Spider-Man 2 (2004)

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Well, they were going to make him fight two or three villains, but then they changed their minds and made the villain Doctor Octopus. And Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock is the best comic book movie villain achieved yet. This is the sequel’s strongest area of improvement over the original. The Green Goblin was not very scary, but Doctor Octopus is really intimidating. Another strong area of the film is the super-fights between Spidey and Ock: these also rate, I think, as the best achieved yet. (I hardly ever noticed seams between CGI and live actors this time.) And kudos to Sam Raimi for not slowing them down. He shovels the action at you as fast as your eye can take it in, sometimes a touch faster — which is the way real fights happen, even without super powers. So many action movies rely on slow motion or unrealistic long pauses or repeats of chunks of time, just to make sure that the audience keeps up with everything. (One extreme example: a ten second drag race in The Fast And The Furious that lasts a minute and a half.) Of course, slowed-down action also helps lower the budgetary requirements, and that’s not an issue with something as big and popular as Spider-Man.

I went in hoping, from what I’d heard beforehand, that this might be a contender for best superhero movie yet. Alas, it’s at best a contender for the top five. The X-Men series still beats this one, film to film... but it’s closer this time; Tobey McGuire was more than a little correct in saying that this “whooped the first film’s ass”. Much has been said about the quantity of angst and emotion used in the story here, and especially about the romance level of the film, which is certainly uncommon these days in an action movie. Unfortunately, I have to say that the romance and other emotional content is highly melodramatic, inflated to unrealistically operatic proportions. Plus, the first act is quite a bit too long, due entirely to how repetitively it drives home the various hard-luck aspects of Peter Parker’s life, especially his love life. If you’re in a space to swallow a man-sized helping of melodrama, it may work powerfully... if you prefer more adult and realistic approaches if may make you roll your eyes.

Another source of eye-rolling is the science element, which is stuck on a strictly comic book level. (You can run a fusion reaction in the open air, and even stand next to it!) There’s some equally crude psychology, concerning Spidey’s powers sometimes failing him. I bagged on this sort of thing in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but I don’t mind it here so much, because this film doesn’t take itself anywhere nearly as seriously.

The acting is decent overall but hardly great, with Molina giving the best performance.

Sam Raimi’s second Spidey film is much more Sam Raimi-ish than the first was. Unfortunately this means, among other things, reaching for cheap laughs about 50 percent too often. After a while it undermines believability. But despite all gripes this is a good film, and the quality of the story is above what we’re accustomed to in action spectacles.

This was an even blockbusterier success than the first film, and so will tend to dictate the received wisdom in Hollywood for how this kind of movie should be done. This is fortunate, since it is much better than the typical other summer blockbuster crap coming out for the last few years... this might actually lead Hollywood in coming years to work harder at putting decent scripts into their action spectacles. In the last four years or so, there has been a trend toward blockbusters with less stupidity than the previous norm, and in hindsight I think it will be said that the Marvel comic book movies led the way on this trend. With Spider-Man 2 being the biggest financial success yet, we have good hopes for the trend growing stronger.