Wrapping up our three-part look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, released in 2004 from Sony/Columbia Pictures. When I do these recaps, I tend to rewatch certain scenes a lot as I search for a good frame to capture, and I’m finding that I appreciate the screenplay to this film more and more as I go through it. I mentioned a few times in my coverage of the first Spider-Man that I found myself cringing at much of David Koepp’s dialogue. The screenplay to the second film is credited to Alvin Sargent, and there’s much, much less that I cringe at. A few eye-rolling moments (for a lead character who’s supposed to be smart and sensitive, Peter is a horrible communicator), but only one or two absolute cringes.
So when we left off, Mary Jane was giving Peter one last chance to make up his mind and prove he either did or didn’t love her (the motivations are kind of all over the place in this moment) by kissing her. But just as her lips are approaching his, this happens…
It’s a sneak attack by Dr. Octopus, just one more thing that doesn’t make sense here if you spend more than a second thinking about it. Because if you remember, the reason Doc Ock is after Peter is to find the location of Spider-Man to deliver to Harry Osborn in exchange for the tritium fuel he needs to complete his experimental fusion reactor. Ock’s plan for this, as we learn in a few moments, is to use a kidnapped Mary Jane as leverage to force Peter Parker to get Spider-Man to come out of hiding. And we will find out later that neither Ock nor Harry suspect that Peter actually is Spider-Man.
So why is Ock’s opening gambit throwing a car that would kill both Peter and Mary Jane if Peter weren’t able to magically use his powers to save them during that instant of stress?
Oh well, it makes for an exciting opening to the movie’s final act. Ock knocks Peter into a wall and carries MJ away. Peter bursts out of the pile of debris covering him, seething with rage, and discovers he no longer needs his glasses (there’s a nicely subtle detail here where the sound mutes slightly when we’re looking at the blurred world through his glasses and becomes brighter and clearer when we’re not).
J. Jonah Jameson, meanwhile, is mourning over the loss of Spider-Man now that Doc Ock has kidnapped his son’s fiancee, at least until Spider-Man steals his costume back from where it’s displayed on JJJ’s wall. Now in full costume, Spider-Man webslings out to his rendezvous with Ock, where they start their grudge match on a clock tower.
The fight is fast and furious, with Spider-Man’s speed, agility and webs against Ock’s greater strength and multiple limbs attacking from all directions. Their fight carries them down onto an elevated train, and suddenly they’re in Chicago, not that I care.
One thing the movie seems absolutely fearless about, reflecting the growing confidence in digital effects in general, is using digital doubles in full view, long takes in bright sunlight. Both of Spider-Man’s set-piece battles with Ock, as well as Ock’s abduction of Mary Jane, happen in broad daylight. The digital doubles are fairly obvious, but better than the first film, and the kineticism and emotional stakes of the scenes are such I never really dwell on the moments where the fakery is most obvious.
Doc Ock pushes the train to full throttle then breaks off the handle, leaving Spider-Man to figure out how to stop the train. And oh, there’s a familiar face…
That black dude on the right is Phil LaMarr, mostly known for his voice-acting work in cartoons. He was the voice of Samurai Jack, for instance, and more relevant for us here, he was the voice of Green Lantern and Static, among others, in the Justice League and Static Shock TV series, as well as numerous voices in the animated Futurama, Star Wars, and Marvel universes. And he doesn’t get a single line here.
Peter uses a LOT of webs to slow down and eventually stop the train, saving everyone on board, but the strain causes him to pass out. And then something cool happens.
Yeah, I know the Messiah imagery is used a lot…
But there’s something a lot more complicated than that going on here. Those other images are all about the pose reminding us that these men sacrificed their lives for others. But in Spider-Man’s case, he’s being gently borne aloft by a crowd, many of them not even supporting him, but just reaching out to touch him worshipfully, like the woman with the issue of blood in the Gospel story.
But it goes beyond even that. Because he didn’t just save them; they’re saving him. If they hadn’t brought him inside the train, he would have fallen to his death in Lake Michigan, er, the Hudson River. True to the Spider-Man mythos, and what sets Spider-Man apart from Superman, is that, while he may be a sort of god, he is a particularly human and fallible and even sometimes frail one. And it chokes me up to see how gentle they are with him here.
Two kids come up and give him back his mask…
And something about the way these two kids, obviously amateurs, are featured made me think they were connected to the production somehow, like maybe they were Raimi’s kids or something. Off to IMDB, where we discover that nope, they’re not Raimi’s kids, but Tobey Maguire’s half-brothers. Nailed it. One of the other train passengers is the daughter of visual effects designer John Dykstra, one of the men instrumental in ushering in the modern era of visual effects with the original Star Wars.
