Does Whatever a Spider Can: A Review of "Spider-Man 2"

Tue, June 29th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Seth Jones, Staff Writer

Ahh, the movie event of the summer arrived for me this Monday. It was with great excitement that my buddy Sean and I hit the movie theater to see our favorite Webhead on the big screen. "Spider-Man" is probably my favorite comic book movie of all time ("Superman 2" being way up there), so I could barely contain myself at all for the sequel.

Let's take this review on in two parts -- a non-spoiler beginning, and a spoiler-ridden second part. So, please continue to read if you want a general review... but when we get to the ominous part 2, stop immediately, and come back after you've seen the movie. Then we'll form a support group, or something. I'll bring the Maker's Mark.

Part I -- Generally Speaking

I enjoyed the movie. Spider-Man looks so good on screen, it's hard not to enjoy this film. But sadly, this movie doesn't live up to the first installment.

I think much of this is caused by a somewhat flimsy story. In the first movie, I sat there and watched comic books I've read come to life on screen. In this movie, the comic series inspires the story, but there are some serious derailments from the old comics that left me disappointed. Too many holes in the plot, in general.

The movie picks up two years after the chaos of Norman Osbourne's death and the Mary Jane Watson bridge scene. MJ has made the big-time as a theater actor while Peter Parker and Aunt May are, as usual, broke off their ass. Meanwhile, Harry Osbourne has taken over his father's company and is on the verge of making it very big with a new invention by Otto Octavius. He's also picked up his father's drinking habit and the hatred for Spider-Man, obviously.

Aflred Molina, as Octavius, really has the look of the Doc Ock we all know and love from the comics. From the goofy haircut to the slightly overweight build and especially the double-chin, they did a great job casting Molina. His tentacles look good, even though I don't quite understand them. Somehow, these arms control Doc Ock. I enjoy the reversed role in the comics more, where Doc Ock has complete control over his arms, and can even summon them when they're separated. In this film, Doc Ock seemingly has to ask permission of his arms at some points, and the reasoning is never quite clear.

A big problem I had with the movie was the absence of Spider-Man. He's just not in the movie enough. In the first film, we got to see the making of the character, so by the end of the movie we were in a total rewards zone, and it was an all-you-can-eat buffet for our eyes of Spidey swinging around buildings, battling the Green Goblin. In this film, PP calls it quits (the image of Spidey walking away from his costume in the trashcan a direct pull from Amazing Spider-Man # 50). Which makes for a good story, but for those of us ready to see the Wall-crawler in action, it leaves a little to be desired.

The special effects are good, and as far as the villain is concerned, an upgrade in physical appearance from the near Mighty Morphin' Power Ranger look of the Green Goblin in the last film. When Ock scurries away, it leaves an impression.

Also, the scenes where Ock goes crazy are downright creepy. It's more a page out of an old EC horror comic then a fun-loving Spider-Man comic. And I think the creative team behind this movie should be applauded for that. It was a gutsy move, and sure to creep out the little kids in the audience, but not enough to make them heading for the exit in tears. For me personally, I was very impressed with the handling of Ock and his serpentine arms.

A favorite in these movies is J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He's as one-dimensional as he is in the comics, but Simmons pulls off the character just as I'd like to imagine him in the comic book pages. Simmons has the abrupt, rude, smart ass role down.

But while the tools are there, the complete package is not. Not enough Spider-Man and some downright confusing/questionable moments made this movie fall just a little short. I would have given Spider-Man a five-star rating, no problem. This movie, I'd give a 3.5-star rating, the .5 getting thrown on there because Spider-Man's been my favorite since I was a little kid, and that comic geek excitement still rings true when he pulls off a Steve Ditko pose or makes a snappy comeback.

Hopefully, this movie will serve as a great set-up for the third installment. As it stands alone, it's enjoyable, but not the comic geek paradise that the first Spider-Man movie was.

Part II-- questions I had, just while sitting there

(Remember, spoilers abound, and this is just me venting, essentially.)

Maybe I'm hypersensitive to movies and should pull the "suspension of disbelief" chord a little sooner. Like, during the previews. But I thought this movie had a few too many questions left in it at the end. Let's tackle them here, maybe you'll see what I mean.

Can Spidey please keep on his mask?

It reminded me of how Batman kept letting people into the Batcave. Every half hour someone new was in the Batcave. Either Alfred would open the secret door for another Bruce Wayne one-nighter, or Dick Grayson is flipping into the cave... hey, the FedEx guy is here, send him in, he's got new Batarangs.

Seems to me that Spider-Man must have been having some vision problems with the mask on, because every time the action got heavy in this movie, the first thing he does is rip off his mask. Maybe it was chafing him?

The mask is always coming off -- during the subway train scene, when he's battling Doc Ock at the end, when he's on a rooftop testing his powers... Peter Parker can't date Mary Jane because of his dual identity, but he sure can rip off his mask in public at a whim. Bizarre.

What are Doc Ock's tentacles made of? Tupperware?

The action first begins when Ock's master invention goes haywire and starts grabbing everything metal and sucking in towards it. I'm talking everything from belt buckles and dental braces to steel girders and vehicles. This thing craves metal, and you better not have a steel plate in your noggin, or else your day has just been ruined.

But meanwhile, this gizmo has zero effects on Doc Ock's arms. They look like metal to me. I don't know what exactly they're made of, but I kept waiting for the good Doctor to get sucked in there. Never happened.

Maybe I missed the scene where they explained that Ock's super-strong arms are actually made of pasta. I don't know, that's why they're questions.

