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Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has a job delivering pizzas on his small motorbike. However, because of Spider-Man responsibilities, he fails to make the guaranteed delivery times promised by the business owner (Aasif Mandvi) and is fired. The Daily Bugle uses one of Peter’s Spider-Man photos, but the commission from its sale does not make up the amount he was earlier given as an advance. Peter is heading to class but encounters Professor Connors (Dylan Baker) who tells him class is over. Connors warns him that he is failing the course. As you may be able to tell, things are not going well for Peter Parker.

Peter visits his Aunt Mae (Rosemary Harris) and finds a surprise birthday party thrown for him by his aunt, and friends Harry Osborn (James Franco) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). After the party, he discovers Aunt Mae has a foreclosure letter from her bank. She still insists on giving him money saying he needs it more. When he returns to his apartment his money from Aunt Mae is taken as partial payment by his landlord for overdue rent. Peter Parker is overwhelmed by his two lives. He has a busy life full of potential as Peter; but he is also Spider-Man which is consuming a vast amount of his time and effort.

His friend Harry, who has inherited a large corporate enterprise, uses that position to set up an interview for Peter with one of the company’s scientific researchers: Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who is friends with Professor Connors. Peter is doing a paper on Octavius and his work. He spends a large portion of an evening with Octavius and his wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy) talking about many things, but especially the doctor’s lifelong dream of harnessing fusion for energy, which has been the object of his work. They seem to get along very well. Perhaps things are looking up.

Peter promises to attend a play in which Mary Jane (MJ) is performing. He has the ticket, dresses in a suit, buys carnations and heads to the theater. On the way his motorbike is run over in a police / bad guy chase, which eventually requires Spider-Man to save innocents from the exploits of both the cops and criminals. However, the clock is moving while Spider-Man acts and Peter arrives too late to use his ticket to see MJ’s play. She is disappointed yet again. Peter waits across the street, but after the play when MJ comes out of the theater she leaves with someone else. After this Spidey’s powers start to develop a startling inconsistency

At the fusion demonstration Dr. Octavius dons a powerful experimental aid: a set of “smart arms” with which he will handle the materials of the experiment. The “smart arms” are controlled with a connection to his brain and act as his own arms, although they appear as powerful and dexterous metal tentacles. The experiment seems to be going well, but turns into a catastrophe in which Rosalie is killed and Dr. Octavius incapacitated. Also destroyed at this time is the special “inhibitor chip” which keeps the “smart arms” from taking over Dr. Octavius’ body.

Later when the surgeons are working to remove the “smart arms,” the arms act to prevent that removal, wreaking mayhem and destruction. The person who was Otto Octavius has been subverted by his mechanical appendages, but he escapes the hospital. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) of the Daily Bugle appropriates the idea of his assistant Hoffman (Ted Raimi, director Sam’s brother) to call the new villain Doctor Octopus (Doc Ock) because of both his name (Octavius) and his eight appendages.

As Doc Ock plans and builds a new fusion project and Spidey’s powers continue to fail; MJ announces her engagement to John Jameson (Daniel Gillies). Peter Parker decides to cease being Spider-Man. As one might expect, Peter will change his mind. The story surrounding that decision forms a good portion of the remainder of the movie.

I grew up with comic books. I especially liked Marvel comics. My favorite characters were: Spider-Man, Hulk, Doctor Strange, Thor and the Fantastic Four. Of those Peter Parker / Spider-Man was most like me. Unlike Batman (of DC comics) and Iron Man (of Marvel), Peter Parker wasn’t a rich “baron of industry.” He also wasn’t a full-adult scientist such as Bruce Banner (Hulk) or Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). He wasn’t an alien from another world (Superman), a god/man (Thor) or even an adept with special occult powers (Doctor Strange). I liked most of the characters I just listed. Unlike them but like Ben Grimm (The Thing), Peter Parker was more of a “working class stiff,” however, one with powers most of us other “stiffs” did not have. I suppose those reasons may have contributed to why I, and many others like me, liked the Spider-Man comics so much.

Sam Raimi’s direction of this film is even better than the first Spider-Man movie. The casting is superb, from the regulars - Tobey Maguire: an excellent Peter Parker; J.K. Simmons: an uncannily good Jonah Jameson (one of my favorite obnoxious characters); Kirsten Dunst: who  is  MJ – she will fill that mental image for me from now on; to Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. The acting is all wonderful. One can see that the Spider-Man films are a labor of love for those involved, especially director Sam Raimi, even though they have also been box office successes.

My mother gave away all my comics long ago, just as Aunt Mae gave away Peter Parker’s comics. That may be a near universal experience for men who once read comic books. However, Stan Lee’s Marvel comics - fine examples of adolescent reading – helped to make me the person I am today.

Spider-Man 2 is about choices, making decisions and the resulting responsibility for those decisions. Since it is based on a comic book, this film is not a “dramatic classic.” However, with the action, the romantic entertainment and the endorsement of heroism it qualifies as a great film in my estimation. Of course, I’ve already explained that Spider-Man is special for me. However, even if you’ve never liked comic books and have spent all your life among the “upper crust” I expect you will still find much to enjoy.

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