As with the first film, director Sam Raimi lifts the character
out of his comic book world quite easily. He also roots
Spider-Man there by recapping the events of the first film
in a series of paintings by master comic book artist Alex
Ross. (Look for the lithographs soon.) But at times, the
comic book Raimi is recreating is actually Superman, a joke
played in the first film that turns into an out and out
motif here. Not only does Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) run
down an alleyway pulling open his shirt and tie to reveal
the spider underneath, but the movie shares many story points
and a goofy sensibility with Superman II.
To be fair, many pay off, and feel like the kind of gags
Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and later John Romita would have tossed
off in the comic pages. Spider-Man suffers an uncomfortable
elevator ride in a swank apartment building with Hal Sparks.
In a brief outing as a pizza delivery boy, he has to web
stray slices. (mmmm…pizza with extra web fluid…) Raimi remembers
the hapless adolescent that Spider-Man often was in the
comics. But he also seems to forget the wallcrawler himself
for long stretches of time.
Set at least a year after the events of the first film,
Spider-Man 2 finds Peter unable to balance his dual
life. Still driven by his guilt over the death of his Uncle
Ben (Cliff Robertson), Peter lets his work, his studies
and most of his life take a back seat to fighting crime.
His stress gets so great that sometimes his organic webshooters
refuse to perform, and it gets worse. Eventually, all of
his spider-powers lose their potency, more than once causing
him to fall from the sky and just lie there. If the first
film used his powers as a metaphor for pubescence, we now
need some sort of Spider-Viagra.
And we need it now, because once again a scientist that
Peter admires is on the cusp of becoming a super-villain.
Actually, two scientists, as comics readers will notice
actor Dylan Baker sowing the seeds for a menace in two or
three movies. For now, it's Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred
Molina), given a much more tragic and comprehensible arc
of madness than Willem Dafoe got as The Green Goblin.
Octavius seeks to solve the problem of fusion; he tells
Peter that intelligence has a responsibility toward the
world. Unfortunately, in order to make his fusion reaction
work, he had to build a set of extra arms with their own
intelligence. Though it's a touch of schlock horror to have
the threat of these arms with minds of their own, it also
goes far toward visualizing the madness within Octavius,
brought on by grief and a fear of failure. For the record,
the arms are also just danged creepy, matched by a surprisingly
understated performance by Molina that becomes powerfully
disturbing in its ordinariness.
But the movie has more interest in seeing Peter try to
be ordinary again. Here Raimi indulges himself in a new
era for his sense of humor, letting Peter walk free in the
city to the strains of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head."
You almost forget that there's a supervillain loose in the
city, but before the idylls become excruciating, the tentacles
Great mayhem, by the way, as this film features action
scenes that should thrill fans, and just pop with kinetic
excitement. Even those that echo beats from the first film
- a rescue from a burning building, New Yorkers rallying
to protect Spider-Man from his enemy - have new twists and
really, deeper resonance.
As a director, Raimi forges a new identity out of the
gonzo filmmaker of his early Evil Dead days and the
more serious guy that directed A Simple Plan and
The Gift. It hasn't quite come together yet, but
at least this film has a unique style that could only be
Raimi v. 3.
For fans, that includes an extended cameo by Bruce Campbell
as a snooty theater usher. Funny, but it points out the
film's weakness: more a collection of scenes involving the
two sides of Peter's life than a driving coherent narrative.
Consciously the middle of a trilogy, it has a couple of
scenes that may drive the casual moviegoer crazy in their
inconclusiveness. This really is just issue #2; you'd better
be here to see how it all works out.
The script also has a tendency to be too on the nose with
its dialogue. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) launches into a
monologue that perhaps Peter needed to hear, but it falls
just short of flashing subtitles, "Statement of Comics'
frustratingly, we don't know if May has figured out Peter's
secret or not. Yet throughout the movie, pretty much everybody
else does - an element lifted out of Sam Hamm's original
Batman script. Don't shake your head at me over that;
story writer Michael Chabon, at least, has a fan pedigree
that has to involve having read Hamm's draft. (The screenplay
is officially credited to veteran writer Alvin Sargent,
but in addition to Chabon, Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
took whacks at the story and got credit for it.)
Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives. James
Franco broods effectively as a far more believable Harry
Osborn than the comics ever really offered. Every time the
Daily Bugle staff appears, it's perfection, especially J.K.
Simmons, who has become J. Jonah Jameson. That's
a hard feat when dealing with a character so cartoonish.
Like a fun comic book, you'll want to revisit Spider-Man
2 again and again, overlooking its flaws. In the end,
it's Spider-Man in his glory, and that's not bad.