Whatever a Spider Can!
Few superheroes resonate like Spider-Man does. Superman is the goody-two-shoes Boy Scout, Batman is the dark hero bent on vengeance, Wolverine (from the X-Men) is all attitude and claws, but Spidey occupies a different niche. In the words of a random bystander in Spider-Man 2: “He’s just a kid.” Just a kid. That means he has problems, like any kid. The kind of problems that can’t really be solved by “doing whatever a spider can.”
Spider-Man 2 picks up a couple years after the first movie. Peter Parker is poor, living in a terrible apartment with a public bathroom, and a landlord constantly trying to ambush him for rent. His dear Aunt May is facing foreclosure. He loses his pizza delivery job and can only make money at his photog job by selling Spidey pics to a publisher bent on defaming his alter-ego (again, JK Simmons, even better used here than in the first film). His best friend Harry blames Spider-Man for his father’s death. The love of his life, Mary Jane Watson, has all but given up on Parker, because he’s just too undependable. And lastly, Dr. Conners is concerned because Parker, his most brilliant student, can’t seem to get his homework done on time and falls asleep in class.
What’s a superhero to do?
That’s the question that haunts the film. As Spider-Man, Peter Parker fulfilled a promise to his dying Uncle. He had to save the world (well, New York City) and do so selflessly, why? Because he could. “With great power comes great responsibility!” Now he’s starting to yearn for a normal life, and when he learns MJ is getting hitched to another guy, well, he starts having psychological problems common to a lot of men feeling stressed and inadequate. If the web shooting in the first flick represented puberty, the loss of it (and the rest of his powers in this film), represents the onset of male performance anxiety.
Yeah, Peter copes with real life here and that struggle, coupled with the still-sweet love story between him and Mary Jane means this is a comic book flick that offers much more than most comic book flicks dare. It offers the complete comic book package. The pathos, the yearning, the wisdom, and, of course, the men in tights. Thereﾒs a moment when Aunt May (the wonderful Rosemary Harris) lectures our Peter about the meaning of heroism. Itﾒs a moment too maudlin for some, but sheﾒs speaking to the idealistic kid in all of us. Does she know her nephew is Spidey? Does it matter? It’s good advice to anyone listening, with or without superpowers.
The villain of the piece, Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, is a marvel. A frightening mass of evil genius armed with four quick-thinking and semi-independent killer robot arms. They help him climb buildings, punch through concrete, kill people, and terrorize the city. The villain has a plan to destroy most of New York City, but this is overkill. His robot arms are frightening enough and this, and the bizarro (even for a comic book) resolution of the villain’s plans, are the movie’s only real weakness. Thankfully it doesn’t end there. There’s an opening for Ock to return but the movie’s ending concerns the character who has won our hearts, not Spider-Man, but Peter Parker. It’s nice to see the loser win for a change, even if the ending also sets up a dark near-future that will definitely propell Spider-Man 3.
Terrific action, genuine thrills and scares, terrific use of humor throughout, and characters you care deeply about whether their in their spandex or not, make Spider-Man 2 a superlative super-hero movie and the first one to ever really get the genius behind the original character. In a word, Excelsior!
Kid Factor Like the first flick, Spider-Man 2 is creative and violent. Meaning, the action scenes are very cool, very rough, and can be frightening to younger viewers. Doc Ock, with his killer metal tentacles, is a fully realized horror-show and the scene in the hospital where his arms come to life is frightening in a way that plainly shows Sam Raimi, the director, got his start in cheap bizarro horror flicks (Evil Dead 2). In the first movie Parker is motivated by guilt to don the tights and be the good guy. In this movie Aunt May delivers a knockout speech about the meaning of heroism. To the city, to children, and to the hero himself. Couple that with the villain’s motto, before his accident, “Intelligences is a gift, and it must be used for the benefit of mankind” and you have a movie that bombards it’s audience with a lesson about social responsibility that’s not only timely, it works to counter-act some of the more disturbingly selfish and violent heroes in today’s media. Spider-Man is a superhero not only because he has the power to be one, but he does so at his own expense and to a city that doesn’t completely appreciate him. That’s the real definition of a SUPER-Hero.
Reviewer’s Recommended Ages: 10+
MPAA: PG13 (violence)