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In this episode: Spider-Man 2
SPIDER-MAN 2

Web Slinger and DamselIt was exactly two years ago to the day minus one that I sent out a review of the first Spider-Man. That movie was a great surprise to me, and was so much fun I had to be Taft-Hartleyed into the Fun-Havers Union. (It was expensive, but worth every penny, as I've been allowed to have more fun in the past two years than ever before in my entire life.) Well, I will keep you in suspense no longer: Spider-Man 2 is great. Really, honestly, it's great. It falls into that rare phylum of sequels that are better than the original. If the first one worked, this one works even better.

The first clue that this movie was going to work was its lack of a subtitle. A subtitle would have required a colon. Though I haven't bitched about colons in titles lately (see the bitching here and here), the peeve still peeves me. So the refreshingly simple title Spider-Man 2 shows a bit of class. Spider-Man 2: Peter Parker's Poser or Spider-Man 2: Revenge of the Whiney Spoiled Rich Son or Spider-Man 2: The Guy with Lots of Computer-Generated Arms are all titles that would have screamed: "THIS MOVIE WILL BITE!"

The opening credits, by Kyle Cooper, are less strikingly snazzy than his usual, but they are nicely done and are used to creatively remind us of the story from the first movie. How? By using art. You know, like in comic books. This art is more Alex Ross, though, and not hack with pen and ink. Very nice stuff.

After that, it's all up-hill. It's two years later (well, I'll be!), and we see the main characters have all advanced into their exciting, adventure-filled futures. Mary Jane (a fine but not awesome Kirsten Dunst) has moved from greasy spoon waitress to money-making actress and model; Harry, son of The Green Goblin, (a smoldering James Franco) has moved his dead father's company into new realms of profit and scientific advancement; and Peter... Well, poor Peter, as was foreshadowed at the very end of the last movie, has become a loner. Here is where the fruit-juicy center of the movie is enclosed.

Tobey Maguire, again as Peter and Spidey, is excellent, as always. He is even more lovable and normal-guyish in this film than the last. But his woes have become more complicated. He is poor, failing in college, failing in love, and failing his widowed Aunt (a charming Rosemary Harris). His double-life is taking its toll. Peter's struggle in this movie is exactly what we wanted to see following Spider-Man. The dark ending of the first movie set us up, as an audience, to be able to shout out like we're on the Jerry Springer show. "Mmm hmmm, boy. You see what you done did? Turn away from your lovely honey. March off to be the hero. Now look atcha. Hoo-ee, I could see it comin'. Boy, you need to listen to us now!" And so on. I could do that for paragraphs.

What I mean is, the first movie set up the sequel perfectly. And this movie has taken all those interesting threads and played them exactly right. The movie is true to all the characters. Their arcs are unbroken from movie 1 to movie 2. So as you sit and watch Spider-Man 2, you thrill to the drama that unfolds.

"Drama? Drama! What you talkin' 'bout? Ain't this supposed to be a action flick?"

Why, yes, Jimmy Susie Rae, it is. The action here is exciting and visually stunning. It's too claustrophobically swift, as is the common problem with all these movies these days, but it's inventive, kinetic, thrilling, and satisfying. Between all this neck-craning whiz-pow, the movie allows itself to explore the dramatic moments as well. The movie metronome slides from fast to slow to fast to slow, but all at a masterful pace, making every scene enjoyable.

A metronome can't work without that little weight thingy at the tip. Spider-Man 2's little weight thingy is Sam Raimi.

"Metronome? Sam Riminny? You done lost me!"

I know. It was a stupid metaphor.

"Metawhat? You spoutin' all kinds of nonsense!"

Then go away, you failed comedic device, you.

POOF!

Okay, enough of that.

Tobey is great. Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus is wonderful, as is his villain's character. J.K. Simmons as Jameson is hilarious. All these people make the movie worthwhile. But without Sam, these thespians could have all been wasting their talents in a crappy movie. Sam is quirky and creative, and there is so much of him here that I shudder to think what will happen if he does not direct Spider-Man 3. The little visual flourishes, the insane camera angles, the clever movement, and even the wonderful B-movie shots of women screaming are all Sam touches. There are too many writers on this movie, so I can only assume Sam was the epoxy that made even the script work so well. Sam's direction is part— I'm sorry, is most of the success of both Spider-Mans. Spider-Men. Something. I hope he does another one! If not, the next one will only suffer.

Spider-Man has never been interesting to me as a super hero. I couldn't have cared less about him most of my life. That's why I dreaded seeing the first movie, and then was so surprised. I have to admit, I was really looking forward to this sequel. I tried to check my enthusiasm, which I did pretty well, but I was, deep down, excited. Even that poster (the one at the top of the page here) got me going! I repeat what I said in the first review: Thank God. Thank God I wasn't let down yet again. Thank God someone has a clue how to make an entertaining movie. Thank God there's at least one big-budget action movie worth seeing this summer. Go and see it and have a blast!

Oh, and like I said last time, too, have a hoopy Fourth.

 

—Steve

7/2/04

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©2004 Steven Lekowicz except
Spider-Man 2 art ©2004 Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. and
Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus and distinctive likenesses thereof
TM and © Marvel Characters, Inc. (Whew!)