Whatever a Spider Can 

With its web-slinging hero more conflicted than ever, Spider-Man 2 mines the classic split of duty and desire

With its web-slinging hero more conflicted than ever, Spider-Man 2 mines the classic split of duty and desire

Spider-Man 2

Dir.: Sam Raimi

PG-13, 127 min.

Now showing at area theaters

I knew I was going to like Spider-Man 2 when I saw the trailer, with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, tossing his Spider-Man costume into an alley trash can while thinking aloud, "I am Spider-Man...no more!" The line comes from the title of Spider-Man #50, and the image from the issue's eighth page. Director Sam Raimi clearly knows his stuff.

But that was fairly evident from the first Spider-Man, which took a few liberties with the original Marvel Comics series—organic web shooters instead of chemicals, a compression of three or four Peter Parker girlfriends into one, a more vigorous Aunt May—but kept the essential tension of the main character's dilemma, eternally divided between his responsibility to fight crime and the demands of work, school and friendship.

In Spider-Man 2, it all gets to be too much. Unable to keep a job or to be with the girl he loves—Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst—and fed up with the way Spider-Man is widely feared and despised, Parker decides to quit the hero business and go back to being a nerdy college student. Unfortunately, his retirement coincides with the arrival of a new supervillain. While trying to perfect a self-generating energy source, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) suffers a horrible accident, causing his mind-controlled mechanical arms to override his dinky little "inhibitor chip." The arms effectively take over his body, transforming Octavius into the deranged, power-mad Doctor Octopus. It's a classic Marvel Comics scenario: the well-meaning technician, unable to control what he creates.

Raimi dwells a bit too much on the characters' tortured souls in countless big speeches and mopey montages, but he doesn't skimp on the action. The fight scenes are smartly conceived and edited to conceal the somewhat herky-jerky CGI. And in at least one scene—a gruesome hospital sequence where Doc Ock's arms cut loose and start knocking the hell out of the surgical staff—Raimi returns to the slapstick violence of his Evil Dead days. He's even comfortable enough to spend almost a full minute of screen time showing Peter Parker battling with a closet full of brooms that won't stay in place. Ah, the mundane hassles of a working-class hero.

Hardcore Spidey fans should dig the wall-crawling and web-slinging, and they're bound to enjoy the movie's opening credits, which recap the first installment in a set of paintings by superhero realist Alex Ross. Raimi also tosses in a couple of amusing cameos, and includes a casual appearance by Dylan Baker as Dr. Curt Connors, who astute Spider-fans will know as a future member of the rogues' gallery, soon to be transformed into the Jekyll/Hyde villain The Lizard.

However, more than a few fanboys will be up in arms about some of Spider-Man 2's story points. Peter Parker's crisis of confidence causes him to lose his powers, which doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. (Of course, the bite of a radioactive spider turning a boy into a superhero doesn't make much sense either.) And despite all of the hero's hand-wringing about maintaining his secret identity to protect his loved ones, by the end of Spider-Man 2 he's yanking off his mask for pretty much anyone who asks.

Still, the movies can't duplicate the comics, and even the comics these days aren't what they were when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko built the character. Forty years of stories means 40 years of revamps and "retcons" (the comic-geek term for when something in a character's history gets changed from its original context to suit the current story line). Spider-Man has been everything from a wisecracking teen to a socially conscious young man to a sci-fi muscleman. In his best recent incarnation, in Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man series, Peter Parker is a high-schooler again, sweating out exams and relationships while venturing out as Spider-Man for recreation as much as duty.

What hasn't changed much since the first Spider-Man story in 1962 is the central metaphor of a harried life. The appeal of Peter Parker is that he struggles with what we all struggle with: balancing what we want to do and what we have to do. It's a triumph if he finds time to have lunch with his girl, or to do a little homework. Spider-Man 2 rolls along as a solid summer action movie for almost two hours, and then in the final 15 minutes it gains a greater dimension, as Raimi takes a few moments to show how nearly every major character in the film—not just Peter Parker—is torn between expectation, destiny and desire. Even Doctor Octopus' inability to keep a check on the machines he has built is a mirror of the hero's troubles, and our own. (It's also symbolic of the current geopolitical situation, but that's another story.)

When we see that Spider-Man costume draped over the edge of that trash can, we know Peter Parker's making the wrong choice. Spider-Man 2 resonates because it's hard to fault him. After all, we often don't know ourselves, from moment to exhausting moment, if what we're doing is really right, or just what we think is necessary.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Recent Comments

Sign Up! For the Scene's email newsletters

* required

Latest in Stories

  • Scattered Glass

    This American Life host Ira Glass reflects on audio storytelling, Russert vs. Matthews and the evils of meat porn
    • May 29, 2008
  • Wordwork

    Aaron Douglas’ art examines the role of language and labor in African American history
    • Jan 31, 2008
  • Public Art

    So you got caught having sex in a private dining room at the Belle Meade Country Club during the Hunt Ball. Too bad those horse people weren’t more tolerant of a little good-natured mounting.
    • Jun 7, 2007
  • More »

All contents © 1995-2014 City Press LLC, 210 12th Ave. S., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of City Press LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Powered by Foundation