In Preparation For: Spider-Man 2
Before Spider-Man: Homecoming hit theaters, my plan was to rewatch and review the first three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. However, life got in the way, and I didn't get around to seeing them until after I had already seen and reviewed Homecoming. I really liked that film a lot, as it brought to screen a lot of character elements that weren't translated as well in Raimi's films. You can read our full review for Homecoming here. But there is still so much that Raimi nailed about the character, things that I think even Homecoming fell short of adapting properly. We live in an age now where Spider-Man can co-exist with the Avengers and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I think it would be foolish to completely ride off Raimi's movies. I still think Spider-Man 2 is a better film than Homecoming, even if Homecoming is a better Spider-Man movie. I think watching these movies after seeing Homecoming really helps put these films in perspective, and allows me to look at them in a new light. With these reviews, there will be spoilers. They've been out for a while guys, so if you haven't seen them yet, then I'm expecting you just don't really care about seeing them at all. We already reviewed Spider-Man, which you can read here. This review will be for 2004's Spider-Man 2, with a review for the the third film coming soon.
After the events of the first Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) finds that he is unable to juggle his personal life with his duties as Spider-Man. Meanwhile, after a rogue science experiment, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is overtaken by his mechanical arms, which set him off on a killing spree.
I talked a lot about the "tragedy of Peter Parker" in my first Spider-Man review. With this movie, I think they expanded and improved upon what they did before. Once again, this is a Peter Parker movie with appearances by Spider-Man, even more so than the first one. And these two things really go hand-in-hand. The majority of this movie is focused on developing Peter as a character, and understanding what he goes through. While before we saw more just how sh*tty his life was, here we see what it's like to juggle a life with the responsibilities of being Spider-Man. Losing his job because he had to save kids from being hit by a truck. Ditching Mary Jane's (Kirsten Dunst) play in order to stop escaping criminals. "With great power comes great responsibility" echoes in every scene of this movie. Some may say there were too many examples showing the exact same thing, Peter sacrificing to be Spider-Man, but I thought the repetition was not only worked, but it was absolutely necessary. Over and over again, we see how being Spider-Man is ruining Peter's life, to the point where we (along with Peter) begin to wonder whether it's even worth it? Why should he be Spider-Man? Sam Raimi crafts this film perfectly so that we follow Peter's own thought process. He can't pay his rent. He's hurt his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). He can't have the girl he loves. His own best friend (James Franco) hates him. Raimi structures the movie in such a way that it makes complete sense why Peter would give up being Spider-Man, with the heartbreaking scene between Peter and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). And then, there is probably one of the most powerful scenes in the film, when Aunt May gives Peter the speech about how much we need heroes. And we as an audience completely see why Peter must absolutely be Spider-Man. Why he must sacrifice. With great power comes great responsibility. This duality is something that Peter always struggled with in the comics, and it completely works as being the backbone of this movie. A hero struggling with being a superhero (and actually giving it up) isn't a story we see often in comic book movies, and Sam Raimi pulled it off brilliantly.
Let's get into the performances. Once again, Tobey Maguire is fantastic as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He gives a nuanced performance, one that I think is often overlooked. He captures that duality I was talking about before perfectly, and he really excels in the role. He handles the comedy great, but shines most during his dramatic moments. I think the problems that people have with Kirsten Dunst's character in this trilogy starts with this movie. I personally think she gave a fine performance, but some of her decisions as a character do seem brash and rushed, and a little scatterbrained. It can sometimes come across that she overreacts to things, and that she is a little too hard on Peter. But the extended cut fixes this, which I'll talk more about later. This film has two real stars: Rosemarry Harris and Alfred Molina. Molina is the more obvious choice, but not many people talk about just how good Harris is in this movie. She has some of the most important scenes in the film, and without her delivering as fantastically as she does, this movie doesn't have a lot of the raw emotion and power that it has. Scenes such as her speech I mentioned before, or when Peter tells her he's responsible for Uncle Ben's death. Or when she tries to give him money for his birthday. These are smaller moments that truly define the movie, and they only work because of how fantastic she is as an actress. But Molina cannot go unmentioned. He gives one of the best comic book movie villain performances ever put to screen. In adapting the character, Raimi and the writers took a cool character from the comics, who didn't really have much dimension or substance to him, and added that substance. In the comics, Doc Ock is cool, but he's really just a cliched mustache-twirling bad guy. Here, they give him so much dimension and character that he becomes a villain you sympathize with. In many respects, Dr. Octavius isn't a villain. He's a good man controlled by the arms, and is really only a victim of their control. But it isn't played out as some sort of stereotypical "mind-control" scenario; it has more weight to it. In the same way that Peter has a duality, so does Octavius. Deep down, he doesn't want to do what his arms tell him to do. But he's also power hungry. He's arrogant, and believes that he can make his experiment work. And so he succumbs to his arms' control. All the different layers and levels that the writers bring to the character, and that Molina realizes on screen, is just brilliant.
