In 2002, Sam Raimi made box office history with his big screen rendition of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's classic Marvel Comics creation, Spider-Man. Raimi's flamboyant visuals and respect for the source material made for one of the best big screen comic book adaptations to date. Now, two years later, the inevitable sequel is ready to hit screens across the continent.
Raimi is back behind the camera again, and much of the original cast returns to the roles that they played in the original film. And you know what? It works a whole lot better this time around. The first film was essentially a big budget version of the first chapter of an old serial. It had to get all the setup out of the way. It had to introduce us to the characters and help us get to know them a little bit in order to tell an effective story. With the setup out of the way now, Spider-Man 2 has free reign to get on with the good stuff.
This time around, New York City is plagued by the nefarious Doctor Octopus. When famed scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) designs a fusion device that can generate enough power to make limitless amounts of affordable electricity, the experiment goes horribly wrong and the four mechanical arms that he uses to run the experiment become fused to his spine and his cerebellum. Whereas prior to this Octavius controlled the arms, now it seems that they control him and he goes on a crime spree across the city, robbing banks in order to further fund the experiments he so desperately wants to finish. While all this is going on, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is wrestling with whether or not he should make his movie on his one true love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), trying not to flunk out of school, and trying to get his rent paid on time.
This second film brings Peter Parker into the real world, so to speak. Part of what made the comic series so great was the fact that Parker was someone we could relate to on one level or another. Sure, he was a superhero but he had real world problems. He didn't always get the girl, he couldn't always pay his rent, and he had trouble getting to class on time. In the first film we didn't get to dig on that aspect of the character as the film had to setup how and why he becomes Spider-Man. Here we know that part already and so the film effectively takes things up a notch in terms of character development and action.
It's precisely these changes in tone that makes Spider-Man 2 so much fun. It makes it feel like more of a comic book come to life. While the CGI used in a few of the scenes is still a little too obvious and cartoony-looking, it is slightly more natural looking than what we saw in the first film (though still noticeably computer generated).
One of the issues I had with the first film was that the main villain, The Green Goblin, looked like a Go-Bot. They modernized his costume and that just didn't sit well with me. While I thought Dafoe was good in his role, the visuals didn't add up properly for me, probably because I was used to The Green Goblin of the comic book. Well, with Dr. Octopus, the filmmakers have made amends. Molina shines in his role as the mad scientist with the mechanical arms and proves to be a much better foe for Spidey than the Goblin was in the first film. He's not quite as over the top and maniacal, but still sufficiently evil enough that we want Spidey to give him what for. The fight scenes between the hero and the villain, particularly the final showdown, are harder, faster, and more intense, which gives the movie a faster pace which works in it's favor.
Those who enjoy the 'little touches' that Raimi is known for scattering throughout his films going all the way back to the first Evil Dead film will find lots of nice little details to look for. Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi have fun cameo roles once more, and of course, it wouldn't be a Raimi movie without the car showing up once or twice. Little details like this make the humor work nicely within the context of what is essentially an action movie. An equally funny scene in which Spider-Man has to take the elevator brought a smile to my face.
The obvious product placement of the original film, which I personally found highly obnoxious (the Macy Gray cameo, the Dr. Pepper, etc.) is toned down considerably and while there are one or two blatant cues from the soundtrack (in stores now!), it doesn't come anywhere near the crass levels of advertising that we saw the first time around. Speaking of the soundtrack, Danny Elfman turns in another excellent score that sounds familiar enough to the score he composed for the first movie to be recognizable but is original enough to stand on its own two feet.
Of course, much of the dialogue in the film is a tad too sugary for most people to take seriously but in the context of a comic book adaptation, we're able to accept this and when Aunt May gives Peter Parker the 'there's a hero in all of us' speech, it isn't quite as gag inducing as it might be in something that we're supposed to take more seriously. It almost seems appropriate, as it retains the feel of the source material.
In short, the movie flows better. The characters progress nicely from the events in the first film. The effects are bigger and better and more effective. It feels like a comic book movie should feel like. It's a more fluid, action packed film that made me smile like a kid for ninety minutes. A big, hairy kid with a mortgage and a car payment, but a kid none the less. Highly Recommended.