Following the massive success that was Spider-Man, there was no doubt that Sony would create a sequel. No one expected it to be the achievement that it is.
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco return, along with the new addition of Alfred Molina as the villain in Spider-Man 2. Sam Raimi, the man credited for the success of the original, also returns to direct this sequel. In almost every shape and form, this movie is superior to its predecessor.
The film starts where the last one left off, with Peter (Maguire) suffering bad grades and the inability to show commitment to his friends and family, as his career as Spider-Man is taxing, to say the least. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is facing a financial crisis at home. Mary Jane's (Dunst) acting career has taken off, but she is disappointed that the love of her life has failed to show up to watch once - so she has become romantically involved with John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), the son of news editor J. Jonah Jameson (played perfectly by J.K. Simmons). Harry Osborne (Franco) is leading his late father's company to new success under the innovation of Otto Octavius (Molina), but when a horrible accident melds four heavy-duty mechanical arms to Otto's spine - thus making him go insane - Harry's mission to kill Spider-Man becomes all the clearer. To top things off, the newly titled Dr. Octopus wants to continue with his experiments, which, undoubtedly, will destroy New York City.
Spider-Man 2 excels at so many levels it is hard to pinpoint where to start, so I'll just begin listing things off... To begin with, the plot is much more complex, at least at a character level. Spider-Man 2 is surprisingly character-heavy (meaning more drama and less action), and thus all of the interlocking relationships are very important - and since this is of course based on the comic books, everyone knows each other in some way. The script and dialogue is much more fleshed out, and most scenes showing exchanges between characters seemed quite real.
It would have been nice to have had a little more action; while the film works well as a character drama, this is still supposed to be an action film - some fans will be disappointed to find that very little happens for much of the movie. Sure, there are a few car thieves that Spider-Man beats here and there, but that's about it. Still, from a quality perspective, Spider-Man 2 works much better than the original; it creates an amazing amount of tension as the audience so desperately wants Peter to just tell everyone who he is.
The acting is improved as well. Some complained after the first movie was released that Maguire was a bit shaky; any doubt should leave their minds here. He gets to show much more depth this time around and is able to flex his acting muscles. While I am a big fan of Kirsten Dunst and believe her to be a good actress, there is still something that keeps me from truly enjoying her as Mary Jane Watson. Half the time she seems a bit spaced out, but I can't put my finger on it. Nevertheless, she's decent enough.
Once again, the real scene stealer is James Franco, whose character begins his descent into madness as he pursues the death of Spider-Man, the person he believes killed his father. The scenes where Peter and Harry talk are exceptional, as Peter is taken aback by Harry's ruthlessness and obsession. The only scene that I felt to be really awkward, however, was the moment at the end where he begins to truly grasp what is going on - the scene feels forced and a bit cheesy, especially with Willem Dafoe speaking from within the mirror.
Another great addition to the cast was Molina, who offers up a very gray and two-sided villain who is obviously out of his mind but still has a human side deep down. At times I felt as though this idea was a little too similar to that of the Green Goblin in the first movie, but Molina is still very effective; I liked how the movie took time to look at his character before he was altered into Dr. Octopus. My only complaint was that the final showdown between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus seemed a bit anticlimactic, as Spider-Man eventually ends up outside of the loop.
Another vast improvement is the special effects, which, for the most part, work much better than in the original. Some praised the original for its graphics, but I thought they were God-awful. The effects here still aren't great - there are plenty of scenes where it is quite clear that what we are seeing isn't real - but they are really good in parts. The best effects revolve around Dr. Octopus; his four extra arms are exceptionally well done. I don't understand why they hissed like snakes and thought on their own, but they still looked good.
A few minor complaints include the intro - which, like all Marvel movies, is especially bad (in reference to the comic book-esque opening credits), and the cheesy moment where the train passengers carry Spider-Man as if he is riding a mosh pit.
Spider-Man 2 is an excellent film that some will enjoy more than the original and others less. Its emphasis on character will intrigue some people, but others will feel that it needs more action.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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