Continuing our look back at Sony/Columbia’s 2004 sequel, Spider-Man 2.
So last time, Dr. Otto Octavius’s fusion reaction experiment had created a miniature sun that killed his wife and nearly killed him and a bunch of other observers, including Harry Osborn and Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man. As we left off, a team of doctors were getting ready to use a power saw to cut off the mechanical tentacles Octavius had been using to control the reaction, which are now fused to his body.
As the saw nears the tentacle apparatus, the tentacles start to move on their own (Octavius previously said they were controlled by their own artificial intelligence, which he consciously overrides by means of a special inhibitor chip) and attack the doctors. And in case you forgot that Sam Raimi got his start as a horror director, pioneering a unique kind of horror that fused shocking violence with fast, almost cartoonish action, here are some reminders.
Some signature Raimi stuff here, including a wild tracking shot from a tentacle’s POV and a shout-out to the chainsaw from the Evil Dead films. That last shot is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by John Landis, director of (among other things) An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
Those tentacles, BTW, are one of the movie’s biggest triumphs. The tentacles in the comic were simple cylinders with rudimentary fingers at the ends. The ones in the film have complex segmented shapes, and are animated with terrifying weight and power. When Octavius stumbles out of the hospital (after coming to surrounded by dead bodies and giving one of the less silly “Noooo!” screams of modern cinema), the tentacles walk with him, helping him support their weight. When he stumbles into the path of a taxi, the lower tentacles brace on the ground, allowing the upper tentacles to pick up the car and fling it away without Octavius’s real legs being broken by the weight. It’s never talked about, but it’s a telling detail that lets us buy in to their reality.
Oh, and remember that inhibitor chip I mentioned? The one that lets him control them instead of them controlling him? It got destroyed when he was zapped in the fusion experiment, so the tentacles are voices in his head driving him slightly mad.
He decides, with their encouragement, that he has to rebuild the fusion reactor, but bigger, so he can get it right this time. But to do that, he needs money.
You know what has money? A bank. Which is where Peter goes with Aunt May to try to refinance the loan on her house. Where they talk to smarmy bank clerk Jeff Winger.
Wow, first former Talk Soup host Hal Sparks, and now host of The Soup (the retooled show that Talk Soup morphed into), Joel McHale. Sam Raimi must have watched a lot of E!
So Aunt May gets turned down for the loan, just as Dr. Octavius (whom J. Jonah Jameson has decided to dub Doctor Octopus or Doc Ock for short) begins to rob the same bank. Peter runs away, leaving Aunt May alone and helpless, but returns moments later as Spider-Man, beginning our first big action showpiece, over 45 minutes into a 2-hour film. And it’s really good, with Ock throwing bags of heavy gold coins at Spider-Man, who dodges from wall-to-wall, but whose powers fail him at unexpected moments. The fight carries them outside, where Ock grabs Aunt May to use as a human shield against the cops, then he and Spider-Man fight their way up a building. The action is fast and furious and fun.
I love the way Aunt May whispers a scandalized “Shame on you” when Doc Ock pulls a particularly unsporting move on Peter. A couple of other notable things about the battle: there’s this guy…
(Our obligatory Stan Lee cameo) who pulls a woman with rather prominent cleavage out of the way of falling debris. And I only mention the cleavage because there’s a particular focus on busty women in this sequence.
This was also during that brief period where bare midriffs were in fashion, you’ll notice. Spider-Man saves Aunt May and carries her to safety as Doc Ock gets away with bags of money. And as Spider-Man swings away, there is a flock of young women who run up begging him to take them with him. Man, there are so many women after Peter in this movie, and he doesn’t notice any of them, he’s so blinded by MJ.
Peter next goes to a high society party, assigned to take photographs by Jonah because the science museum is honoring his son, John Jameson the astronaut.
And there are a couple of really subtle things going on in this shot. One is in the upper left that I’ll get back to eventually, but the other is a bit of quick foreshadowing for people who missed the trailers that spoiled what the movie is about to reveal. Because among the people here to honor Jonah’s son, the astronaut, is the girl standing next to Peter on the far right of the frame, and we’ve seen her before. She was previously seen putting on make-up next to Mary Jane in the dressing room before The Importance of Being Earnest, chattering with her like a best friend. And given that MJ has said she has a new boyfriend, could it be…?
Yes, it be.
Everything is going wrong for Peter at once in this party sequence, which is like a smaller, but more intense version of the opening 15 minutes. Jonah is blustery and semi-abusive. Mary Jane is fed up with him, casually dismissive when Peter tries his desperation gambit reciting “The Song of Hiawatha” to her. Harry has moved from resentment at Peter for his relationship with Spider-Man to outright drunken fury, slapping Peter in the face multiple times in front of the assembled party-goers. And in a running gag, Peter can’t even get a bite to eat, because every time he reaches for a canape or a drink, someone else grabs it just before he can (the one time he does manage to snag a glass, it’s empty).