[Editor's Note: Thanks to all of you who pointed out that Doc Ock does indeed mention in the film that the arms are impervious to magnetism and heat.]

Why does Ock deal with Harry Osbourne?

Doc Ock has Harry dangling 80 stories up, staring straight down at his death. He came for the magic marble that runs his machine, which, near as I can tell, is a giant magnet. Harry's half-loaded on Maker's Mark (more on Maker's Mark later) and is screaming like a girl while Ock threatens him.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Harry tells Ock that he'll give him the magic marble if Ock will bring him Spider-Man. He also tells him how to get Spidey -- grab his buddy Peter Parker. Ock doesn't even hesitate, this sounds like a good deal to him. He gently places Harry back on his balcony and crawls away.

Huh? Wasn't Harry just begging for his own life? Suddenly he's a negotiator? Why didn't Ock just tell him he was going to squeeze his head like a grape until he gave him what he wanted?

Answer: because if that happens, the movie is going to end a half hour sooner. And Ock has no reason to fight Spider-Man. But it's these moments in movies that just bug me incessantly.

I can feel the earth move when Doc Ock walks...

But when he gets the goods from Harry Osbourne, Harry turns to look at Spidey, and in that half-second, Ock sneaks away.

Not a big deal, but it did strike me as funny. All movie there's been a precedent set that when Doc Ock is coming, you know it -- the ground shakes, plaster falls from the ceiling. But in that one scene, Ock is suddenly more sneaky than Batman.

In my mind, I wondered if Ock got his bounty and then retracted his tentacles and tip-toed out the door. Just for my own amusement, really.

Doc Ock's machine does what again?

I touched on the "magic marble" and let me get back to that, briefly. I never grasped what Doc Ock was doing with his invention, I'm sorry. Maybe it was the rum and Coke I had before I saw the movie, but they lost me here. The machine was essentially an unimportant MacGuffin, so I'm not too worried about it. Most I got out of it was that is was a cross between the doorway contraption in Stargate and the giant gizmo in Contact, visually. As for what it did, I guess metal detecting wasn't its main purpose. Oh, but it could blow up the city, according to Peter. Gotcha. Let's move on.

Is Harry on steroids?

Hey, I like that Harry is going to be back for revenge in the next installment (only question, will he be back as Green Goblin II or Hobgoblin? My vote is for Hobby, just so we can have new toys).

I'm just thinking out loud here, but did James Franco get bigger for this movie? He looks like he's been visiting Barry Bonds' trainer in this movie. Which is good; I'd enjoy it if in the next installment we learned that Harry was dabbling in his dad's drugs and getting pumped up in the meantime.

Or maybe it was just a case of it being two years later, and a whole lot of Maker's Mark consumed. You know, that Maker's Mark is tough stuff. It makes you an angry drunk. If you've ever had too much of it, or seen the band Local H perform live, you know what I'm talking about. Like I said, tough stuff.

Anyway, James Franco, if you're out there, email us at CBR, let us know if the weight room was part of the program. But here's a prediction: by Spider-Man 3, Franco will be Hugh Jackman-pumped up. Lookit this guy's head. He's on the verge of exploding.

Did they intentionally make Mary Jane less cute?

I know, what am I saying? If you didn't think I was an idiot before because of my Doc Ock invention rant, then you must think I am one by now. Heck, I even think I'm one. Maybe the waitress slipped some Maker's Mark in my drink.

But. She isn't as much of a heartbreaker in this film as she was in the original. And I know she's a hottie. But if you watch her in a lot of the scenes in this movie, she looks a little bit like one of those girls dancing in the old Woodstock footage. A little bit hippie, you know?

And I'm not going Peter Parker on you, I still dig MJ, and she once again does a great job in the film. I just think she looked better in the last film.

Speaking of less cute, who's the blonde that gets randomly thrown in the mix?

If you're like me, you're wondering if the neighbor girl at PP's new apartment is supposed to be Gwen Stacy. I stuck around for the credits, and didn't see any mention of Gwen in the character names. I'm assuming she was "Ursula," played by Mageina Tovah. So my next question is, who is Ursula, and why was she feeding Peter Parker cake? This was easily the most unnecessary part of the film. Unless Ursula becomes the Black Cat, Felicia Hardy, and then I'll think it's a cool cameo. Otherwise, I'm wondering what happened there.

I've seen him do it so many times in the comics... can't Spidey just web the subway train rather than readjust his own spine?

Let's make this my last "question" (which are all sounding like complaints, but they're not... and remember, I said I liked the movie too!).

Spider-Man's powers are a little vague, even in the comic book. This is the nature of comic books, though. I don't worry about it too much, I'm just there for fun anyway.

So this subway train is speeding out of control towards the end of the railway. Spidey (sans mask, of course) makes a couple attempts at stopping this thing. He finally succeeds when he shoots webbing on all the nearby buildings and holds on for dear life.

I was almost muttering to myself at this point... why doesn't Spidey just connect the webbing in front of the train and let it do its thing? Instead he holds on with webbing in both hands, and almost gets ripped in half, while Tobey Maguire shows us his best "bitter beer face." I've seen this happen in the comics 100 times, and it seems to be a pretty simple premise of the character.

Of course, maybe I missed the issue where Spidey does this amazing feat, and it was a tribute to the comic. Or maybe you were muttering too? E-mail me, let me know if I'm crazy.

I'm like the Riddler at the end of "Batman Forever" -- so many questions.

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