A decade ago, I was a teenager in high school. I had my first job at my local movie theater and used my newfound disposable income to get a Netflix subscription.
Over the summer of 2004, 17/18 year old Matt wrote 21 movie reviews and posted them on IMDb. Recently, I dug up these reviews and decided to revisit each movie and evaluate how my tastes have changed over the last decade.
So for each of these posts, I will write a present-day review and then copy/paste the original review after. Then I’ll compare the two and give a summary at the end. You can find all the reviews here, follow me on Twitter here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, lets talk about Spider-Man 2.
My 2014 Review
Over the years, the comic book genre has become oversaturated with a lot of gritty attempts at mimicking the success Nolan had with the Dark Knight Trilogy. There have been some unique interpretations in this regard, but between the grit and the sheer volume of movies (Marvel Studios has 11 movies slated for release between now and 2019), it’s really easy to feel comic movie fatigue.
Having said that, revisiting Spider-Man 2 was a delightful experience. Sam Raimi brings the web slinger’s universe to life with an aesthetic that honors the hero’s comic book roots. The visual effects and certain framing techniques leave a lasting impression and help the movie age quite gracefully.
Spider-Man 2 is rated PG-13 but it’s fairly violent. People are killed in a lab accident and Doc Ock’s (Alfred Molina) sentient tentacles rip victims apart. The beauty of Spider-Man 2 is in Raimi’s filmmaking in these violent scenes. He shoots the violence as if it were a comic book panel by putting visual emphasis on a piece of the action or instrument of violence while getting creative by tilting the frame and skewing our perspective. It’s a highly effective strategy to mask the violence in lieu of simply cutting away from it. It also honors the source material and the subgenre’s visual tone as a whole.
While the effects and filmmaking age well, other aspects of the movie do not. Molina is great as Dr. Octavius. He’s charming, as he becomes a pseudo mentor to Peter early in the movie. His transition into Doc Ock, however, left a bit to be desired. When his experiment fails, the tentacles attached to him become sentient and turn him to insanity.
My problem is that there’s too little development here. He suffers a loss and then essentially decides to turn evil just so he can complete his experiment. It plays out more like the tentacles flipped his switch from “ambitious” to “crazy” with very limited fight from the scientist. It’s a little too big of a stretch for me. It would have been much cleaner to use the loss he experienced in the accident as his motivation.
There’s some sloppy scripting in the movie elsewhere too. The set up for a few too many set pieces in the movie are contingent on pure coincidence and contrived reasons to put characters in specific locations. For instance, Peter Parker and Aunt May are at a bank at the exact time Doc Ock carries out his heist. A heist that, for all of Doc Ock’s scientific genius, is as subtle as a tentacle smashing through a vault door.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) experiences an identity crisis in Spider-Man 2 that manifests itself by making his powers go away at random intervals throughout the movie. At a certain point, Peter decides to quit being Spider-Man. This works well for the movie, despite some awkward choices in certain scenes that show him literally turning his back on crime. Maguire is pretty dry in his performance but he’s at least consistently dry. So that’s something.
Maguire isn’t the worst actor in the movie, however. Kirsten Dunst reprises her role as Mary Jane Watson and delivers a bland, somewhat vacant performance. She phones it in for a role that actually gave her a little more to work with than the standard “damsel in distress” comic book movie trope. Mary Jane has a nice emotional arc through the movie that parallels and informs Peter’s own personal angst but Dunst doesn’t tap into much, if any, of it. Between Maguire’s dryness and Dunst’s vacancy, the Mary Jane and Peter scenes just lack chemistry.
It’s a little hard to judge James Franco‘s performance without remembering the bad taste that Spider-Man 3 left. Harry’s arc in Spider-Man 2 is largely setup for the third movie. In a vacuum, it’s compelling enough. However, it’s pretty unnecessary in the grand scheme of this installment. His storyline goes places plot-wise but doesn’t leave us with any resolution other than a tease for the next movie.
Franco broods well enough through most of his scenes but Harry lacks a connection with the main plot and Peter and Mary Jane’s subplot. He’s now in charge of Oscorp and he’s tied to Dr. Octavius, but it’s another instance of plot convenience rather than a natural progression for the character. Harry could have been played down a bit more and the result would have made the movie’s narrative run a bit more smoothly.
