By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
In the year of 2004, cinema had only had a handful of remarkable superhero films. With the brink of the Marvel cinematic universe nearing in the next few years, the next installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise would be the first superhero genre film that broke the mold a bit. With its focus on the characters interactions instead of the superhero fights, Spider-Man 2 was a film that reflected the tone of drama as compared to an action film that the genre is known for. In continuation of my Spider-Man film reviews leading to Spider-Man: Homecoming, I will divulge into quite possibly one of the greatest comic-book films ever made and currently, the best Spider-Man film ever made.
Spider-Man 2 is a film that focuses on the theme of discovering one’s self and if the person we’re supposed to be is who we want to be. Facing ourselves and our desires to be loved and depended upon, instead of becoming the selfless and courageous individual that some need us to be. It’s a confliction that is so true to Spider-Man’s character and relatable to us, the audience, as well. Opening with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) providing a narration by once again professing his infatuation for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and stating, “Who am I? I’m Spider-man given a job to do. And, I’m Peter Parker, and I, too, have a job to do.” This opening narration does two significant things for the screenplay’s set-up. First, it reminds us of the internal conflict for Peter. How Peter has to choose between being the responsible hero, or the happy friend who could be with the love of his life. Two, this opening narration implies that M.J. will be playing a significant role in this film’s plot developments and character motivations.
This opening scene then leads us to our first exciting sequence of Peter racing fifty-four blocks to deliver a pizza in which if he doesn’t arrive in eight minutes or less the pizzas are then free, and he will be fired. So with eight minutes to save his job, Peter decided to change into the Spider-man outfit and use his abilities to conquer this mission. However, the obstacle of heroism stands in the way as he has to save two children from being crushed by an oncoming vehicle. A quick act of courage that causes him to be two minutes late and a snobby secretary to say, “You’re late, I’m not paying for those,” as she continues to smack her gum obnoxiously. Leading to the first example of how this responsibility of nobility and selflessness begins to ruin Peter’s personal life and his relationships with others as well. This thematic focal point of the film in which Mary Jane plays an enormous role in influencing Peter’s decisions and Peter’s actions in how he battles his selfish desires.
Her character carries her frustration from the past film, and as Peter continuously lets her down by never being dependable. She begins to lose her love for him to such a drastic point that she gets engaged to another man. I’m not sure if she loved this man, or if she did this to spite Peter. This ambiguous character motivation is something that lends this film to be creative with its screenwriting. Along with the continuation of the complete understanding of the role of Peter Parker and his character’s motivations and characteristics that make him who he is. And that is to continually trample on this character, whether that is placing numerous amounts of obstacles in front of him or placing more strain on his character with more tragic occurrences. That occurs in this film, and Alvin Sargent and his writers are to thank for this focused screenplay. A screenplay that differs itself from the clichés of the genre by focusing on conflicts that are relatable to the average person.
The filmmaking also reflects ingenuity, as Raimi focuses on setting the camera from the perspective of vulnerability. Letting the camera linger on Peter’s face during these conflictual scenes to allow us to see his honest reaction. This direction also leads to the final shot with Mary Jane face reflecting that of despair and realization of her choices consequences. That while she is in love, she is also alone. Every performance in this film is on point and hitting every mark. Alfred Molina does an incredible job of portraying Dr. Otto Octavius or better known as Doc Ock. His internal conflicts of achieving impactful scientific creation that makes society a better and more efficient machine and whether this obsession of success makes him responsible for his grief. Once again an impactful storyline of characters internal conflicts and their failures that cause their choices to become emotionally riveting once again.
The flaws of the film center around some plot devices and nitpicks of individual scenes and the lack of realism inside them. Such as the first interaction between Doc Ock (Molina) and Spider-man (Maguire) in which after Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Peter are separated in which Peter then runs off and leaves Aunt May behind. Why Aunt May instantly forgives him of this is confusing unless she knows or has an idea that Peter is Spider-man. Another facet that always annoyed me was the fact that after Harry Osborn (James Franco) discovers about Spider-man’s identity. Peter never decides to provide an explanation for his father’s tragedy. This course of action seems like something that Peter would prefer to do instead of leaving the conflict unresolved.
Now, this might have been an original idea to become more developed in the third installment of the franchise, which seems to be the case for most of the flaws of the film which are things that are hinted at and left ambiguous due to the possibility of flourishing them out completely in the next addition. They become nitpicks with how much they affect the script due to the stupendous writing that fails to allow illogical flaws to overtake the film’s messages and narrative. Subplots act as enhancements for the impact of the emotions of the overall film that Raimi desires us to perceive. With focused direction, limited errors in the screenplay, and remarkable performances Spider-Man 2 lived up to the hype that was created by its predecessor.
Raimi succeeds once again in his filmography, with Spider-Man 2 Raimi showcased that even with an out of place, though entertaining, and a cheesy sequence of Peter attempting to become a regular everyday guy. As BJ Thomas “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” plays in the foreground to provides an extra dose of amusement as well as a freeze frame of Peter’s dorkish smile. Even with that, Raimi delivers a dramatic and tonally focused film that fails to disappoint or allow the viewer to become unfocused on the film’s narrative. Spider-Man 2 was one of the first superhero movies that felt more like a focused film with superheroes in the foreground. Possibly inspiring Nolan to create his trilogy of Batman or to encourage Marvel to create their universe. Either way, there is no denying Spider-Man 2 impact on the genre, as well as its impact on audiences alike.