Here Comes A Spider-man: Better, Not BiggerPosted: April 29, 2014
With Amazing Spider-man 2 coming out this week, I thought I might reflect back on the wall-crawler’s history in film and how this franchise as much as any other reflects the highs and lows of superhero blockbusters.
After the great success of their first installment, Sam Raimi and company returned for Spider-man 2, and in the process delivered a movie that’s still considered to be one of the best superhero sequels (and films) of all time. In spite of that towering reputation, I’ve never been as big a fan of the movie as others, even when I was younger and more likely to be unabashedly enthusiastic about such things. But in revisiting the film over this past weekend, I had a newfound appreciation for what Raimi and company accomplished, in being able to tell a story that upped the ante on its predecessor without having to throw extra villains at the problem (something that many films of the genre- including several of its successors in this franchise- are unable to do).
The expectation of any sequel is More. But while many franchises (especially superhero ones) pile on More and More villains and CGI, the smart ones have More character, and More emotional weight. Spider-man 2 is definitely one of the latter movies. It gives Peter Parker more adversity to fight, but that adversity takes the form of loneliness and personal frustration, and doubt over his mission. The whole “hero considers giving up the mask” trope has been used before, in Superman II and Batman Forever, but it works particularly well here, as we see just how much Peter Parker gives up (and puts up with) in order to be Spider-man. And the decision to have such doubts and concerns manifest in Peter losing his powers is very astute, a move that’s both a great externalization of his inner conflict but also puts him at a disadvantage in facing his foes.
Of course if you aren’t going to deliver multiple villains, then the one you decide to focus on better be a heavyweight, and boy do they have one in Otto Octavius. Alfred Molina gives the best performance in the franchise as the tortured Doc Ock, a decent man with a real sense of responsibility, who lets his own ambitions, grief and artificially-intelligent mechanical arms get the better of him. And James Franco’s Harry Osborn is well-used here as well, in being another source of pressure in Peter’s life, and someone who enables Ock’s plans for his own bitter motivations. The rest of the performances are about on par with the first; Tobey Maguire captures the put-upon nature of Peter Parker very well, and Kirsten Dunst is able to command a decent amount of empathy throughout the movie, making it understandable for Peter to be so torn.
Spider-man 2, like its predecessor, is also notable for Raimi’s restraint with the Spidey action. Unlike most sequels that start with a big action sequence, he doesn’t succumb to the pressure to open the film with a set piece, so for most of the first act the only webslinging we see is during a pizza delivery. Rather than emphasize the action, he emphasizes the character first, so that when the action comes it carries more emotional weight for both the characters and the audience.
Spider-man 2 is, in short, everything a sequel should be, and everything its immediate sequel is not. But we’ll cover that tomorrow… if you dare!