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Spider-Man 2 - Frank's Take

01/08/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

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In director Sam Raimiís explosively action-packed superhero saga Spider-Man 2, he picks up the pleasurable pace of the web-slinging wizard. Tobey Maguire is back in full form as the angst-ridden crime-fighting cobwebbed crawler. Lost in a perpetual haze of conflict and courageousness, Maguireís Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a harried hero with a tainted blue-collar badge that he proudly dons.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Columbia Pictures 2 hours. 7 minutes. Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Elizabeth Banks, Rosemary Harris, Bruce Campbell, J.K. Simmons. Directed by: Sam Raimi.

Well folks, summertime is certainly in the air as the giddy cinema scene kick starts its bag of blockbuster treats. And nothing resonates better than a rollicking and robust comic book action-adventure fantasy that attempts to add some further spice to the pithy proceedings.

In director Sam Raimiís explosively action-packed superhero saga Spider-Man 2, he picks up the pleasurable pace of the web-slinging wizard. Tobey Maguire is back in full form as the angst-ridden crime-fighting cobwebbed crawler. Lost in a perpetual haze of conflict and courageousness, Maguireís Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a harried hero with a tainted blue-collar badge that he proudly dons.

Spider-man 2 Movie Review

With that sentiment in mind, Raimiís CGI-coated Spider-Man 2 is a jubilant and jolting escapist flick that fittingly packs its worthy web full of genuine emotion and intrigue. Clearly, this is more than a satisfying follow-up to 2002ís spry original offering that introduced us to an awkward high schooler whose life transforms from geek to sheik when assuming his powerful Spidey web-swinging ways.

Raimi is right on target when presenting the skillfully athletic arachnid as a tortured soul trying to do the right thing. More importantly, Maguireís turn as a resourcefully conscientious young man looking to live up to his righteous expectations with the "gift" that was unexpectedly granted to him is truly compelling as it is convincing. After all, it is the flawed superhero that is misunderstood and searching for meaning in his complicated life that usually makes for an interesting character study. As in the first installment of Spider-Man, Maguire demonstrates a subtle vulnerability as he constantly juggles his chaotic personal and professional proclivities.

The filmís mantra "with great power comes great responsibility" is a soulful forethought that carries some heavy weight in an action-oriented movie thatís cheerfully overactive yet thoroughly profound. For that, Spider-Man 2 is a flowing fantasy with an abundant heart that pumps vigorously with a comedic craftiness and romanticism thatís undoubtedly refreshing.

Thereís a risk of understating the continual complexities that bog down Peterís tattered psyche. As both a struggling student and prominent protector of the cityís periled people, Peter Parker/Spider-Man finds himself in an overwhelming rut thatís both physically and psychologically demanding. And letís not forget the lingering baggage left behind from this filmís predecessor where Peter had to pay the price for his newest stint as the nimble, heralded high-flying human insect out to battle the bad guys.

With his previous guilt-ridden feelings about indirectly causing the death of his Uncle Ben as well as inadvertently killing his best friend Harry Osbornís (James Franco) father Norman/The Green Goblin, Peter has other major considerations to contemplate. Mainly, his lengthy affections for Mary Jane Watson a.k.a. M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) are a source of frustration since she finally came around and discovered her true love for Peter Parker thus downplaying her infatuation with Spider-Man and her ongoing romance with Harry.

For Peter, returning his desirous need to openly embrace M.J. would mean big trouble in the long run since she would be sacrificing her safety (and sanity) by being pitted into the dangerous criminal existence that consumes Parkerís web-weaving alter ego.

Dream girl M.J. is there for the taking but Peter cannot go for the beautiful bait. Because of his numerous responsibilities as a working college kid and his special duties as the amazing Masked One, Peter simply cannot involve M.J. in his volatile shenanigans. Of course when M.J. hunts down another love interest after being subjected to Peterís forced indifference, the poor guy must bite the bullet and let his precious loss be someone elseís great gain.

And so Peter Parker does his thing in stride as he awkwardly maintains his menial job as a pizza delivery guy. Plus, Peter is still toiling away for The Daily Bugle as a freelance photographer where the newspaperís irascible ingrate (and Spider-Man cynic) chief editor J. Jonah Jameson (J K Simmons) is out to scrutinize the perplexed Parker and his hidden identity as the webbed wonder. In between his classroom studies at Columbia University, Peter must concentrate on saving the same society that seems to be running him ragged at will. It certainly doesnít help when thereís a segment of the public that deems his Spider-Man an urban menace while some do appreciate his assistance.

Also, Peterís Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is down in the dumps and is perturbed at her nephew and his erratic demeanor. And if thatís not enough disturbing food for thought, Peter must avoid the growing hatred of Harry Osborn who vehemently blames Spider-Man for the untimely demise of his old man and will seek revenge against the crusading costumed cobweb at all costs. HmmmÖthey say that crime doesnít pay, right? This must apply for the art of crime-fighting which doesnít seem to pay its share of dividends as well, huh?

