Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is having a bad time; his grades at college are sinking, as are his spirits, while he yearns for Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and battles within himself as he contemplates "the gift and the curse" of being Spider-Man. Must he sacrifice the girl of his dreams for the responsibility that goes with his powers to do positive things in the world. Despite the support and wisdom of his aunt May (Rosemary Harris), his life grows ever more complicated as his friend Harry (James Franco) intensifies his vendetta against Spider-Man, who - Harry thinks - killed his father, and MJ finds a new boyfriend... Then things go from worse to disastrous, when Dr Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) lets his fusion energy project get out of control and the Dr becomes its octopusian slave in a frenzy that threatens the entire city of New York. And MJ is about to get married.
Review by Louise Keller:
From the onset of its superbly designed opening credits, Spider-Man 2 snares us into its enticing web, whisking us away into its comic-book world. This is sheer unadulterated fun, and emotionally the ride is as uplifting as Spider-Man swinging between the sky-scrapers of New York. There are awesome effects, explosive action, wry humour and an emotional heart that pulsates loudly and steadily throughout. These invigorating elements, together with a tasty villain, embody pathos.
Sam Raimi's enjoyable sequel is about choice and the ensuing shifting of balance. I felt as though I was on an emotional seesaw, riding the highs and lows of Peter Parker's state of mind, as he mulls over his inner conflict. We feel the burden of his secret weighing him down. A romantic idealist, he loves MJ, but cannot tell her because of his sense of responsibility. They can never be together. But what if... what if he actually has a choice? What if he does have a chance to be happy? What then of the rest of the world? Then the balance shifts. We are suddenly elated by the physicality of being Spider-Man again, zipping up buildings, flying through the air, saving the world....
Raimi effectively maintains an authentic comic-book feel, exaggerating the fantasy segments and offering visuals we can imagine morphing from the screen onto the page. The decision to show Spider-Man's face on a couple of occasions is risky, but it pays off, and our emotional connection is guaranteed.
Drama and pathos engulfs each character and we feel for them all. Tobey Maguire's makes gauche, nerdy Peter Parker so appealing, while Kirsten Dunst's MJ exudes warmth like the sun, making us understand why he is so hopelessly in love with her. In their scenes together, you could cut the intensity with a knife. (I love the moment when MJ asks her astronaut fiancé to lean his head back on the couch, so she can kiss him upside down. It's so subtle, but instantly reminds us of that memorable kiss in the first Spider-Man.)
What every hero needs is a worthy villain, and Alfred Molina's tortured Otto Octavius (one of the comic book's most popular baddies) is spectacular. With his oversize features and physique exaggerated by giant steel tentacles spearheaded with mechanical 'eyes', Molina's Doc Ock is both terrifying and tragic. Watch out for J.K. Simmons' gruff editor from The Daily Bugle, whose sharp energy and humour is contagious. And the cameo from Willem Dafoe is a terrific surprise.
Spider-Man 2 is fresh, vibrant and totally uplifting. It reminds us what made us buy comic books in the first place.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I never thought I'd see the day that a big budget Hollywood action film would bring its climactic confrontation between the good guy and the baddie to a close with the power of reason winning - not by a better shot. That and its bitter-sweet ending - which follows perhaps a tad too long after this first ending - help make this film a less aggressive affair than we might expect. But that's what I like about the first Spider-Man film, too.
In this continuation of the story of Peter Parker, Peter has a major crisis of conscience between what he feels is his duty (saving New Yorkers from bad things as Spider-Man) and what he feels in his heart (telling Mary Jane he loves her, and that means telling her he is Spider-Man and thus putting her in danger). How he resolves that conflict is the film's moral and philosophical engine, assisted by a homily on the need for heroes from Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) which is a relevant, if not original, message in these traumatised times. Even doing your duty has a high price, and Peter has to be ready to pay that price. It reminds us never to underestimate the relevance of comics....
Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst make us care for their characters and their relationships with touching performances, and the film earns another intelligence point for making Mary Jane's fiancee a decent guy as far as we can tell, instead of opting for the easy but unsatisfying option of making him a jerk. Why would our heroine fall for a jerk? (Hush girls, I know you're asking yourselves the same question...)
Alfred Molina makes a delightfully conflicted good genius gone bad as Doc Ock (Dr Otto Octavius, who ends up with eight limbs in his evil form, giving one of the support characters a good line: "A guy called Otto Octavius....ends up with eight limbs.... What are the odds?") His tentacles are a brilliant blend of the bitch from Alien and menacing, intelligent snakes...
Starting with an Oscar-deserving opening titles sequence through to the tumultuous New York action scenes, production design and music are standout achievements, and my only reservation about Sam Raimi's fluent, dynamic direction is that he allows the film's mood to move from mature to juvenile in the latter stages. When Spider-Man acquires superhuman powers (beyond the range that his web-spinning gives him) the character becomes one dimensional and derivative. This is especially and unfortunately demonstrated in one of the major stunt sequences near the end, when he fights the octpusian Doc Ock on top, astride and inside a speeding train heading for a dead end, without a working brake. Raimi doesn't have one either.
But we can forgive this lapse in the face of such good humour, such genuinely exciting action and such heartwarming romance, delivered with great care and amazing talents. And for the penultimate, melancholy close up of Mary Jane's face, full of yearning, insecurity and heartache.
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SPIDER-MAN 2 (M)
CAST: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker
PRODUCER: Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
SCRIPT: Alvin Sargent (screen story: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon; comic book: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bill Pope
EDITOR: Bob Murawski
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Neil Spisak
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 30, 2004
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