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Spider-Man 2

And for the second part of my double bill, we return to New York and the world of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man


Year of release

Directed by
Sam Raimi

Written by
Alvin Sargent

Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
Alfred Molina
James Franco
Rosemary Harris
J.K. Simmons

Spider-Man 2

Plot - Spider-Man is back baby! Picking up from where the first film left off we find Peter's friendship with Harry strained to breaking point, and his relationship with MJ floudering as she has a new romance in her life, J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son. As if his personal problems where not enough for him to deal with, Peter finds himself with a new nemesis to battle - Doctor Otto Ocatvius (Molina); aka Doc Ock. Created after a experiment gone horribly wrong (that sounds familiar) his ambitious plans for the world may in fact bring it crashing down if Peter can't stop him.

The majority of people (not honeykid! ) would rate this sequel as a vast improvement over 2002's original Spider-Man; and I'm certainly one of them. While that remains a fun film in its own right this is just on a completely different level. The film succeeds in finding a nice middle ground between the tone of the first film and not going too dark. It's nowhere near as daft or camp as the first film but is still able to maintain the same amount of fun. Raimi reigns himself in and cuts way down on the amount of cheese and hokeyness from his first outing with the webslinger. For the most part the only guilty examples are to be found in the relationship between Peter and MJ, particularly at its conclusion with corny lines such as “I've always been standing in your doorway.”

I think the film is better in just about every way. And one of the most obvious aspects where this sequel triumphs over its predecessor is certainly in its villain. As the tentacled Doc Ock, Alfred Molina gives an extremely strong showing. Unlike Willem Dafoe he plays it in a very straight, restrained manner. Initially he conveys Otto Octavius as a good-natured and well intentioned scientist who is a hero to Peter, and had things worked out differently you could easily imagine he could have gone on to become a father figure of sorts to Peter, just as with Norman Osborn in the first film. Things did not work out that way however and instead Molina delivers quite a deal of menace as Doctor Octopus, while at the same time keeping him as quite a sympathetic villain. Although we certainly fear him as a result of the operation scene. With Raimi really tapping into his horror roots it's a terrifically vivid and nightmarish scene as Doc Ock's arms take on a mind of their own and begin to dispatch the numerous doctors and nurses that surround him. From that moment on we know this is a villain to take very seriously.

And with those mechanical arms of his, the character of Doc Ock himself has got to be one of the most visually interesting comic book villains so far brought to life on the screen. And those arms gift the film with quite a bit of scope in terms of creative use during the fight scenes between Ock and Spidey. I also love the fact that the arms actually have a personality of their own, brought about by their movements which can generate expressions including quizzical and anger. Through their shape and vicious nature they always reminded me a touch of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. And during the fight sequences between Ock and Spider-Man it's nice for a change in modern films to actually be able to see the fights. So often these days the action gets lost amongst rapid editing and the use of a shaky camera.

As our Friendly Neighbour Spider-Man, Maguire remains a fairly endearing Parker but again I feel he is just slightly lacking on occasion when it comes to providing a necessary spark and energy, while some of his line delivery has a tendency to sound rather monotonous. Kirsten Dunst is given a bit of a tough time by the script which basically relegates her to merely looking glum and pining for Peter throughout the film but she is able to get more out of it than she should really be able to. And I love the scene where she recreates the upside-down kiss from the first film with the new man in her life who is completely oblivious to its meaning. After finding him to be a bit of weak link in the first film, this time out I was a lot more impressed with James Franco. The additions to his character; anger from what happened to his father and an arrogant swagger from assuming control of the company, give Franco a lot more extent to add a spark and a degree of interest to Harry that were missing first time out. Rosemary Harris continues to be a lovely, kind and altruistic presence as Aunt May, while there is also a welcome return for Cliff Robertson in the form of a brief cameo. And J.K. Simmons continues to be an absolute hoot as Jameson. He was absolutely brilliant in the role, really delivering one of the best and closest interpretations of a comic book character yet seen. Throughout the trilogy anytime he appeared the screen just lit up. And while they may not have generated much recognition at the time, returning to the film nearly 10 years later you find that there a lot of future TV stars to be found which was a fun treat. Emily Deschanel (Bones), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost and Hawaii Five-O) and Joel McHale (Community) all appear in very minor roles.