And the absolute topper is when John Jameson, the hero everyone is here to worship, announces his engagement to Mary Jane. Peter can’t say anything but just has to do his job quietly and snap pictures at Jonah’s orders. And to make matters worse, Peter’s powers fail him completely a second time, causing him to fall something like 20 stories into a puddle of filthy water in an alley.
Peter visits a doctor to see what’s wrong, but the doctor says it’s probably psychosomatic. Peter describes his “friend’s dream” about being Spider-Man, trying to climb walls but failing. The doctor says maybe the dreams are telling him he doesn’t need to climb the walls in the first place.
So Peter has a sort-of dream sequence where he talks to Uncle Ben’s ghost. Uncle Ben wants him to stay the course, do the right thing even if it’s hard. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. But Peter decides to give it up.
Which is how we get another hammered-home point, this time in a triple homage to The Amazing Spider-Man #50, a story titled “Spider-Man No More!” featuring this panel.
Not only do we see an echo of this image onscreen as Peter ditches his costume in a garbage can…
But prior to that, Peter tells the ghost of Uncle Ben, “I am Spider-Man no more.” And once a garbageman brings the discarded costume to Jonah, the Daily Bugle publishes a cover story with that same headline, “Spider-Man No More.”
Meanwhile, Peter’s living the good life. He’s going to school, getting good grades, eating hot dogs, and when cop cars go by with sirens screaming, he doesn’t have to drop everything run off after them. He’s happy.
He even manages to see Mary Jane’s play, where she playing opposite a familiar face.
Her scene partner is played by Reed Diamond, well-known to genre audiences for recurring roles on TV series like Dollhouse, Wayward Pines, Minority Report and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Meanwhile, as when I earlier referred to The Importance of Being Earnest as being a little too on the nose, at literally the moment MJ spots Peter in the audience, she is reciting the line, “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.” Wow. It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote the play about Spider-Man.
After the play, Peter tries to convince MJ to give him another shot, but she’s having none of it. I have given Kirsten Dunst plenty of shit for her portrayal of Mary Jane in the previous film, but she plays MJ’s exasperation and drama fatigue pretty well here. She does these mouth shrugs that make her look a little like Sally Field. But her attitude does seem to soften toward Peter a bit.
So anyway, as JJJ publicizes Spider-Man’s disappearance, we see the two sides of Peter’s dilemma. On the one hand, complete strangers are flirting with him, making us think he could move on from Mary Jane and find happiness.
On the other, immediately after this moment, he sees someone being mugged and crying out for help, and he resolutely turns away, although his conscience is obviously bothering him.
Later, Peter gets finally gets the courage to tell Aunt May about his role in Uncle Ben’s death, and Aunt May pulls away from him and leaves him alone without a word. One thing I really like about this film even more than the first one is that Aunt May is no saint. She gets angry, she gets hurt, she even tries lying to the loan officer at the bank (but she’s a terrible liar). She good, but she’s human, and Rosemary Harris (I will keep saying this) is so good in the role.
Meanwhile, Doc Ock has finally finished building his new fusion reactor, but he still needs the rare tritium fuel it requires. So he goes to see Harry Osborn, who demands that Octavius bring him Spider-Man in exchange. And of course, the way to find Spider-Man is through his sort-of official photographer, Peter Parker. “Don’t hurt Peter!” Harry yells, a little too late.
That same night (maybe), Peter is noting the headlines about increased crime when he sees an apartment building on fire with a kid trapped inside, so he rushes in to rescue her. It’s not as easy as the rescue in the first movie when he had his powers, though. In fact, the little girl has to help rescue him at one point.
Even so, he succeeds in saving her, although someone else dies. He can’t save everyone.
The next day, the landlord’s daughter, Ursula (Mageina Tovah), offers him cake with a side of lovestruck staring. And she’s also rocking the bare midriff look.
It feels like there was meant to be more of a scene here, but it abruptly cuts off when she gives Peter a message from Aunt May, which causes him to rush out to see her. She’s moving. Also, she forgives Peter and misses Spider-Man. She gives a moving speech about the value of heroes, and it almost seems for a moment there that she realizes Peter is Spider-Man, but it’s left ambiguous.
Peter then decides to try believing in himself to turn his powers back on. Alas, it doesn’t work. He ends up falling into another alley and hurting himself.
Meanwhile, Mary Jane and John Jameson are filling out wedding invitations, and John brings up Peter, which prompts MJ to try out the inverted kiss on him.
The kiss just doesn’t have the same spark she had with Spider-Man, although it does bring up a point. At the end of the first movie, Mary Jane seemed to have the realization, after kissing Peter, that he and Spider-Man had the same lips or something. Like she had maybe figured out his secret. But it’s never brought up in this movie.
But that may partly be because, just when Mary Jane seems to be about to bring up the possible connection when she meets with Peter at a deli, he decides to shut her down again. He says he can’t be with her because he doesn’t love her, and she demands he kiss her to prove it.
Will his lips say “yes” even though his mouth says “no?” Be here next week for our final installment.