It’s my unassailable conjecture that Spider-man 2 is the greatest comic book movie of all time. Don’t @ me. It’s a damn opinion. And if you check out the link I just put down, you can see my comic geek bonafides. I’m not just some geek of the street. I’m handy with the dork steel.
With all the subtlety of a cruise missile, Spider-Man 2 opened in the summer of 2004 to rave reviews and salivating Spidey sycophants (myself definitely included). The first installment in Spidey’s movie life also drew gushing critic love and history’s largest opening weekend at the time of its release. It finished as the second highest grossing film up until that point, only behind the amazingly overrated and over-awarded steaming pile of romantic cliche called Titanic.
Just like Spidey makes jokes in front of powerful villains, Marvel’s film development gods laugh in the face of great expectations. How is it that Marvel can dominate the movie industry so completely and all DC Comics could muster to that point is one GREAT Batman flick starring Christian Bale? Warner Brothers should be spewing out amazing flicks with their grade A source material.
But back to that webhead. Sam Raimi followed Bryan Singer’s lead and quashed the sequel rule. He made the second one better than the first. Sure, Singer was hamstrung by a tight budget for the first X-Men but Raimi had no such constrictions. After seeing Raimi (Evil Dead Trilogy) and Peter Jackson (Bad Taste) handle treasured characters like Spider-Man and Bilbo Baggins with such aplomb, maybe every director should direct cheesy horror movies to begin their career.
The acting is great. No one will get an Oscar nod but everyone delivered. This is especially impressive when you consider that this is essentially an action movie. But it is an action movie with a heart. And Raimi does a great job of balancing the pulse-pounding, death-defying scenes with the frustratingly sad exchanges between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, the woman he can’t have.
Tobey Maguire almost didn’t come back as Peter Parker. It took the father of his girlfriend at the time, a high level executive at a major studio, to pull Maguire’s head out of his ass to realize that he was heading dangerously close to Alec Baldwin land (remember how he decided that the little Jack Ryan character had no future?). There were rumors of a back injury as well but Maguire wised up and reaffirmed his webness just as Jake Gyllenhaal was being primed as a replacement.
As a comic dork in high school (and, well, a comic dork now), I always thought Peter Parker had more spunk in the comics than Maguire seems to be capable of. Maguire seems to be so subdued that any kind of huge emotion he exhibits feels almost unnatural. It’s not necessarily a critique. His ennui more closely matches the mid-aughts teenager that he is portraying. He manages to pull it off. The core characteristic of Peter Parker’s soul is tortured sincerity and Maguire handles that well. I do wish this movie version of the webslinger was more of a joker during combat. That’s what made him stick out from all those strong-jawed, silent type superheroes when I was first finding comic books as a teenager. But that said, overall, I’ve come to dig Maguire’s interpretation of the character.
Kirsten Dunst is a fine actress and her turn as the Wall Crawler’s object of affection leaves little to complain about. The only beef I have (and yes I get that this is a superficial thing but that kinda matters in a VISUAL MEDIUM) is that MJ is a supermodel in the comic books and Dunst’s beauty is more “girl next door”.
Aflred Molina plays a fantastic Doctor Octopus. He’s menacing and brutal, just as the comic book version. But he starts as a good man with big ambitions and genius scientist dreams. The echoes of Jeff Goldblum’s character arc in The Fly are strong but it does not feel derivative. Raimi turns to “voices in the head” to explain Doctor Octopus’ cruel insanity, as he did for the Green Goblin in the first spider movie but he combines it with tech messing with his mind to add a nice spin.
The scene stealer in this movie, as he was in the first film, is J. Jonah Jameson (brilliantly played by J.K. Simmons of Law & Order and Oz fame). He is the most comic book of the characters. He rarely, if ever, shows a third dimension and when he does it is fleeting and he is quick to regress back into the comic caricature performance. Though this reads like a complaint, it’s not. This does not detract from his entertainment value in the slightest. He’s a blast to watch.
The characters can thank Alvin Sargent’s screenplay for crisp dialogue and a tight story. It’s much easier to deliver on screen when your lines are funny and full of subtext. It’s surprising an action movie can be this smart. Or is it we’re so used to seeing stupid action movies?
The effects make the first movie look like an Atari video game console from the 1980’s. In the first film, when Parker is first learning how to use his powers, the jumping didn’t mesh well with the background. Maybe the CGI budget was spent? But this time, everything was seamless. And the sounds, especially in a newer movie theater, rocked your ass from here to hell.
The ending, which I won’t reveal here, manages to play with your emotions just as Spider-man plays with gravity and agility. Raimi is a fine conductor. It’s a damn shame about what happened with the inevitable third installment.
The combination of fine acting, a genuine story, slick effects, snappy dialogue, and deft pacing make this the best example of a comic book adaptation to date. I’m not saying it does everything perfectly. I’m not saying it does everything better than any comic book based movie that came before it or after it. What I am saying, and I will die on this hill, is that the sum of its super parts beats out any of the other contenders.
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