© 2004 Ray Wong
One of the most anticipated movies of this summer, SPIDER-MAN 2 is set to break many box office records. Again. With a bigger budget and over 4000 screens in North America alone, it runs the risk of buckling under its own weight. Fortunately, this sequel is even better than the original -- a rare occurrence in Hollywood.
Two years after Peter Parker assumed his alter ego, his life is falling apart. Being Spider-Man has rendered him physically and mentally exhausted. He cannot hold down a real job and his academic studies at Columbia University are faltering. He cannot pay rent and his aunt May is losing her house. More importantly, his yearning for MJ Watson continues to depress him.
Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn still hates Spider-Man for killing his father. The Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson is turning the city against Spider-Man. Meanwhile, MJ’s career as a model-actress has taken off and the distance between Peter and her is growing wider. Convinced that Peter will never be there for her, MJ decides to marry her beau John, the astronaut who happens to be Jameson’s son. As his web dries up, Peter realizes the only way he can get what he wants is to relinquish his power, thus the responsibility. Spider-Man is no more.
Everything starts to turn up for Peter until a lab accident turns Dr. Otto Octavius into a menace with four mechanical arms. Doc Ock (a name christened by Jameson) terrorizes New York and his insane experiment threatens to destroy the city. Peter has to decide between getting what he wants and saving the world.
Maguire (SEABISCUIT) has matured well into the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He portrays Parker’s complexity and internal conflicts with masterful skill, reconfirming his status as one of the most talented young leading men of our time. Dunst (MONA LISA SMILE) is perfect as MJ Watson. She and Maguire have great chemistry together. Franco’s (THE COMPANY) role as Harry has been reduced and his performance is somewhat over the top at times. Molina’s (IDENTITY) Doc Ock is a worthy villain, torn between humanity and menace. Harris (BLOW DRY) remains an emotional anchor, the true matriarch, for the series, and she steals every scene she is in. The irreplaceable Simmons (THE LADYKILLERS) continues to bring the manic caricature of Jameson to life. Willem Dafoe and Cliff Robertson also appear in cameos, reprising their roles as Norman Osborn and Ben Parker respectively.
Director Raimi, with the help of his writers (including literary laureate Michael Chabon), has created a fascinating alternate universe that is New York, ripe with comic-book colors and architecture. Like he did with the original, Raimi balances the blood-boiling action sequences and mind-blowing CGI special effects with heart-felt drama. For example, an exciting subway train sequence ends with a poignant coda that shows the heart of what the series is all about. The conflict and relationship between Peter and MJ is wonderfully written and acted.
Technically, the film’s production exceeds the original in almost every way. Between the drama and action, Raimi also sprinkles the film with silly, comic-book moments to lighten the mood. The ending is, in a way, unexpected and satisfying, making us wonder what is coming in the next installment. We just can’t wait.
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon, Alvin Sargent
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 9
Editing – 9
Production – 10
Total – 8.8 out of 10