One of the very first cartoon shows I ever watched regularly as a kid was the 90’s Spider-Man series. However, while I enjoyed watching the show back then, I never called myself a fan of Spider-Man. I never read the comics, I didn’t really know any of the characters, and I didn’t even see the first theatrical “Spider-Man” movie when it premiered way back in 2002. Then everything changed in 2004, when I went with my friends to see “Spider-Man 2”. From that point on, Spider-Man became one of my all time favorite superheroes. Currently on my Blog site, I’ve been reviewing all the theatrical Spider-Man movies this month in celebration for the premier of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, but I decided to save “Spider-Man 2” for last, because this is one of my all time favorite super hero movies, and no other Spider-Man movie sense has measured up to this. I was first drawn to this movie when I saw that Doctor Octopus was going to be the villain, because I remembered him as my favorite from the cartoon show I grew up with. Plus, way before the first theatrical Spider-Man movie, I remember seeing this amazing advertisement for Universal Studios, which was featured on the old VHS tape of “Babe: Pig in the City”. It was a live action add that featured Spider-Man fighting Doctor Octopus on the wing of an airplane, which was really cool, and got me excited for the possibility of seeing them battle in a real theatrical movie. Needless to say, both the villain and the action lived up to my expectations, but it was the emotional focus on the characters, and the themes of the film that went above and beyond anything I had expected.
The movie begins with a gorgeous opening credit sequence, featuring hand drawn paintings that recap all the events of the first movie. Now I personally saw this movie before the first film, and this opening helped clue me in on everything I needed to know. A year has passed sense Spider-Man defeated the sinister Green Goblin in the first movie, and now the city is safer than ever. Unfortunately, while the city prospers, Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker get’s noting for it in return. Actually it’s worse than that, Peter Parker gets shunned for it. He can’t hold onto a job, he’s failing classes, and all of his family, friends, co-workers and even his land lord see him as just a plain lazy bum. It’s not for a lack of trying, he just can’t be everywhere at once. It’s just a tragic thing that’s happening to our hero, and it’s a very human situation I’ve never really seen before in a superhero film. With all the internal stress and conflict building up inside, Spider-Man suddenly starts losing his powers periodically. I really like that his failing powers are psychosomatic, as it makes this a story about the person behind the mask. With his life getting more and more complicated, Peter Parker throws away his costume and refuses to be Spider-Man any more. As a result Peters life finally starts shaping up again, but now it’s the city that’s suffering for it. I feel that the classic line of “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” is showcased better here than in any other incarnation of Spider-Man, as we do see his struggle between his life, and the safety of his city. Eventually the movie gives us a side plot involving a super villain with a dooms day machine, which fits just fine in a comic book adaption of this sort, but the focus is still on the human condition of our hero.
The first Spider-Man movie was all about building the superpowers, but the sequel is all about the struggle of a regular, every day guy with those powers. The arching theme of “Spider-Man 2” is sacrifice, it’s about giving up what matters to us in-order to accomplish something meaningful to the world at large. There’s a beautiful scene in which Aunt May gives this heartfelt speech on what characterizes regular everyday people as hero’s, and it really gets to me every time I hear it. While the themes and morals of the movie are all very inspiring, the film also boasts a great deal of drama that makes me feel for the characters. There’s a really powerful moment in which Peter has this inner dream sequence of him talking with his late Uncle, and stating that he’s never going to be Spider-Man again. Moments like this get me more invested than any amount of flashy spectacle can achieve. We also have Peter Parker finally confessing to his aunt that he’s responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben from the last film, which was like an Oscar worthy moment that didn’t rely on obviously sad music, and just stuck with the solid performances from our two actors. I should also note that “Spider-Man 2” gives us our first taste of "on the nose" Jesus symbolism in a comic book movie. I’m whiling to let it slide here, but I hate how that’s become such an obvious cliché, especially in all those "Superman" movies. Also holding over from the first film is the death of the wicked Green Goblin, who was revealed to be the father of Peters best friend Harry Osborn. Now Peter has to deal with the guilt of taking his father away from his best friend. Harry himself is desperate to take his vengeance on Spider-Man. The conflicts between Harry and Peter work very well, but they never overstay their welcome either.
Now even though “Spider-Man 2” feels less like a typical superhero movie and more like a drama, it’s still not without some great-A comic book material. Case in point, the villain Doctor Octopus is one of my all time favorite super villains I’ve ever seen in a movie. Granted he was already my favorite of Spider-Man’s foes, and it was great to see him brought to life on screen, but the movie makes all the right decisions with how to make an interesting character. Unlike the Green Goblin, this guy isn’t evil just for the sake of being evil. He’s fuelled with rage after the death of his wife and the failure of his experiments, and because of this the Doctor finds himself dominated by an evil influence to continue his work. I like that the doctors project is part of his dream to accomplish something meaningful, and it’s not just a dooms day device for the hero to destroy. Alfred Molina nails the role of Doctor Octopus in every respect, he looks the part, and channels the duality of the villain with perfection. With his four mechanical arms, and dark sarcasm, he definitely comes off as both a menacing and dominate threat, but we still feel just the right amount of sympathy for him too. One of his best moments is the hospital scene, in which his monstrous side really takes over, and the poor doctors feel the extent of his wrath. This scene was shot like a horror movie, and echoes back to the directors earlier “Evil Dead” movies. I also love the practical effects of his mechanical arms, as in many shots those arms are real props, and the CGI is only used when needed. Even the relationship between the hero and the villain was handled perfectly. I liked how the doctor was Peters professional mentor, which gave them just enough of a connection before they slip into their costumes.
I really admire the filmmakers for taking a step back from all the special effects, and giving us a more character focused film. Both the action and special effects are used sparingly, but when they are on film, it’s some of the best the superhero genera has to offer. This movie even won the Academy Award for best special effects, and it’s always a treat when a film of this sort gets Oscar recognition.
