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A movie starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst directed by Sam Raimi

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Ode to a Superhero, Part II

  • Apr 24, 2005
Pros: A great job bringing the comic to life

Cons: At times, Mary Jane really does look like the girl next door

The Bottom Line: No, I have never written another article called Ode to a Superhero. The title is merely a reference to a Weird Al Yankovic song.

With great power comes great responsibility
that’s the catch phrase of old Uncle Ben
if you missed it, don’t worry, they’ll say the line
again and again and again

Weird Al Yankovic, Ode to a Superhero

It’s been two years since our friendly neighborhood Spider-man smashed the Green Goblin in a climactic battle for the ages and created the best superhero movie ever made in the process. And not much has changed in Spider-land: Peter Parker is still out there, kicking bad guy butt, studying science, and trying to maintain a decent balance between his New York metrosexual lifestyle and his arachnid crimefighter lifestyle. Unfortunately, when it comes to the New York metrosexual lifestyle, Petey seems to have let his late Uncle’s favorite catch phrase blow with the wind. Jonas Jameson still hates his guts, his boss at the local pizza place finds him unreliable, his pal Harry is bugging him about that Spider-pest who whacked his dad, his professors are accusing him of being lazy, and he’s just having trouble paying attention to goddess-next-door Mary Jane Watson.

And here I thought getting bitten by a mutant spider was supposed to solve all your problems. When you can do whatever a spider can, you’re supposed to be able to crawl into a really small hole and lay eggs for the rest of your days. THAT’S problem solving!

Now, we all know the history of Spider-man. The original script was devised around 1992, spend the next decade floating around Tinseltown going through revision after revision and director after director - including a rumored greenlight with James Cameron’s name attached - before Sam Raimi finally said “Enough BS, time to make the damn movie already!” in 2002. Spider-man the movie became a blockbuster hit, with critical acclaim - which still stands, unlike all the acclaim won by Titanic. In my own humble opinion, Spider-man still stands as the top comic book adaptation for the silver screen. Sam Raimi really knew the character and what he was doing with him, and so every last aspect of the original comic that made it so good was filmed flawlessly. The thing about Spider-man is that it’s not about Spider-man so much as it is about Peter Parker and how Parker tries to work a thankless extracurricular activity into a life already more congested than a Los Angeles highway at rush hour. Therefore, while the casting of Toby Maguire to play Spider-man got Spider-heads up in arms, the casting directors stuck by their choice because they knew they weren’t picking an actor to play Spider-man - they were picking him to play Peter Parker. Maguire fit the role of Parker like a glove, brilliantly capturing all of Parker’s nerdish traits, including his bewilderment at finding out he had powers, and the clumsy curve involved in learning how the powers worked and what to use them for.

In Spider-man 2, not a whole lot is different for Peter. Pete’s best pal Harry is is currently sitting pretty on the very top of the Oscorp ladder after Norman’s untimely death because the whole Green Goblin fiasco. Mary Jane seems to have recovered quite well after being blown off by Peter at the end of the first Spider-man, having photographed a series of makeup ads which decorate the billboards all across New York and landed a lead in The Importance of Being Ernest. Peter - well, he’s still a photographer for the Daily Bugle, but Jameson isn’t interested in his pictures of the lighter side of New York, and he’s scraping for cash after being fired by his pizza parlor after making one too many late deliveries. He’s still a particularly bright science-head, and his smarts are being acknowledged by EVERYONE, but there’s so much crime in New York that his personal life is often at a standstill. For god’s sake, the poor kid didn’t remember his own birthday! However, he’s still somehow able to make an Oscorp demonstration for a new power source which stars one of his heroes, scientist Dr. Otto Octavious. As all good scientific demonstrations from comic books do,
something went screwy,
and before you knew he
was trying to kill everyone

Dr. Octavious’s demo goes completely awry and quite literally implodes. Afterward, poor Doc Ock is laid up in a hospital with a device in his spine that gives him control of four oversized metallic arms which proceed to take over his mind. Dr. Octopus is still obsessed with creating his new power source, and by god, he’s gonna do it - even if it means destroying half of New York!... And between his regular bouts with the webslinger.

