By Chris Campo
Continuing the Spider-Man reviews leading up to his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, here is the sequel to the smash hit Spider-Man, appropriately titled Spider-Man 2. To some, it's one of the best superhero movies of all time, and rightfully so. This movie is spectacular. Not only does it perfectly capture the fun comic book roots of its sorce material, but it also respects its characters to move past what comic book films are today, a whole decade before they were so huge. While my nostalgia puts the original Spider-Man in my all time personal favorite films, Spider-Man 2 is simply one of the very best comic book films we have, nostalgic or not. It may not be a perfect movie, but it is the perfect Spider-Man movie, and that's a damn good thing. This review will contain spoilers, so if you have not seen Spider-Man 2, please, for the love if god, treat yourself to it, then come back.
The film follows Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) and his constant battle of balancing being a superhero and a regular guy. Down on his luck with the love of his life Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and loosing the trust of his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter is faced with who he really is. Despite considering stopping, he still has to be our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist and mentor of Peter, believes he has an invention to change the world, but when his experiment takes a turn for the worst, his four mechanical arms gain their own consciousness and assist Octavius, now Doctor Octopus, to finish his work, no matter who, or what, gets in the way.
The best thing about Spider-Man 2, other than everything, is its focus on its characters. The film finds Peter Parker losing his powers, his friends and his job, he's slipping in his classes, he's dirt-broke and the poor guy even forgets his own birthday. The script puts away a lot of time to build Peter and his relationships with the vast character list in this film. The emotional edge to this film isn't like most comic book movies where you get an emotional scene here and there (including most Spider-Man films), it's the whole thing that's emotional. Its almost a straight drama, and this choice was very wise. No other comic book movie will allow you to get this close to it's main character. Its a sequel that has the character go through an actual arc, not just another adventure.
The film isn't called Peter Parker 2 though, it's called Spider-Man 2, and the Spider-Man scenes, including everything from his flipping to his swinging, are breathtaking. Spider-Man is established almost instantly in the hilarious pizza delivery scene, and every action scene tops the next. The car chase, the bank heist and the train scene. That train scene is the best action scene in a Spider-Man film, and it's one of my favorite action scenes of all time. It's always moving (literally) and the variety of thrills keeps the legnthy scene fresh, all the way up unil the extremely tense and emotional finale.
As for the villain this time around, it's Doctor Octopus, and he may just top the Green Goblin. His motivation is clear and present, and his look is insanely cool. The character is even responsible for one of the most memorable scenes of the whole trilogy, the terrifying hospital scene. As well as that, he's given a believable relationship with Peter and his origin sets up Oscorp, doing it better in a subplot than the Amazing Spider-Man did in two films. He's damn near everything you want in a villain The final set peice is emotional as hell and the stakes are notably higher than in the first film, but it's still about the characters. It's a heart-stopping sequence and Octavius' death is extremely satisfying, resulting in a fantastic finale.
Speaking of the finale, that's where we finally get a payoff to Mary Jane's subplot. Here, she finds out Peter is Spider-Man. It's one of my favourite scenes in the whole film, although I do think a lot of the Mary Jane plot isnt all that great. The character is much more interesting this time around, but there's still a few aspects of her that I couldn't latch onto, especially the plots involving her marriage and job. It's all necessary for setting up the finale, and her inevitable relationship with Peter, but it drags down the film a tad. However, I would certainly take this over damsel in distress any day of the week.
Even Harry Osborn is given a lot more to of this time around. He has a grudge against both Spider-Man and Peter and while it's a fun subplot, it ultimately is responsible for the film's greatest sin: setting up Spider-Man 3. The arc should've ended when Osborn finds out that Parker is Spidey, and I guess the series should've ended at this film as well. I can't really hold a grudge though, setting up a bad sequel doesn't take away from how great this film is.
The humor is Spider-Man 2 is a highlight. It's subtle, with so many little moments making me laugh so hard, like when the only two things in his closet are a business suit and his Spider-Man suit. Also, the big comedic bits are great, the elevator scene being the funniest scene in the whole series. And goddamn, J. Jonah Jameson is even better here than he is in the first film. I always forget just how good his lines are. He says so many outlandish things, and every time he's on screen I get more excited than I probably should.
Another person that absolutely needs mentioning is Sam Raimi, as his style is all over this film, just like white on rice. His style and direction can really be felt here, even more so than the original. He feels so confident with everything, especially the tone, and almost every decision on his part works. He's brilliant behind the camera and his talents shine. This film wouldn't be what is is without him, and for that, I am forever thankful.
Overall, Spider-Man 2 is a juggernaut of a film. It's character driven, exciting, touching, funny, and directed brilliantly. It' s everything you want it to be and more. It's the quintessential Spider-Man film, for now. We'll just have to wait and see what Marvel has to offer next.