SACRIFICE. DESTINY. CHOICE.
There are so many things to admire about the sequel to Spider-Man (2002), but I can’t help being fascinated by who wrote it. It’s none other than Alvin Sargent, 73 at the time, one of Hollywood’s finest screenwriters and a two-time Oscar winner. He reportedly polished the script for the first movie as a favor to producer Laura Ziskin, but now he has officially taken the reins, delivering a script for the sequel that takes a very earnest look at these characters’ lives. Apparently, this veteran has been just as bitten as director Sam Raimi.
Still in love with Mary Jane
Two years have passed since Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) acquired his powers, became Spider-Man and defeated the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). At the end of the last movie, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) confessed her feelings to him, but he turned her down. Little has changed over the years. Peter is still in love with Mary Jane, still resisting to tell her since a romance would force him to reveal his secret and put her in danger because of Spider-Man’s enemies. Harry Osborn (James Franco) still considers Spider-Man a mortal enemy because he killed his insane father, but has no idea that his best friend is the crime-fighter.
In the meantime, Peter gets to know the brilliant scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) who works for Harry developing a way to make fusion work as an affordable energy source. In order to control the fusion experiments, he has devised four mechanical tentacles that are attached to his spine; they have an intelligence of their own and you can just imagine what happens when that experiment goes wrong. The friendly scientist’s wife is killed, the tentacles take over his mind and he turns into supervillain Doc Ock. As Spider-Man faces an enemy just as strong and intelligent as he is, he is also busy trying to deal with his unhappiness on a personal level, leading him to question if being a superhero is worth the sacrifice.
Getting a good idea of Peter’s inner turmoil
Sargent and the director handle their characters with compassion. Dr. Octavius is a decent human being overtaken by his own invention and the grief for his wife; sympathizing with him is very easy, even when he’s trying to kill our hero, and Molina certainly brings him to life. There is also tragedy in the way Harry is consumed by his grief and anger toward Spider-Man, something that will have dangerous consequences. The love affair between Peter and Mary Jane, that seems destined to never be, is a constant source of frustration and even comedy in the film.
Sargent makes sure we get a good idea of Peter’s inner turmoil; we get to ponder if doing the right thing always is the right thing. Maguire is a lot of fun as Peter, always the direct opposite of his smooth, tough alter ego. All the actors deliver great performances, but this time I should also highlight J.K. Simmons as the fast-talking, cigar-chomping editor of the Daily Bugle; he appeared in both films and is absolutely hilarious.
Also worth kudos are the visual effects; they look better than in the first film, there are moments when they are exhilarating (especially in the showdowns between Spidey and Doc Ock), but it’s still hard to create a one-hundred-percent non-plastic-looking Spider-Man whenever he’s out swinging between buildings.
There’s a lot for these characters to sort out among themselves, and that takes time, but all in all it’s an emotional and in every way thrilling superhero movie for all ages. Perhaps more directors of comic-book movies should take advice from old Hollywood pros.
Spider-Man 2 2004-U.S. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin. Directed by Sam Raimi. Screenplay: Alvin Sargent. Visual Effects: John Dykstra, and others. Cast: Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Alfred Molina (Otto “Doc Ock” Octavius), Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons… Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson, Bruce Campbell. Cameo: Stan Lee.
Trivia: Sam Neill and Ed Harris were allegedly considered for the part of Doc Ock. Jake Gyllenhaal was prepared to take over the part of Spider-Man should Maguire’s bad back force him to give it up. Also released in a 135-minute version. Followed by Spider-Man 3 (2007).
Oscar: Best Visual Effects.
Last word: “[I was] trying to figure out what the audience wanted to see in part two because I really wanted to please the audience… I tried to think about what they must’ve been attracted to in the first one. I think that they came up with the answer in that they were probably most attracted to the characters and the stories of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. And that’s versus the bigger extravaganza type of FX or visuals or making it louder or bigger. So I tried to concentrate the story and the writers on focusing on the relationships between Tobey Maguire’s character and Kirsten Dunst’s character and James Franco’s character and Peter’s relationship with his aunt.” (Raimi, IGN)