One of the things I talked about in my first Spider-Man review was good Sam Raimi was as a director. However, it's really this film that I saw just how brilliant of a job he was doing. Raimi has a very unconventional way of shooting things. Very atypical to a big blockbuster comic book movie. It's not just that it's telling a more human story rather than focusing on action and effects, but it's also the types of shots he uses. How he frames things. It's incredibly stylized, and yet it doesn't feel in your face. If you're not stopping to focus on the direction, it will fly right by you. But when you do take a minute to appreciate what Raimi actually does with this film, you realize just how different it is, and how much it works! The way Raimi handles the action sequences is staggering. You can tell he had a bigger budget with this film than with the last, but it doesn't overpower the movie. You don't have huge CGI sequences, with explosions blowing up half the city. What makes the action work in this film is that it is ultimately rooted in the characters. No matter what is happening on screen, it is ultimately a struggle between Peter Parker and Dr. Octavius, not necessarily Spider-Man and Doc Ock. The humanity in the fights allows for us, the audience, to feel the impact of every punch. While the action in Spider-Man: Homecoming was fun to watch, I didn't feel it in the same way that I felt it in Spider-Man 2. Every blow is a blow to us. Spider-Man isn't just doing flips and flying around; he is struggling and pushing his limits in order to save lives. The train sequence is one of the greatest comic book scenes to date. Not only does it have a fantastic fight between the hero and the villain, but the majority of it is Spider-Man using all of his strength and willpower to save a train full of innocent people. He keeps trying new things, and failing. Ultimately, he's able to save them, but it renders him unconscious. This is a kind of scene that we don't see in comic book movies today. Homecoming tried to replicate it with the ferry sequence, but it did not nearly have the same effect because, here, it boils down to Peter trying to save people, not Spider-Man. All the action is rooted within the characters, and it takes a special kind of director to pull that off in the way that Raimi did with this movie.
I don't have many complains with this film. I talked a little about how Mary Jane's actions and reactions were a little confusing, but that didn't seriously detract from the movie. There are a few shots that I think could have been cut out. But I'm literally talking about frames, here. When I rewatched the film for this review, I watched the extended cut, a version of the movie that I don't believe I've seen before. In it, there were sequences cut out that I'm glad were ultimately cut from the theatrical version. But there were a couple sequences that absolutely belonged in the movie, and really helped flesh it out even more. One in particular really alleviates a lot of the problems people have with Mary Jane's character. After Mary Jane accepts John Jameson's (Daniel Gillies) marriage proposal, there's a scene in the extended cut where she has a conversation with her friend about it. The friend, who found the engagement rushed, asks Mary Jane if she really loves John, to which she replies "Very much". The friend then goes on a whole speech about, if Mary Jane really loved him, then she wouldn't just say "very much". She would have A, B, and C to say about him. Mary Jane also reveals that her abusive father once told her no man would ever love her. This scene is imperative in understanding why she was so quick to become engaged to John, and maybe why she is so hurt by Peter all the time. It also plants the idea that Mary Jane doesn't really love John, and that she's marrying him for more selfish reasons. Maybe she's not actually in love with him, but is rather in love with Peter, but unwilling to see it. The friend asks Mary Jane about that "magical kiss" she once had, referring to her upside down kiss with Spider-Man, to which Mary Jane responds that it was simply a fantasy. This leads perfectly into the scene where she asks John to lean his head backwards so she can kiss him, and then realizes it doesn't have the same spark, thus officially deciding that she doesn't actually love John. It also leads into the scene where she meets Peter for coffee, explaining how her "mind played tricks on her", which we see first hand with this cut sequence. I think this one scene, only about a minute long, really explains Mary Jane as a character to us, and helps us understand her mindset throughout this entire film. It also sets up and changes a few scenes later down the line. I think this scene was imperative to the movie, and I have no idea why it was cut from the theatrical version.
Overall, Spider-Man 2 is an incredible film, and is a damn near perfect movie. Sam Raimi does an incredible job directing this movie, and really lets his stylized nature seep into the background, altering the film without stealing the spotlight. He captures the tragedy and duality of Peter Parker/Spider-Man perfectly, and gives us probably the best Spider-Man story we'll ever see on screen. Once again, Raimi realizes we cannot have a good Spider-Man movie without it being first a good Peter Parker movie, and a majority of this film is spent developing and furthering Peter as a character. Because of this, we can become more invested in the action sequences involving Spider-Man, because it's all rooted within the characters. Tobey Maguire is great once again, really nailing the nuances of the character. Kirsten Dunst gives a good performance, but her character is a little uneven in terms of her decision making. But this is mostly explained with a scene that was cut from the theatrical version, which really makes me scratch my head. Rosemary Harris is never talked about, but she gives one of the best performances of the film, and a lot of big, important scenes are entirely dependent upon the strength of her performance. Alfred Molina gives one of the best comic book movie villain performances ever, and is such a well-rounded and fleshed out character. He's not only fantastically written, but Molina nails the performance. In the end, Spider-Man 2 is a fantastic movie that gives us everything we want to see in a Spider-Man movie. I've said that while I think Spider-Man 2 is a better film, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a better Spider-Man movie. However, upon rewatching this one, I think I'm wrong. Spider-Man 2 is certainly a better film than Homecoming, but it is also a better Spider-Man movie, in how it understands and realizes the character on screen.
What do you think? Do you like Spider-Man 2? Are you planning on seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by: Nate
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