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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN 2

Posted by Aaron West, 6/27/04

Spider-Man 2
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco and J.K. Simmons
Running Time: 127 minutes

Don't look now, Mom, but there's another superhero sequel this Summer. Hollywood is yet again doing what it does best, overproducing films within a certain genre, cranking them out in record numbers, and consequently tarnishing the integrity of not just one, but all. While Hollywood may be guilty of the above stated crime, that is surprisingly not the case with Spider-Man part deux. Hollywood has continued the baffling trend, set by X2 last year, of actually having sequels improve on their mediocre originals. In the process, they've gained the respect of the movie-going public, and confused the heck out of cynics across the globe who consider the (temporary) demise of the Batman franchise their greatest victory. Stop right there Mr. Freeze, Spider-Man is good, for real, and promises to stay that way for quite some time.

With most franchises, you can reasonably gauge your expectation level based on the first film. That is true, in part, with Spider-Man, but not entirely. Sure, there will undoubtedly be breathtaking and sometimes unrealistic visual effects; the surround sound will conveniently drown out the crunch of popcorn throughout the entire theater; and the film will be an enjoyable, if forgettable piece of entertainment. There is a key difference with Spider-Man 2, however, that sets it buildings apart from its predecessor, and that is the writing team. If I were to wager a guess as to the golden, hidden ingredient, I would point my finger towards celebrated and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Chabon. Not only does he have the literary and storytelling cred, but he's a bona fide, self professed, superhero nut. While he is only part of a collaboration team, the resumes that surround him speak for themselves.

The acting has also improved. I would never call Tobey Maguire a bad actor, but unlike others, I've yet to be impressed with him. He has played some interesting characters in the past, but he seems to bring the same deadpan, slow speaking, delivery with him every time. That is not the case with Spider-Man 2, although I wouldn't yet scribble him in for those Oscar predictions. Combined with some eye makeup that accentuates his performance, Maguire does bring some genuine emotion to the table. It shows that Maguire is maturing as an actor, and I expect him to improve with age and experience. Aside from Maguire, the supporting performances are equally strong. Alfred Molina's turn as Doctor Octopus rivals Maguire for the most humanistic performance, and together they shine on screen. Kirsten Dunst is about the same, not spectacular, but not necessarily horrible by any stretch.

Some of the improvements can be attributed to the record-breaking success of the first film. Specifically, the technical details have greatly improved. In Spider-Man, some of the web-slinging scenes appeared as if they could have been mistaken for a video game. Thanks to a larger budget ($200+ million, wow!), the CGI is much cleaner and realistic in the sequel. You can tell that plenty of attention was spent working on smaller details, such as Doc Ock's tentacles. Plus, Spider-Man 2 presents on of the greatest CGI moments yet seen in film with the Subway scene.

Spidey's themes are obvious, but well executed. There are plenty of messages of self-sacrifice, guilt, obligation, altruism, and overall benevolence. While the themes are overtly stated, they aren't done so with incessant pandering. Okay, well, not much, that is. They keep it in character, without becoming too preachy. As a result, in a genre overloaded with flat superheroes, Spiderman may be the only character appropriately developed as an actual "hero".

Spiderman 2 not only succeeds in many areas where its predecessor failed, but it succeeds where many other superhero films have failed as well. While it doesn't sacrifice blockbuster special effects or white knuckle intensity, it is able to balance its summeresque side with character development, textured writing, and (mostly) unobtrusive camerawork. It is not only the best superhero film yet, but it is almost an apology for other director's failings. It is better than Spiderman 2; it is better than X2. Going further, it has excelled where other summer franchises have fizzled - in its second try, it has successfully rooted a franchise in character and storyline. There is plenty of hope for future volumes of this franchise, but more importantly, there's hope for Hollywood yet.

Score: 8/10