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The New Standard for Super Hero Movies
A review of Spider-Man 2
by J. D. Rummel

I have never been to New York City. The impression one gets from Marvel comic books is that it is splay of towering buildings with no real end. It's a good thing that Peter Parker was born in that New York. Had he become Spider-man here in Omaha, Nebraska, his unique web slinging approach to transportation would limit him to about a three block area, a humiliating sphere of influence.

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina

Rating: PG-13

Release: 06-30-2004

Time: 127 minutes

Buy Movie at Amazon.com That was something I have thought for a long time, but seeing his world so perfectly realized in Spiderman 2 it rose up once again.

Simply put, Spiderman 2 is the best use yet of celluloid to realize the comic book super hero. The credit for that is spread far and wide. First, a solid story from Millar, Gough and Chabon which, once transformed into a screenplay by veteran scribe Alvin Sargent, is brought to life by Sam Raimi the director and John Dykstra the special effects whiz whose team makes us believe that a man can swing from a thread.

Tobey Maguire continues to bring us into the shoes of Peter Parker, the hard luck college student who has the dubious good fortune of having the great power of with great power comes great responsibility fame. Maguire perfectly inhabits the script which calls for Parker to be beaten down and stripped of a normal life as the great responsibility presses down on him with every cry for help and blare of a siren. The original appeal of Spider-man was always the cold reality of it. Living a dual life would be brutal and would have exactly the effect that is displayed here. Someone wearing long johns and helping people every day with almost no reward would find it to be miserable work The script's greatest strength is its adherence to the original comic's formula that this is a guy with super powers living in a real world of selfish people, missed payments, and lots of misunderstanding where the good guy is not always a winner no matter how much he deserves to be. One of this film's great strengths is that it makes us really examine being a hero and doing what is right when there are no parades or honors given.

The plot is almost secondary to the above mentioned theme. Doctor Otto Octavius (perfectly cast Alfred Molina) is building a new kind of energy resource which of course goes haywire changing the good doctor into Doc Ock a madman with four mechanical arms of staggering power. Peter tries to stop him but his spider power is waning under the psychological pressure of the great responsibility. Because no one seems to appreciate the wall crawler's efforts Pete hangs up the union suit and tries to jump start his life. This includes trying to shoehorn his way back into the world of Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) his true love whom he has turned his back on in order to protect her from the grim reality of his dual life.

In the first installment editing and tone were not seamless. This chapter is much improved, focusing tightly on the human ramifications of all of the super heroics. Future super hero filmmakers should be forced to watch this film again and again so they have hammered home the importance of how to make things work. It is a nearly flawless balancing act. My favorite sequence was the one where Parker stumbles through his day to the tune of Raindrops keep Falling on my Head. It is a daring thing for Raimi to take an iconic moment in film (the original use of the tune in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and redirect it to another pop culture giant. It is the cinema equivalent of a rapper sampling some other tune to make a point.

Eventually Parker comes to grips with who he is, what he has to do, and the price that it will extract. What is refreshing is that he comes to his conclusions in a way that is super hero comic book standard but is rescued from some of the grimness by simple Hollywood storytelling.

Spiderman 2 is an incredible success at the box office and it deserves to be. Raimi and company have created a magnificent translation of the literary comic book world for the massesa breathtaking accomplishment.

Sidebar: Just sitting in the theatre mulling together all of the comic book stuff that has gathered in my head over time I predict the following: Mary Jane Watson will be killed by the Green Goblin in Spiderman 3. If Raimi is allowed to (chooses to) do that then the greatest translation of comic book to cinema will be firmly locked by the Spiderman series and a new gold standard of pop culture/art/entertainment/business will be established.