The set pieces and visual effects are great. The climactic action sequence reminded me that a Spider-Man movie with only one villain can be executed well and be amazing in and of itself. There’s a scene in a train car that echoes the awkward “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us/I Love New York” scene from the first movie. It’s still awkward and out of place, but it isn’t as in your face and bothersome as the first movie. In fact, it’s slightly more poignant and emotional, given the context of the scene.
Spider-Man 2, while not without its faults, holds up well. There are plenty of references and visual nods to the movie’s comic book origins that made me feel like there was great care in producing this movie for its specific audience. Even though some of the performances are lacking and the script isn’t quite up to snuff, Spider-Man 2 still holds its own in the pantheon of comic book movies.
Buy Digitally – These movies are worth owning but don’t necessarily need to take up space on your shelf or garner a trip to your favorite DVD/Blu-Ray shop.
My 2004 Review
The Best Comic Book Movie I Have Ever Seen…Until 2006 Comes Around
8 July 2004
*-Catch it on TV **-Worth a Rental ***-Buy it Used/On Sale ****-Buy it New/Top Dollar *****-Worthy of a Blind Buy
In the year 2000 Bryan Singer brought us “X-Men.” A great movie that was upstaged just two years later with Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.” Just last year “X2: X-Men United” became the best comic book movie I had ever seen, until now. “Spider-Man 2” can be summed up in one word…huge. Picking up two years after the events of the first film, “Spider-Man 2” continues telling the story of Peter Parker. Peter is, like every other college student, juggling the responsibilities of school, work, and also protecting New York City with spider-like superpowers. This time around Spidey does battle with Doctor Octopus, who is working at getting, “the power of the sun in the palm of his hand.”
I was in awe by the opening credits. Alex Ross provided drawings to recap the events of the first film during the opening credits. The pictures are breathtaking and very detailed. Little things from the first film that irritated me, like Spider-Man’s corny one-liners while he was fighting the Green Goblin, were no where to be found in the sequel. The special effects were greatly improved and the shots of Spider-Man swinging around the city were much more realistic. The script was a lot wittier this time around as well. There is a scene in particular with Spider-Man riding the elevator that was hysterical as well as Bruce Campbell’s cameo.
Tobey Maguire was, once again, great as the troubled Peter Parker. If the franchise goes the same way as Batman and the Bond films by changing the cast every few films, then it will be difficult to find a suitable replacement for Maguire. Kirsten Dunst’s performance was a step up from the original but she still could have been a little better. James Franco played Harry Osborn very well, however it was a much different Harry than the one we knew in the first film. Over the last two years Harry became a high-level executive at his father’s company and still hates Spider-Man after the events of the original movie. This plays in very well with the story and gives James Franco the chance to really shine in his role. J.K. Simmons had a bigger role in the film and provided comic relief with expert timing.
The “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” movies are the two biggest comic book franchises today. With “X-Men 3” set to come out in 2006 and “Spider-Man 3” slated for release a year later it will make for an interesting couple of years. I don’t see how Bryan Singer could possible top Sam Raimi’s work this time around as “Spider-Man 2” is now the greatest comic book movie I have ever seen. I give it *****. It is definitely worthy of a blind buy, especially if you are a fan of the first film.
Summing Up: Then and Now
Teenage Matt was really quick to call things the “best ever.” Even with the qualifier of making it the “best comic book movie ever”, it still doesn’t inspire much confidence in my objectivity. Not only that, but my 2004 review is almost more about my excitement for X-Men 3 than it was about Spider-Man 2. I won’t get into X-Men 3 here but suffice it to say, 2004 has a bit of egg on his face.
For my 2014 review, I wanted to give the movie a 7.0 but I feel like some of the plotting and the acting as a whole brought it down to a 6.5. I still like it a lot but, even though, it has a very comic-like presentation, it still fell a little short for me.
I remember loving the soundtrack during my senior year of high school though. I’m pretty sure I still have the CD for it somewhere.