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Spider-Man 2
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Sam Raimi (director)
Released:   July 1, 2004
Review Date:   June 30, 2004
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

As a child, I learned how to read so I could understand what Spider-Man was saying. I watched the 1960s Marvel cartoons, The Electric Company, the dreadful 1970s TV series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the 1990s animated show, and even an episode or two of the Japanese TV show. I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't own a Spider-Man T-shirt and action figure. On my bookcases are several collections of the arachnid hero's adventures. It was from reading Spider-Man that I learned that spiders are arachnids and not insects.

After years of delays, Spider-Man finally made it to the big screen in 2002. Hopes were high for this one. Not only did Tobey Maguire look the part, but he can act. Director Sam Raimi's pedigree was without question after creating such fan favorites as the Evil Dead trilogy, Darkman, and Xena. Still, I was dubious.

But damn if the trailers didn't look great. I was there at the first show on the first day (along with RevolutionSF editors Peggy Hailey and Mark Finn). I almost cried. This was the movie that the little boy who learned to read had been waiting for. It captured the flavor and style of the classic Stan Lee-Steve Ditko comics, while making some intelligent and necessary changes. Even with the movie's flaws (such as Kirsten Dunst's clunky acting and some of the inane dialog), Spider-Man ranks as one of the top two or three comic book films of all time.

Spider-Man 2 picks up roughly one year after the first film. Peter Parker, as usual, is down on his luck and having trouble making ends meet. Aunt May and his friends are all worried and angry. Peter is always tired and never has time for them. (Between school, work, and protecting the innocent, you wouldn't have time for your friends either.)

Doctor Curt Connors, his physics professor, threatens to flunk the brilliant Peter unless he completes his overdue paper on Dr. Otto Octavius. Octavius happens to be developing a new energy source for Oscorp, which is now being run by Peter's friend and the deceased Green Goblin's son, Harry Osborn. Harry blames Spider-Man for the death of his father and is angry at Peter for making money taking photographs of the hated hero.

Despite his feelings, Harry arranges a meeting between the student and the doctor, which leads to Peter being invited to a demonstration of the new energy source. Before the test, Octavius dons a set of four cybernetic, indestructible arms programmed with artificial intelligence. Needless to say, something goes terribly wrong and the arms become grafted to Octavius. Doctor Octopus is born.

Spider-Man 2 has some of the same flaws of the original, plus a few new ones. The dialog in places is poorly written; I never again need to hear a lengthy monologue from a super-villain explaining his master plan. The writers only use Peter's spider sense when it progresses the plot. Spider-Man is surprised by fists, mechanical arms, and the like. In the finale with Octavius, Spider-Man does something that is jarringly out of character. (I can't reveal more without giving away the plot.)

The superior special effects are far more fluid than those of the first film. The fight scenes peppered throughout are the stuff of fanboy dreams. The action is clear and entertaining even with all those flailing arms and high speed movements.

A recap of the first movie is deftly handled in the opening credits, with legendary comic artist Alex Ross interpretations of previous events. You really haven't lived until you've seen 30-foot Ross paintings. A very clever and pleasing way to revisit the initial film.

All the major players are back from the first film, along with two other important members of the Spider-Man mythos: Dr. Curt Connors, who later becomes the villainous Lizard, and J. Jonah Jameson's son John, an astronaut and eventual villain Man-Wolf. Neither of them portray any of their future characteristics, though Connors is missing an arm. Character development is the backbone to this picture and, for the most part, handled very well. Most of the character motivations are clear and the key elements for the next film well established.

The acting is uniformly good (even Dunst isn't that bad, mainly because she isn't on screen as much), but Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus, J.K. Simmon's J. Jonah Jameson, and Maguire really stand out. Spider-Man 2 features some of Raimi's trademark humor and unusual camera angles. In one particularly chilling hospital scene, Raimi really showcases his horror chops (with the required chainsaw but without the blood). As expected both Bruce Campbell and Stan Lee make cameos, as an obnoxious theater usher and an innocent bystander who saves a child, respectively.

Spider-Man 2, with its interesting character interaction, stellar special effects, and fantastic direction, is that rarest of Hollywood creatures: a sequel that is as good if not better than the original. Spider-Man 2 is destined to join the hallowed ranks of The Empire Strikes Back and The Bride of Frankenstein. It's going to be a long wait for Spider-Man 3.

RevolutionSF contributing editor Rick Klaw, author of Geek Confidential: Echoes from the 21st Century, says the only thing that would make Spider-Man better is to include a gorilla. Gorillas make everything better.

 
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