Continuing from a previous post, Spider-Man, the sequel, Spider-Man 2, picks up where the first film left off. Out of the three films, I liked it the most.
Unlike the original film, with David Koepp using a previously James Cameron multi-author screenplay and a forty-five page “scriptment”for a first draft screenplay that would be later edited by Scott Rosenberg and Alvin Sargent, Sony hired Alfred Gough and Miles Miller (Smallville Seasons 1 through 7) along with Michael Chabon, with Alvin Sargent helping to create the final screenplay for Spider-Man 2.
According to the IGN review:
It’s been two years since the events that unfolded in the first film. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has a full plate, taking college classes, working as a photojournalist for the Daily Bugle and, of course, saving the world as Spider-Man. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) has become a successful model and is about to star in her first Broadway show. Parker continues to keep Watson at a distance, fearful that a romantic involvement may put her own life in danger. Balancing all these issues at once is starting to affect Parker and he’s now having some difficulty using the powers he’s commanded so gracefully. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn (James Franco) is now running his father’s old company, investing heavily in a promising new scientist named Doctor Otto Octavius. Parker himself is an admirer of Octavius’ work and Harry introduces the two. When Octavius is set to unveil his life’s work, utilizing a set of four mechanical arms that are injected into his back, things go horribly wrong and a new supervillain is born. As Parker struggles to decide the future of Spider-Man, the city comes under attack from the newly renamed Doc Ock.
Sequels always have a built in stigma attached. These days, the presence of a sequel no longer means that the first film was necessarily a good film, but only that its financial success means that producing a sequel makes business sense. Spider-Manset high expectations in all areas. Financially, it was a no-brainer, but creating a sequel also meant the challenge of following what is considered by many (myself included) one of the best comic book films ever made. Whether I set my expectations too high, I cannot say for sure, but Spider-Man 2 just doesn’t live up to the original.
I hear filmmakers say again and again that the sequel to a comic book movie will be better because they’ve gotten all the backstory stuff out of the way. Spider-Man 2suffers here, featuring a story that is so convoluted that there isn’t nearly enough devotion to the action. Instead of using the now-developed characters as a jump off for a fast moving story, the plot is the enemy, bogging down our hero and the story’s pacing. Many of the themes are the same: Instead of discovering his newfound abilities and learning to use them, Parker is now discovering the trappings of a double-life and learning to balance. Instead of Mary Jane being unattainable because of high school standing, Mary Jane is now unattainable because Parker is a superhero. Aunt May gives a speech about heroes that feels directly lifted from the fist film.
One reason for the first film’s success was the decision to cast the film with lesser known but highly talented actors. 2 is no different. For the villainous and infamous Doctor Otto Octavius, Raimi and crew cast indie veteran Alfred Molina, arguably one of the most gifted actors of his generation and, in the words of Raimi himself, a “chameleon.” Molina is known for reaching so deeply into the roles he plays that most of America probably doesn’t even realize that they’ve seen him in multiple films in the past. Molina gives fresh breath to the series, but he isn’t used to his full potential. His performance is very good, but seems restrained, much in contrast to Willem Dafoe’s brilliantly over the top performance as the Green Goblin. Props to the designers for Molina’s look, though. Doc Ock is a visually stunning character and the special effects team made full use of his extra limbs, giving them a personality all their own.
On the subject of the look, Spider-Man 2 features many of the same dazzling visuals of the original. The CGI is a bit overused, occasionally resulting in a bit of a videogame look, but, for the most part, the visuals are tight and very nice to look at. Spider-Man’s movements are fluid and graceful, even when you know he’s doing something there’s no way a human could do.
The strong cast remains the backbone of the series. Maguire is the perfect Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst is the perfect Mary Jane Watson. They continue to have a fluid chemistry and remain engaging to watch. These are well-developed, layered characters that you care about. The story moves slowly at times, but the acting abilities of Dunst and Maguire keep things compelling enough to keep us interested, if not fully enthralled. The rest of the supporting cast, including J.K. Simmons, James Franco and Rosemary Harris are strong and continue the feel of the first film.
As the story of Spider-Man 2 unfolds, drama is the name of the game. There are exceedingly long gaps between action sequences, particularly towards the middle of the film. I’m not saying that the film has to be all out action or anything, but the drama gets a little too heavy at times, focusing on conflicts that really aren’t that compelling. Come on, does anyone really believe that Peter Parker is going to abandon his powers? It’s just very difficult to create effective drama when the situation’s outcome is so obvious. I understand the necessity of this scenario, but way too much time is spent here.
Spider-Man 2 is, on the whole, a success. It just doesn’t live up to the high standards set by the first film. The action sequences that are in Spider-Man 2 are spectacular. Also retained is the sense of humor the first film succeeded with so well. There’s even a reference to a certain pre-production rumor that those “in the know” should appreciate. Without the first film to compare, Spider-Man 2 could hold its own against the better comic book films. The first was groundbreaking and Raimi has been credited as the director who finally got the comic book film “right.” Raimi is in fine form in the sequel. One Doc Ock sequence borders on horror, a clear sign that Raimi is allowing his touches to come across and having a good time working on these films. In the end, story is the culprit.