Written by David Holland
Spider-Man 2 follows on the success of the first installment. Tobey Macguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and JK Simmons are all back, along with Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus. Sam Raimi is back to direct, keeping up his tone from the previous film.
This movie is a great example of a middle chapter. I have written before that it is possible to take the second installment of a trilogy too seriously, but this movie balances the increasing tension with humor and heartfelt moments. This film follows up on Norman Osborn’s dying wish, that Peter not tell Harry the truth about the Green Goblin’s identity, and instead leaves Harry believing that Spider-Man murdered his father. Having taken control of his father’s company, Harry takes a risk on Otto Octavius’s clean energy experiment, and that risk spirals out of control to create Doctor Octopus.
Spider-Man 2 pulls from classic storylines, like “Spider-Man No More!” and confront Peter’s increasing difficulty balancing his two lives as Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Aunt May is getting evicted, he loses his job, and the love of his life gets engaged to a freaking astronaut! And things get worse for the hero too. In the Spider-Man cartoon, the titular hero used to run out of web when it was convenient to the story for him to be plunging toward his death. But in this movie the webs are part of his innate powers, and are linked to his confidence, so when he loses his confidence he loses his power. Only when he accepts his dual responsibilities as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, can he fulfill either role well.
In one moment, while trying to solve his identity crisis, Spider-Man nearly kills himself trying to save a train full of New Yorkers. He loses his mask and takes on a deeply religious pose in the process, creating a meaningful moment between the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and the Friendly Neighborhood he saves.
There’s not a lot to complain about in this film, and you know I tried. I don’t love an “everything goes wrong for the hero until the last ten minutes” story, so there’s certainly cringeworthy moments like when Peter can’t get to MJ’s performance on time or when he and Aunt May fight, but in the end everything comes together. Of course, things do get a little campy, like when Doctor Octopus robs a bank by pulling literal bags of cash out of an old-timey vault, so he can fund his experiments in an abandoned warehouse like a Scooby-Doo villain. But “camp” is sort of what we come to Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies for, so it’s not really anything worth dwelling on. Like “X-Men”, the sequel is an improvement on the original, and a set up for…….disappointment in the third installment.
Spider-Man 2 is the best of the Tobey Maguire trilogy. It’s entertaining – with a hero you root for, a single villain who carries the action, and it ties up the loose ends while still setting up for a third chapter.