Talking about a man being against the world and vice versa! Peter Parker and his alternate persona Spider-Man are on a brink of a bulging breakdown. But heís not alone in this detachment of hope and inclusion of despair. Enter scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). Octavius (nicknamed "Doc Ock") gets his taste of disillusionment when his experimental testing with an unpredictable machine goes haywire. The results, as you can imagine, are tragic. Soon Doc Ock is unfavorably blessed with ominous-looking metallic tentacles that emerge from his back. Along with these metal limbs, Doc Ock also inherits a depravity that overcomes his former easygoing personality.

The deranged and disabled doctor has an incredible strength that rivals his mental madness. With Peter Parker/Spider-Man in an everlasting funk, the timing is bad as this deluded Doc Ock suddenly rises to the evil-minded occasion. Hence, if the weary and wounded Peter Parker canít save himself or maintain the law-abiding spirit of Spider-Man then who will put a complete stop to the destructive tendencies of Dr. Otto Octavius?

The proceedings do pick up considerably when the monstrous tandem of Doc Ock and Harry Osborn team up in an effort to fulfill the twisted agenda. Consequently, they do need each other in order to reinforce their insidious deeds. Doc Ock needs Harry to supply him with financial backing and other resources to keep his mad scientist-creates-mayhem gig in tact. And Harry needs the mighty madman Doc Ock to hand him Spider-Manís webhead on a silver platter so he can suffer the dire consequences that Harryís late father Norman faced at the expense of his archenemy.

In the process of obsessing over spilling the blood of the sought-out Spidey, Harryís decline into craziness serves as the sole purpose for his apparent emotional distance from Peter and M.J. So the question remains: will the inner turmoil of Peter Parker/Spider-Man be at rest before the demonic duo of Otto "Doc Ock" Octavius and the increasingly bitter Harry Osborn get the golden opportunity to eliminate their wall-crawling foe once and for all?

No doubt thereís a lot of pathos to be had in Spider-Man 2. The movieís ability to balance its components of excitement, humor, romancing, and the generous share of spiffy special effects makes this mainstream popcorn pleaser a durable and three-dimensional treat that summertime movie audiences look to enthusiastically for pure thrills. Raimi and writer Alvin Sargent have concocted an entertainment that contains appealing angles that register on all levels for folks that appreciate a well-rounded action-adventure comic book creation that brings a welcoming amount of edginess.

The plot is nicely conceived and Raimiís narrative doesnít have that generic feel to it that plagues a majority of the frivolous contemporary actioners. Quite noticeably, Spider-Man 2 is rousing and riveting in its sophistication of filmmaking techniques. Although intermittent in its sluggish spots at times, Raimi doesnít disappoint when giving his characterizations a distinctive face that demonstrates their resiliency in moodiness and merriment.

Maguire is exceptional as the puzzled protagonist whose dilemma as a soul-searching superhero is put to the test when everyday obstacles threaten his path. As Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Maguire is able to convey that humble Average Joe quality thatís both endearing and invigorating to his complete portrait of a special individual sworn to uphold his integrity in a defeating universe of tension and temptation.

We identify with Maguireís Parker/Spider-Man because heís real like the rest of us in the sense that his livelihood is no picnic walk. Before his fortune as a crime-busting icon, Peter Parker was an earnest schlep carving a future for himself. He has the same anxieties and anticipation that we all do - to make it in this warped world the best way he knows how to through hard work, education and other such sacrifices.

Even after his transformation into the spectacular Spider-Man, Maguireís Peter Parker is sympathetic because he remained the same kind of down-to-earth young man that still holds his share of insecurities yet harbors a genuine concern for his fellow citizens.

With his high-caliber privileges as Spider-Man, you would think that Peter Parker would be on Easy Street with his powerful perks. But the burden is even greater because he realizes that his conviction to do the right thing goes beyond the selfish surface pertaining to him and his enclosed circle of loved ones.

Frankly, Maguire does a fabulous job conveying the notion that his Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a laboring supernatural entity that answers the sordid call with redeemable passion. We almost feel sorry for Parkerís need for normalcy as he fights for survival and acceptance just as much as anyone would when looking to support themselves and the people they cherish dearly.

Whether watching Maguire spin a mischievous web as Spidey or run amok as the workhorse Parker, we are challenged by the actorís determination to serve up a working manís hero we care about in every sense of the imagination.

The supporting cast is steady and contributes effectively to the juicy showcase. Molina is eerily enticing as Doc Ock with a dark side makeover. He doesnít get the full colorful treatment as the villain-of-the-moment as much as Willem Dafoeís Green Goblin did in the first Spider-Man flick but Molina nevertheless holds his own and makes his creepy role shine with devious delight.

Dunst is worthy of the "trophy girl" acknowledgment as Spider-Manís favorite damsel-in-distress but the script doesnít give her much to do besides being the curvy urge that Maguireís Peter Parker must but canít resist. Francoís Harry Osborn is reliable in his brooding bravura as heís torn apart between being sulking and sorrowful. And as the comical relief, J K Simmons is a royal hoot as Parkerís newspaper boss in the grumpy and garrulous J. Jonah Jameson.

Spider-Man 2 is uniquely inspired thanks to its visually stunning presentation and attentive firmness designated to its solid characterizations. Invitingly grand and resounding with cheeky energy, this is one exhilarating and thought-provoking spider that does more that crawl up the water sprout.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2004

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