When we last left him, he was still grappling with his “calling,” the loss of Uncle Ben, and an unfulfilled love. Since then, it seems time has not been so kind to our friendly, neighborhood superhero.
In the first five minutes of director Sam Raimi’s seminal Spiderman 2, Peter’s fired from his pizza delivery job. Add to that growing tensions between him and M.J., a deteriorating friendship with Harry Osborn, academic woes, and worse, “performance anxiety,” and you could say things are a bit rocky in Peter Parker’s life. The fragile state of his world is further rocked when Dr. Otto Octavius (played by a well-cast, Alfred Molina) – through a fusion experiment gone horribly wrong – is transformed into Doc Ock.
“Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift,” Octavius tells Peter, but what happens when that gift simply becomes a burden, when it threatens to overshadow everything in Peter’s life, including personal happiness?
This is the question Raimi and his horde of screenwriters (too many to list here it seems) pose to the audience – and it’s a good one. Peter faces the decision of walking a lonely, fine line of existential torment or turning his back on being a superhero and leading a quiet life.
As an actor, Maguire’s neither extraordinarily handsome, nor over-the-top in his performance: in every sense, the man’s an understated affair and it’s this very aspect which appeals to audiences. Like Cider House Rules or Wonder Boys, Maguir's minimalistic acting method thrives under extreme pans and close-ups that would probably cause other Hollywood actors to flinch; every nuanced facial expression is refreshingly restrained – no Jerry Maguire “Show me the money” moments here.
Thank Maguire for much of the film’s credibility. Maguire’s projected credulity as Parker buoys both the dramatic and comedic in a film rife with cheese. Props to the man for also making believable those moments when Peter says “Oh Boy” – an antediluvian pre-WWII colloquialism -- and the “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage is not only laugh-out-loud funny, but a scene many audience members can associate with. How many times have you fallen, dusted yourself off, and moved on?
Yup, hinging Spiderman 2 on this fork in the road was a smart move, one that wildly pays off, but action junkies and comic books fans alike (and I’m firmly a member of both camps), needn’t worry that their beloved movie franchise has gone the way of your daytime soap.
The action is a visual opera: Spider-Man 2’s opulence is apparent, from the pendulum poetry of Spider-Man swinging through the city to the breathtaking fights with Doc Ock. Such scenes blow away those from the first flick – or any other recent comic book flicks like X2, for that matter. The clash between Doc Ock and Spidey on the subway cars above the streets of NYC is breathtaking until the ride comes to a complete stop. Raimi’s attention to detail and ability to build momentum (figuratively and literally) is captured perfectly.
As Raimi is clear to point out: at the end of the day, Spider-Man’s as human as you and me. And, while Spiderman 2 – which will probably go down as one of the best comic book adaptations out there, and rightly so – offers a healthy dollop of web-slinging and raucous action, Raimi smartly raises this sequel above the ever-growing pool of comic book adaptation drivel (don’t get me started on Daredevil, Spawn, or God forbid, Batman & Robin), keeping the characters and their situations grounded and real. That’s no small feat during a season filled with Van Helsings and Soul Planes.
Now let’s wait and see if the third time’s a charm.