WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Spider-Man 2. If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you watch the film first, then go back to this review.
It’s been almost a week since I saw the original Spider-Man. In my review of that film, I mentioned that the Raimi trilogy shaped my childhood and the first film did a great job in bringing the character to the big screen and staying true to its source material. Sam Raimi has done a fantastic job in adapting the character to the big screen and the first film was a critical and financial success, becoming the highest grossing film at that time.
So, how it would be possible that the sequel would eventually surpass the original? Raimi had the task to top the original film, developing the characters further and raising the stakes, and he did just that. Spider-Man 2 is not just a great superhero film, it’s the perfect definition of a sequel that does everything better; it takes everything that made the original great and expands upon it.
Set two years after the original Spider-Man film, Spider-Man 2 sees Peter Parker trying to struggle in balancing his personal life with his duty as Spider-Man and ends up being dissatisfied with his life. At the same time, Dr. Otto Octavious becomes a diabolical villain after a failed experiment takes his wife’s life and leaves him neurologically fused to the mechanical tentacles that he created. Spider-Man must stop Octavious from destroying New York, with dealing with a subconscious desire of not being Spider-Man anymore.
The opening scene does a great job in establishing Peter’s arc in this film: we see how much life is suffering due to his duty as Spider-Man; he loses his job at Joe’s Pizza, he almost loses his job at the Daily Bugle, he misses Dr Connors’ class, Harry becomes suspicious about his and Mary Jane is seeing someone else. It’s a great way to establish Peter’s personal conflict in this film, which leads to him losing his powers and questioning himself whether he wants to be Spider-Man.
Ever since Uncle Ben’s death, Peter had sworn to live up to his dreams and take responsibility to protecting New York, but since he’s becoming unhappy about his life, he ends up losing faith in becoming Spider-Man and begins considering living a normal life. The screenplay does a great job in fleshing out the themes and ideas from the first film and expanding upon it, while developing the characters a lot more; for example, we see how much Mary Jane is fed up with Peter not living up to his promises and how much Harry is suspicious about Peter’s identity, and it makes those conflicts more real.
Another thing the film does right is how it establishes its villain, Doc Ock. Granted, some might compare it to the Green Groblin in the first film, but I think that’s the point. Sam Raimi wanted to make the character to Doc Ock much more human by having Peter idolizing him at the beginning of the film and looking up to him, making the connection between the two more personal. There’s a scene in the film that I really enjoyed: the night of Mary Jane’s engagement, which I think is the turning point of Peter’s life; Mary Jane doesn’t want to talk to him, Harry’s suspicion grows stronger and Peter suffers an emotional breakdown to the point he loses his powers and ends up quitting being Spider-Man.
The performances by the cast is once again great, with Tobey Maguire showcasing improvement from the predecessor, as well as Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Rosemary Harris, but the most impressive performance in this film has to be Alfred Molina as Dr. Octavious. He kills it in the role of scientist slowly losing his sanity as he’s trying to recreate his failed invention at all cost. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role other than Molina, because he was that great.
It’s not just the story and the acting that’s improved from the first film, the filmmaking aspects has also improved as well: Sam Raimi does a great job in progressing the characters and the world of Spider-Man and it showcases why he was the perfect director for the series. The cinematography is gorgeous once again, the editing balances between the slower, intimate moments and the high-octane action scenes and The CGI sequences has also improved from its predecessor. Danny Elfman returns to do the score once again and it still remains iconic.
I also won’t forget to mention one of my favorite scenes in the film; the train sequence. It’s without a doubt one of the greatest action sequences in any comic book film, especially the scene where Peter uses his webs to slow down the train, which memes aside, is still an iconic shot. I also love how the citizens of New York are helping him get back on his feet and realizing that the hero that the city has been looking up to is only a kid. It’s a great scene and it perfectly captures the essence of the character.
If I do have some issues with the film, some of the dialogue don’t hold up well and Mary Jane’s fiancee, John, is arguably the weakest character in the film, but none of them detract from the experience. Spider-Man 2 is without a doubt one of the greatest superhero films ever made and it will always have a special place in my heart. It improves on everything that made the first film great while staying true to the character.