I’d like to take a moment right here and laud the casting directors for their choices in villains. Who’s going to forget Willem Dafoe’s mad cackling as the Green Goblin? Doc Ock is portrayed by Alfred Molina, who has the time of his life hamming up his role. Spider-man, so far, has the finest villainous casting choices since the Batman series and Jim Carrey’s hilariously over the top portrayal of The Riddler. In choosing villains, however, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. The X-men movies let me down by producing two above-average films and still managing to forget not only the Sentinels, but also the X-men’s second arch-foe, Juggernaut. We have Spider-man in a similar situation right now: Two movies without even a vague mention of Kingpin. Furthermore, the way Spider-man 2 ends says “There’s DEFINITELY gonna be a third,” but if the end is any indication, Harry Osborn is going to pick up dad’s secret shoes as the Green Goblin. (Willem Dafoe makes a quick cameo as Norman Osborn, there to drive his son crazy.) There is hope, as I do have a very clear recollection of an episode of Spider-man in which Kingpin hired Green Goblin to take care of some of his dirty laundry.

Anyway, while Dr. Octopus is busy obsessing over inventing a new method to provide cheap power, Peter goes through one of his own quick episodes: He’s losing his amazing spider powers, and it’s causing him to wonder if being Spider-man is really worth it. It’s not much of a job, after all: The pay can’t buy him anything off the McDonald’s dollar menu, he can only take his two weeks when the bad guys decide he can, and then there’s all the insane health risks and no coverage to back him in case he loses his alive-ness. Well, one day Peter gives up and tosses his Spider tights into the nearest back alley trash can. As the quality of his life takes a sudden, drastic upswing, the quality of life in New York takes an equally drastic nosedive. After witnessing a few too many criminal acts that Spider-man normally would have brought to a premature halt, Pete decides his great powers once again have to be used for great responsibility. And Mary Jane is a-ok with it.

Part of the reason the Spider-man movies work so well is because Sam Raimi - who introduced us to a fierce anti-zombie advocate named Ash in the Evil Dead movies and Army of Darkness - really understands the meaning of the word “camp.” I refer you to the scene in the first Spider-man where Green Goblin had Spider-man tied up on a rooftop, and you couldn’t see either of their lips move while they threatened each other. The movies have an almost cartoonish quality to them, so after awhile you begin to expect cartoon noises. Unlike Joel Schumacher with the last two Batman movies, however, Raimi never actually crosses that fine line. Since the whole premise of Spider-man actually revolves around Peter Parker, there aren’t very many fight scenes. The fight scenes that exist in Spider-man 2 aare more of an entertaining distraction than anything, even during the climax of the film in which Spider-man fights Dr. Octopus by talking some sense back into him. And while the ending is, unlike the first movie’s ending, a Hollywood ending, we don’t mind because everyone knows that Peter and Mary Jane have to hook up sometime. I still would have chosen a less cliched scene in which Mary Jane realizes who her heart really belongs to, though.

And for fans of the comic who feel like the franchise is a big fraud just because the filmmakers decided to include Peter’s webslinging ability with the bite instead of having him invent it in his workshop, I have this to say: The movies make more sense. It’s as simple as that. Professional scientists have been trying to develop a strong material like a spider’s string for years, so it’s simply not believable that some high school kid would not only beat them to the punch, but do it without any sort of trial-and-error experimentation. And really, if Spider-man can do whatever a spider can, that ability should have come with the bite in the first place.

I can’t decide which of the Spider-man movies is better. Both are very true to their original source, and worth owning on DVD. So I’ll just stay silent about this subject, and let that close out this review. See Spider-man 2. Enjoy it. Good comic book or superhero movies are not a common occurance - and even many of the decent ones (like X-men) manage to lose at least some dignity in translation. Not Spidey, though. He still does whatever a spider - and his comic book - can.


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About this movie


Sam Raimi's follow-up to SPIDER-MAN finds Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) struggling to balance his everyday life with his alter ego as the web-slinging superhero. Still carrying the burden of keeping his crime-fighting identity from those closest to him--including his longtime love Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), and his doting Aunt May (Rosemary Harris)--Parker must also face off against a dangerous new menace, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist driven mad by experiments involving powerful mechanical arms. When the deranged Octavius (AKA Doc Ock) forms an alliance with the vengeful Osborn, who blames Spider-Man for the death of his father, the wall-crawling hero is in for his biggest battle yet.

With SPIDER-MAN 2, Raimi retains--and improves on--all of the elements that made the first film so good, including an excellent story (crafted, in part, by acclaimed novelist Michael Chabon), tight pacing, and stunning special effects. Parker's ...
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