Spider-Man 2 is directed once again by Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Rosemary Harris, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, and Alfred Molina.
Set after the events of the original film in the Raimi trilogy, the story follows the continuing adventures of Peter Parker (Maguire), also known as the masked hero Spider-Man. Having been Spider-Man for nearly two years, the need to balance both sides of himself begins to take a toll on Peter, affecting his life, work, and relationships with those he loves most. When a freak accident turns renowned scientist Otto Octavius (Molina) into the menacing Doc Ock, a reign of terror begins to sweep the city and threaten the safety of the world. In order to stop Octavius and protect the people of New York, Peter must discover if he truly has what it takes to be both Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
At this point in the review, I’d like to quickly enroll my readers in a course that I like to call: Sequels 101. It’s really no secret to anyone who enjoys art or entertainment of any kind that sequels can be tricky. Not only do they have the task of carrying already established narrative threads and momentum, but they have to also simultaneously take those threads and momentum in new, unexpected directions to avoid simply being a rehash. And now, after Sam Raimi and co. have brought Spider-Man to life on the big screen once before, can they capture lightning in a bottle twice and deliver a truly satisfying return of the masked web-slinger?
The answer is a resounding yes. Not only is Spider-Man 2 a proper sequel to the 2002 original, but it also contains a triumphant elevation of its narrative and characters to insane heights, solidifying it as one of the best comic book films ever made.
Director Sam Raimi is clearly much more comfortable behind the camera this time around, extensively flexing his creative muscles at every turn. Having already put one Spidey film under his belt, it’s very clear that Raimi himself is more relaxed this time around, and therefore has more room for unbridled energy and love for this world and its characters. The famed horror director also brings more of his signature style to a number of moments in this film, further solidifying his chops as both a storyteller and a vision behind the camera.
Narratively speaking, this film completely raises the stakes and accomplishes everything that a sequel should hope to achieve and then some, taking its already established character and narrative arcs and bending them in the most unforeseen directions. While it remembers to have fun and relish in being a superhero adventure, it’s much more tonally sober than its predecessor, and asks deeper questions of its characters for the sake of telling a profoundly more compelling story.
In his sophomore appearance as Peter Parker on the big screen, Tobey Maguire also demonstrates a clear improvement in his performance and ups the ante tenfold this time around. The heavier sense of narrative ambition requires more dedication from Maguire’s performance, and he delivers on every front as a leading man with a genuine heroic presence, supplemented by the underlying emotionality he has to bring in keeping with the story. Like Raimi, he’s also very clearly more relaxed and gives himself more space to fully make the character his, embodying some of the best qualities that make Peter Parker who he is.
As I’m sure is becoming a recurring theme here, many of the performances are clear improvements over the original. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is nothing short of a delight, and somehow manages to make his line delivery funnier with each passing second. He’s thankfully given more time to do his thing than in the original and is always a complete joy to watch. James Franco is also remarkably great this time around, seeing as though this film sets a few pivotal wheels in motion for the conclusion of his trilogy-long character arc.
In Cliff Roberston’s absence this time around, Rosemary Harris supremely rises to the occasion and is truly at the heart of this film’s thematic core. Many of her scenes in this film, including some of the more emotional moments she shares with Maguire, are unspeakably impactful and powerful due large in part to the overwhelming warmth and love Harris brings to her performance. Without giving much away, she has a monologue right before the turn into the last third that is one of the most powerful monologues in movie history. None of you can change my mind on this.
In what is still the only cinematic attempt at famed Spidey rogue Doc Ock, Molina is an undeniable on-screen presence from beginning to end, as he is far and beyond the best villain that this trilogy has to offer. Molina shows a very clear understanding of when to turn on the villain jets and stand tall as a threatening presence, and also when to come down a bit and give the character the right dose of subtle humanity. His character benefits quite a bit from the more focused narrative, which outlines a solid motivation and purpose for Ock as a villain, but Molina too brings some of his best work, and in turn, shines because of it.
An element of this film that is undoubtedly a very clear improvement over its older sibling would most definitely be the action. A slightly larger adherence to CG effects and near seamless action choreography make for thrilling and fluid high-octane sequences that continue to amaze me to this day. Maguire and Molina bring true physicality to each of their clashes in the film, and almost never trip over the brief interruptions in the action such as a quick exchange or a moment of pure character building. There’s a famous train fight sequence right at the end of the second act that is undoubtedly one of the best fight scenes in superhero cinema, and is a pure testament to how well this film handles its action.
The only thing even resembling a problem that I have with this film lies within a glimpse of one of its predecessor’s biggest offenses. Similarly to the first film, there are a few moments and lines that haven’t aged tremendously well and often come off as campy or ridiculous. But, unlike Spider-Man, a very large majority of this film is so incredibly balanced and has such a clear command over its characters that these moments hardly detract from the experience, if at all.
Even after all this time, Spider-Man 2 is quite simply a grand standard in superhero cinema. It manages to improve on quite literally everything its predecessor had to offer and soars not only as the best of the Raimi trilogy, but as one of the best Spider-Man films on the market. In fact, Spider-Man 2 is one of the most magnificently powerful superhero films ever made, and absolutely deserves an A+.