Now for all my praising the morals, drama and fleshed out characters, this is still a comic book movie, and it still has that cheesy, silly charm you typically get from Spider-Man. There’s some really odd moments with the supporting cast, where they deliver these over the top reactions, and it almost takes me out of the film. The montage set to the song “Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head”, shows just how silly the film can be, but it’s also quiet enjoyable if you can accept it as a directors style. Some of the comedy dose work, and I especially love the opening Pizza delivery scene. The absolute best comedy comes from the newspaper manager J. Jonah Jameson, who hates Spider-Man. He’s the kind of jerk I just love to hate, and J. K. Simmons is extraordinary in the role. To be honest, I think it’s one of the all time greatest casting choices for any comic book movie ever. That reminds me, even when watching the Spider-Man cartoon as a kid, I only paid attention to the hero, and the villains. Because of that, I have “Spider-Man 2” to thank for introducing me to all the human characters like J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, and even our heroes girl friend Mary Jane. Now Mary Jane is admittedly one of the weaker merits of the film, as I didn’t think her relation with Peter was always that interesting. They do have their great moments, but only near the end of the film. During the climax, Marry Jane is a damsel in distress again, but this time it’s absolutely warranted. After a thrilling rescue, Marry Jane finally see’s that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and it’s a deeply satisfying revelation. The past two movies have built to this moment beautifully, and it’s like this great wait has been lifted when she sees the man she loves for the hero he really is.
On that note, let’s talk about the climax, which personally is my favorite finale of the whole series. Doctor Octopuses machine goes into meltdown, causing serious damage to the city, and our hero swings in for one final showdown with the villain. While the fight itself is riveting, I love that Spider-Man doesn’t defeat the bad guy though physical force. Instead he takes off his mask, revealing his identity and has a very deep back and forth talk with his enemy, even relaying the very same morals of sacrifice that his aunt May previously told him. This helps the Doc to regain control of his arms, and in one final move, he sacrifices both his dream and his very life to destroy the machine. It’s awesome to see Doctor Octopuses, one of Spider-Mans most lethal foes make a full reformation, and I love how just before he sacrifices his life he exchanges one silent look with our hero. With zero dialogue, every “I’m sorry for what I’ve done”, and “Thank you for bringing me back” is captured perfectly in that one look, and it’s just brilliant film-making.
Even when all the action is said and done the movie continues to thrill as Harry gets a ghostly visit from his late father, and discovers the Green Goblins lair of weapons. It’s a great scene that upon my first viewing got me thrilled for a sequel, even though I still hadn’t seen the first film yet. Now days, cliff hangers like this only exist for the sake of setting up more sequels, but this was a natural progression of the story, and didn’t feel like added fluff. Once we get to the epilogue, it leads into the first, and only happy ending of the Spider-Man series thus far. Mary Jane refuses to go through with her marriage and chooses Peter Parker, and it's just so satisfying. Spider-Man then has one last epic swing through the city, and just before we cut to black, we get one last knowing look from Marry Jane that things aren’t going to be easy for them, which is a perfect book end to how the movie started with a close up of her face on the billboard.
Much like its predecessor, “Spider-Man 2” has a soundtrack that’s very much a product, with the main selling song being “Ordinary” performed by Train. Its average, but I do genuinely love the song “Vindicated” performed by Dashboard Confessional. Something about this song captures a feeling of tragedy and heroism, which fits right along with the films tone. Once again we hear the 60’s Spider-Man theme song, but this time it’s a modern version performed by current talents, which this theme song really needed. On a side note, just before the premier of “Spider-Man 3”, this movie had an extended cut released on DVD called “Spider-Man 2.1”. For the common viewer, I’d just recommend sticking with the original theatrical cut, but I personally enjoy the “2.1” version a little more. The action sequences are longer, and I really like some select conversations added in. Peter and Harry have a much deeper conversation regarding how Harry wants Spider-Man dead the same way Peter wanted his Uncle Bens killer dead. I also like this one scene in which Mary Jane is hanging out with a best friend, who’s concerned if MJ is marrying a guy for the right reasons. While the friend is annoyingly direct, it’s still nice to see that Mary Jane has a social life, and the scene dose build on her arch. I will say that the new comedic and silly moments added in are really bad. There’s a shockingly goofy moment with J. K. Simmons playing around in a Spider-Man costume, and the once funny scene with Spider-Man in the elevator is now replaced with an annoying fan boy that just won’t shut up. Personally, I just ignore all that silly stuff, and still prefer the “2.1” version for its select moments and extended battle scenes.
It goes without saying that I think “Spider-Man 2” is the best film in the web-heads theatrical film series by far, but I’d go further to call it one of the all time greatest super hero movies. It’s one of those rare comic book adaption’s that doesn’t feel like a typical superhero flick, in fact it actually feels like, well ... a real movie, one that just happens to have a superhero in it. Now of course “Spider-Man 2” still has cheesy moments to make fun of, and it’s admittedly not the most consistently entertaining superhero film, so you just have to be in the right mind set to appreciate it. If you look on any list of greatest movie sequels, you’ll commonly see “Spider-Man 2” among them. It’s kind of disappointing that after all these years, we’ve never gotten another Spider-Man movie that’s even come close to what this film accomplished. But hey, maybe the new “Spider-Man: Homecoming” series will pack a big punch, and deliver some fresh new adventures for our web-swinging hero. This concludes my series of Spider-Man movie reviews, and whether the new films deliver or not, “Spider-Man 2” still stands as one of my all time favorite comic book adaptations, as well as the template for how to make a near perfect Spider-Man movie.
I give 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” ... 5 stars out of 5.