recreation of the iconic image from Amazing Spider-Man #50, dramatically titled Spider-Man No More, in which Peter walks away from his responsibilities as Spidey, leaving his costume behind him in a dustbin. Maguire sells the torn, conflicted Spidey wonderfully, and if this time around his Spider-Man is a little short on quips, that’s hardly his fault.
Of course, it isn’t too long before Peter realises that he can’t stop being Spider-Man. It’s simply a part of who he is, and besides, someone has to fight the film’s big bad, one Doctor Otto Octavius, better known as Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). Dock Ock is a huge reason why this film works as well as it does. Played wonderfully by Molina, the Ock of the film is one of the most tragic and nuanced supervillains ever brought to the screen. His portrayal as a gifted scientist who loses everything because of his own hubris, and ends up disfigured and twisted, both physically and mentally, is brilliant. The first film had a fun, cackling, dangerous bad guy in Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin (who returns for a cameo here), but Doctor Octopus is simply leaps and bounds ahead of him. Spider-Man 2 is as much about the downfall and eventual redemption of Octavius as it is about Peter Parker trying to balance both sides of his life.
But what of the supporting players. Well, unfortunately, one of them is very much where the film falls down, but we’ll get to her in a moment. James Franco gets more to do this time out as Harry Osborn, still trying to be Peter’s friend, but driven by revenge against Spider-Man, who he blames for his father’s death. Harry’s eventual destiny as Green Goblin mark II is hinted at here, and he plays a man trying to do right, but also beginning to fall apart, brilliantly. Rosemary Harris returns as Aunt May, pretty much doing exactly what she did in the first film and making it work, though also clearly having a blast in the scene where Ock takes her hostage during a fight with Spidey. As with last time out though, it’s very much J.K. Simmons who steals the show as J. Jonah Jameson. The writers (including famed novelist Michael Chabon) wisely choose to expand JJ’s role, giving Simmons more screen time and bringing the lion’s share of the laughs. Finally, while only a brief role, Donna Murphy shines as Otto’s wife, Rosie, whose tragic fate sets Otto on the path to supervillainy.
Unfortunately, we are once again lumbered with a wet and annoying portrayal of Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). It’s still unclear if the blame can be laid at Dunst’s door, or if it’s the fault of the writers, who simply don’t know what to do with the character other than stick her in the worn damsel in distress routine. MJ is still a far cry from the confident, party loving lady of the comics, and very much brings the film down from being almost perfect to being simply excellent. However, she is the only weak point in an otherwise stellar cast.
The effects are much improved from the first film, with only one or two moments of slightly dodgy CGI (though these are still a huge step up from any of the dodgier moments in the first film). Spidey and Ock are completely believable during their confrontations, which includes the amazing fight scene which starts at a top of the clock tower, and then takes in a high-speed train hurtling through Manhattan. It’s a fantastic, action packed sequence which shows us exactly what can be done with Spider-Man on screen when he’s done well. The Amazing Spider-Man is going to have to play a blinder with its action scenes if it’s going to top this.
There’s also more Raimi in this movie than in the previous outing. His brother and his car are still present and correct, as is Bruce Campbell in a delightful cameo as a theatre usher, but there’s also more of the frenetic editing and crash zooms that you would expect of his horror output. Witness the scene where a team of surgeons become the first hapless victims of Doc Ock’s tentacles, all while Ock lies unconscious on an operating table. It’s reminiscent of Raimi’s work on Evil Dead, and actually manages to bring a touch of horror to the superhero film. You can only wonder what Raimi could’ve done if he’d been allowed to make Spider-Man 4 with his choice of villain, one Michael Morbius, the living vampire.
For the purposes of this column, I watched the 2.1 Director’s Cut version of the film, but to be honest, there isn’t really much to choose between the two. You get a little more Jonah in the 2.1 version, and a slightly expanded role for a pre Death Proof Vanessa Ferlito, but this also means more MJ, as well as an alternate take of the scene with Spidey and the businessman in the lift which isn’t as funny as the theatrical version. Still, whichever version you watch, Spider-Man 2 is a fantastic film. It doesn’t quite reach the highs of X2, and it isn’t as much fun as Captain America, but it’s definitely up there with the best. Just a shame the rot would set in big time in the threequel, which we’ll look at next time out. Joy. Now, I’ll just sit back and await the backlash…
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Spider-Man 2
4 X-Men: First Class
7. Iron Man
9. The Incredible Hulk
11. Iron Man 2
13. X-Men: The Last Stand
14. Ghost Rider
15. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Recommended Reading – Spider-Island
The problem with picking a Spider-Man story to recommend is that there are so many good ones out there. I toyed with the classic storyline from the Stan Lee / John Romita days which took in Amazing Spider-Man #50, so much a touchstone for Spider-Man 2, but decided you’d probably end up getting there yourself if you took last weeks advice. I considered David Michelinie’s classic run of Hobgoblin stories, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, The Birth of Venom, as well as the storyline I’m going to be recommending next week (which properly demonstrates how you take Spidey dark). But, in the end, I went with this more recent offering. Writer Dan Slott is currently doing fantastic work on Amazing Spider-Man, and this storyline, in which every single person in Manhattan suddenly gets Spider-Powers, is a fantastic jumping on point. Guest starring just about everybody in the Marvel universe, with a starring role for the new Venom, Spider-Island is simply an incredibly fun story, with a couple of neat twists and an ending which is both epic and a high. Slott is ably assisted by Humberto Ramos, perfectly suited to this type of bright, colourful, action-packed storyline, on art chores, and the two combine to bring us a modern classic. Check this story out, then stick with Slott as he continues crafting superb Spidey stories every fortnight.
Next week, Spider-Man 3.