The crowd tries to intervene when Dr. Octopus comes for Spider-Man, but Peter waves them off and surrenders. So it is that Spider-Man is delivered, unconscious and bound in freaking barbed wire, to Harry Osborn.
Harry, of course, wants to see Spider-Man’s face before killing him and is shocked to discover it’s Peter. Harry drops the knife and stumbles back, shocked. Peter busts out of the wire and tries to learn MJ’s location. Harry mentions the tritium–which Peter realizes means the deaths of millions–before accusing Peter of killing his father. I love that Peter doesn’t even try to deny it (even though it’s technically not true), but just replies, “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.” Because that is absolutely true, and there are some people you can’t even waste time trying to talk sense into.
Which leads us to the final confrontation at Doc Ock’s ramshackle waterfront warehouse headquarters. Doctor Octopus gloats to Mary Jane that no one can stop him now that Spider-Man’s dead, and of course, as soon as he turns his back to start his fusion machine, Spider-Man shows up to free MJ.
Only those damn tentacles see everything, so Ock immediately attacks. As he and Spider-Man fight their last furious battle, the miniature sun goes out of control and threatens to kill MJ.
So Spider-Man breaks off the fight to save her, giving Doc Ock the opening needed to lay Spider-Man out for the last time. But before Ock can land his killing blow, Spider-Man blocks it with a thick bundle of electric cables…
Shocking the bad Doctor into helplessness. Spider-Man pulls the plug on the reactor like he did last time, but this reaction is bigger and is now self-sustaining. Spider-Man can’t stop it.
But Dr. Octavius is once again in his right mind. Peter pulls off his mask and asks Octavius how to stop the reaction. Both Octavius and Mary Jane are pretty surprised to learn it’s Peter under the mask.
Octavius reasserts control over his tentacles and, while Peter carries Mary Jane to safety, uses them to pull down the pilings underneath the reactor and drop the miniature sun into the river, where it cannot keep burning. And of course, he dies a sort of hero in the process.
It shows great confidence in their digital double to use a close-up of it for this shot of Octavius sinking to the bottom of the bay. Of course, because he’s dead, he doesn’t have to emote, which is usually the real giveaway.
Peter deposits Mary Jane in a huge web he spins over a shipyard, where he and Mary Jane talk about their relationship and the fact that Peter can’t put Mary Jane into danger like that again. And it would be a much better scene if it weren’t so obvious that the “web” is translucent goop over metal cables.
MJ goes back to John Jameson and Peter prepares to live a life alone. Meanwhile, Harry hears his father’s voice, follows it to a mirror, where he sees his father’s image and smashes it, revealing…
Well, looks like we know what villain will be featured in the sequel, huh? But wait, there’s a bit more to go…
Namely, Mary Jane’s wedding to John Jameson. The bridesmaids are in black dresses, which is a bit ominous, and with good reason, because MJ ditches it. John looks miserable and kind of pissed, which could be more fertile ground for a sequel, since John Jameson assumed a couple of different villain personas to fight Spider-Man over the years. But he apparently wasn’t really serious about marrying MJ anyway, because her dress is not at all made for running. He could have caught her if he wanted to, is what I’m saying. But he doesn’t even try, which is how she ends up here…
And after Peter totally Spider-Man-splained everything to her. Women.
MJ says that she’s prepared to take the risks of being Spider-Man’s girlfriend because she loves Peter so much. And when their passionate kiss is interrupted by distant sirens, she just says, “Go get ’em, tiger.”
So Peter swings out in a final tracking shot that isn’t nearly as cool as the one that closed out the first film, but as soon as he’s gone, MJ’s supportive smile turns to this.
Everybody’s still at the church, probably. You might be able to get back in time to have the wedding after all. Just saying.
And that’s it for Spider-Man 2, a sequel that improves in almost every way upon the original. Twelve years later, it sometimes feels a little bloated and overlong. Several thematic points get pounded in a little too heavily, and the entire “Peter loses his powers” subplot feels a little unnecessary, which is odd, because the emotional justification for that plot is what the ENTIRE MOVIE IS ABOUT. But it feels as if they could have found something short of psychosomatic powerlessness to justify Peter taking some time off to get his head straight.
But it has enough great things going for it–a better script, good performances, better special effects–that it’s still a great watch today.
Oh, and BTW, I mentioned last time that I would talk about another piece of foreshadowing in the John Jameson gala scene. That turned into a small piece of a video I have put together that I will be publishing to Youtube on Friday, hopefully the first of a new, improved series of Hero Go Home Presents… videos. I’m currently working on a second one, and I have more ideas in the pipeline. I hope you like them.
Be here next Monday for (if all goes well) Part 1 of Spider-Man 3.