Film Trivia Snippets - Before Alfred Molina was hired for the role of Otto Octavius a number of other actors were considered. The list included David Duchovny, Liev Schreiber, Robert De Niro, Sam Neill, Ed Harris and Chris Cooper. Cooper has since been cast in the role of Norman Osborn for the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2. /// In the original script for Spider-Man 2, a man named Jack Albright kindaps Otto Octavius in a giant robot, with Spider-Man then coming to Ock's rescue. Albright's reason was that he wanted to learn more about Otto's experiments. Albright later set himself on fire with incendiary cigarettes and fell to his death off a ledge. /// You may not notice them but a massive 100 minor alterations were made to Spider-Man's suit since the first film. And for this sequel a total of 35 suits were made for the movie. /// Tobey Maguire performed another of his own stunts in the film. However any time he did his glasses could not contain any glass. You may assume it was for safety reasons but it was actually to avoid reflections. The glass was then added back in digitally afterwards. /// In an effort to determine what the title of the film should be, testing with focus groups was implemented. Titles which were under consideration were "The Amazing Spider-Man", "Spider-Man: No More", Spider-Man 2 Lives" and "Spider-Man: Unmasked." /// There was actually great doubt surrounding Tobey Maguire's participation in this sequel due to him suffering from severe and chronic back pain. The doubt was so great that a replacement was actually lined up in the form of Jake Gyllenhall. In fact Gyllenhall had already begun preparation for the role when Maguire decided that he would try and go through with it afterall.
The film successfully builds on many of the themes and relationships set out in the first film. Spider-Man 2 continues to show the negative sides of being a hero, and the sacrifices required; this time really introducing the 'Parker luck' which is such a prevalent features in the comics. For a superhero, Peter Parker can rarely ever catch a break. If the term sod's law was ever created for a single individual it was Peter Parker. And absolutely nothing goes right here, no matter how small; at a large society event honouring Jameson's son, John, Peter finds it impossible to get something to eat or even a drink, no matter how many times he tries. It presents his life in such a way that we understand why he would want to give up the commitment of being Spider-Man. He may be blessed with powers that just about everyone would give anything to have but his life is a mess. He can't hold down a job, he's struggling at college despite his inherent genius and is tortured by his inability to have a relationship with Mary Jane. And after he has given up we see how his life has become so much easier and in many ways better without the responsibility of being a hero to the city. But Peter is a good guy at heart and cannot ignore his calling, spurred on both by the words of his Aunt and fulfilling what Otto told him earlier in the film; “Intelligence is not a privilege, it's a gift, to be used for the good of mankind.” And it's the same with his superpowers. I also admire the fact that the film doesn't just stand still and accept the statue quo. Peter's relationship with all of the characters continues to evolve and progress off into different directions.

As I said at the start the film does still maintain its sense of fun despite aiming for a more serious tone. It still supplies on the laughs front, most notably in the brilliant little elevator scene where Peter rides down in full costume with a slightly befuddled civilian. Surely the greatest example of the film's entertainment however comes in the form of the astonishing train sequence which is a trilling spectacle. Despite the dozens of superhero films that have come since Spider-Man 2's release I still think it's got to rank as one of the best, if not the best, action sequences to feature in any superhero film so far. It's a terrific combination of dynamic direction, supreme special effects and some strong acting from Maguire. It sees Ock set the train on a path to destruction before Spidey saves the day, almost killing himself in the process. And while it may end on what some may see as one of this film's more mawkish moments, unlike with the first film this time the film and the character have earned it. After his incredible effort to stop the train and save the lives of all those onboard, Peter is pulled back into the train and raised up over the people in a very Christ-like fashion. His identity is revealed but his secret is safe with these people. It allows Peter to see just important and valued he is to the residents of New York, and he has most certainly earned this moment of heroism.

It also reminds us how heroic Peter is. When the grateful individuals see his face one of them remarks “He's just a kid!” Given that Maguire is substantially older than the character he's playing it's easier to forget that the character really is just a kid, not that long out of school. Peter is most certainly a hero, but it's not as a result of his powers, it's a result of the man that he is. In fact the only question of doubt I'd have over this amazing sequence is whether it should have somehow been tied into the film's finale, because after this there's no way the film could top it. Though to be fair to the film's ending it does end on a very satisfactory note which ties up both the story and the Peter/MJ romance, and does so in a tight manner which certainly doesn't overstay its welcome unlike so many overlong superhero flicks which stick around too long as they attempt to go bigger and bigger.

And just a couple of final points. In that train sequence and during the film as a whole, it's clear that the CGI has certainly been given an upgrade, and this is most evident when it comes to Spider-Man's movements which are now a lot slicker and more fluid. I also found the score by Danny Elfman to be a good deal stronger this time. Oh but one thing about this film that did annoy me was Raimi's constant close-ups of inconsequential characters and the amount of them who seemed to be auditioning to become the new scream queen of Hollywood. I don't know if it was Raimi again playing into his love of horror but after the first couple of high pitched wails it really begins to irritate.

Conclusion - One of the rare sequels that really does improve on the original film in just about every department. With a stronger villain, more dynamic action and a cap on the sentimentality Spider-Man 2 surpasses its fun predecessor with flying colours and still remains one of the best superhero films to hit the cinema screen. And despite numerous viewings now it still remains in my personal top 5.