Spider-Man 2 Nearly Flawless, Almost Perfect

There was a time when it was automatically assumed that a sequel would not be as good as the original, nor as profitable. Not any more.
There was a time when it was automatically assumed that a sequel would not be as good as the original, nor as profitable. But under the excellent supervision by Directors Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer, such self-defeating attitudes have been relegated to the trash can. Now we can add Sam Raimi's name to that list.

Spider-Man 2 is every bit as good as the first film, and manages to improve upon the few things that the original had trouble with (namely, villains and special effects). In addition to being a worthy successor to Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 is a very good film that works on its own merits.

Picking up two years from where the first film left off, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are still dancing around their (but mostly his) unspoken feelings for one another. Peter's trying to juggle a love life, a school schedule, a part-time job, rent payments, a strained friendship with Harry and still find time to look after Aunt May. The guilt he feels for Uncle Ben’s death, his culpability in bringing The Green Goblin to justice, and its impact on his relationship with Harry, has proven too stressful to handle. Something’s gotta give, and Peter decides its time to retire Spider-Man and live his life wholly as Peter Parker. To that end, he ditches his Spider-Man costume in a trash can and turns his back on his alter-ego. Then along comes Dr. Otto Octavius, and Peter is forced back into becoming Spider-Man once again.

Director Sam Raimi has done an excellent job juggling all the complexities of pulling together a film of this magnitude. Raimi doesn't try to top Spider-Man by infusing Spider-Man 2 with more action, more explosions and more special effects than its predecessor. Instead, he lays on the interpersonal conflicts so thickly that, at times, it feels like we’re just about to wander into The O.C. territory. But just as I’m about ready to look at my watch, Raimi senses the audience is getting restless and, in turn, gives us an action sequence. He paces the film well, interweaving plot and character development with action and special effects sequences, giving the story room to grow and the actors time to breathe and develop their characters.

Alfred Molina, as Doc Octopus, is the highlight of the film. Raimi, and the script, give him dimension and personality. He’s not a maniacal, one-note villain such as Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face in Batman Forever. Unlike, say, George Lucas, Raimi never allows his actors to be overwhelmed by the technology of the film to the point where they can’t deliver solid performances. If I had any complaint about Doc Ock it would be that we don't get enough of him. Sometimes less is more, and I suppose Raimi would rather leave the audience wanting more than have a villain outstay its welcome, or, in the case of the Batman series, see the film end up being hijacked by runaway villains.

One of the immediate and most obvious improvements in the film is the villain. Spider-Man made the mistake of putting a wonderful actor behind an inflexible mask just when the character needed him the most; but not in this movie. Here, Alfred Molina is allowed to fully realize what Stan Lee could only imagine when first creating Doc Ock. Doctor Octopus literally comes alive from the comic book onto the big screen in a way so few other characters have ever been able to do. J.K. Simmons is even better this time around as J. Jonah Jameson, and the story gives him more to do than simply rant and rave inside the Daily Bugle office.

Perhaps more than anything, the love Sam Raimi has for this character, and his world, is what impresses me most, and you see it in the way Raimi utilizes supporting characters. The fans will recognize Jameson’s son and Dr. Curtis Connors, as the groundwork for their return as villains seems to have been laid. There’s already so much character and back-story developed in Spider-Man 2, that Spider-Man 3 could take many different directions. Raimi embraces the comic book origins of Spider-Man, rather than shunning it (see Catwoman this summer).

The only bad news to come out of the movie is that we're going to have to wait three years for the next installment. And I’m a little leery of James Franco being given chief villain responsibilities in the next film (if that's indeed what Raimi has in mind). Perhaps teaming him up with Black Cat (we could always use a female villain) would take some of the burden off Franco. It's not that I don't think he can act, but it's that I don't want to see the exact same performance and character from the first film brought back for the third film. However, I don’t believe that will happen. After two enormously successful films in terms of both box office and critical reception, Raimi will have far too much power, and integrity, to let anything ridiculous go wrong with the series.

Overall, I thought the film got slightly talky at times and perhaps just a little preachy, but it's forgivable, and because the film moves so well, and so quickly, you might not even register it. Raimi is proud to draw from the wealth of comic book history that is a part of Spider-Man's legacy, and, as a result, has rewarded fans with a very tight, almost flawless film.
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Comic Book Movie