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Family-Friendly "Spider-Man 2" Delights and Intrigues

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Family-Friendly "Spider-Man 2" Delights and Intrigues

Release Date:  June 30, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for stylized action violence)
Genre:  Fantasy/Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time: 127 minutes
Director:  Sam Raimi
Actors:  Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn

Oh, what a tangled web men weave, when with their masks they do deceive! 

If you’re looking for a family-friendly movie that will delight men and intrigue women, look no further. “Spider-Man 2” does the job. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years.

Written by Alvin Sargent (“Ordinary People,” “Papermoon”) and derived from a screenplay by the Pulitzer-Prize winning Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”), the story begins as Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is fired from his part-time job as a pizza delivery boy. He regularly skips class at Columbia, can’t keep up with rent payments on his decrepit studio and ekes out a living doing freelance newspaper photography. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), his longtime love, is ready to marry someone else. Even Peter’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who is still grieving the loss of her husband, Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) is disappointed in the hapless, undependable college student.

Quite the opposite is Spider-Man, who saves children and assists the law, much to the chagrin of unethical newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who wants Spidey destroyed. Jameson is not alone. Harry Osborn (James Franco), who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, is Peter’s best friend, but Harry despises Spider-Man and wants him dead, as revenge for his father’s death. By financing scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), Harry hopes to gain more wealth. But Octavius’ fusion experiment goes awry, leaving him attached to a four-limbed machine that controls both his mind and his actions. Now, Octavius wants to rule the world, and there is only one thing capable of stopping him: Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the super hero has just shunned the spider suit for a long-needed sabbatical.

Director Sam Raimi (“For Love of the Game,” “A Simple Plan”) has done a fabulous job with this film, and the script couldn’t be any better. Full of nuances, great dialogue and Godly themes, “Spider-Man 2” has something for everyone. Most important is its overarching message – that good must and will ultimately conquer evil. Evil is overcome, this film clearly says, by men who are willing to do what is right – at any cost.

“Sometimes, to do what is right,” Aunt May says (later repeated by Peter), “We have to be steady, and give up what which we want the most, even our dreams.”

Another strong, recurring message is that “intelligence is a gift, not a privilege, and must be used for the good of mankind.”

The writers also attempt a daring stunt: defining what it means to be a hero in today’s world. Rather than opting out, by implying that only those with special powers can be true heroes, they tackle the issue with insight and ethics. And, amazingly, they do not buy into the postmodern lie that role models are not responsible for their actions.

“Lord knows we all need a hero,” Aunt May quips. “Courageous, self-sacrificing heroes who are models for the rest of us.” This, perhaps, is the greatest accomplishment of this movie, and it will inspire many a youngster to adopt Spider-Man’s multiple virtues. He is the role model, of course. But the other role model is Peter. For, like every man, Peter is filled with self-doubt and wonders about his true self.

“It’s got to be hard not to know who you are,” a character says, urging us to ponder this. “Your soul disappears.”

Confronted with evil and injustice, Peter wants to do what is right, but like regular guys, he feels sorely inadequate. As justice crumbles and truth decays, men long to be good and noble. Like Peter, they might well have the courage to rescue a child from a burning building, but must then watch, helpless, as another person dies in that same fire. How overwhelming and discouraging this world is without super powers! Is it a wonder that so many become police officers, fire fighters and soldiers? And how grateful we are for these modern-day super heroes, who risk their lives, again and again. But what about those who are not? How can they conquer the daunting, dangerous world?

Even the great Spider-Man has flaws, however. Though he fights evil, he is desperately lonely, and his mask only contributes to his isolation. But the filmmakers strip Spidey of that mask and ask us to think about the consequences. What that means, of course, is true intimacy for Peter – something he, like many men, has shied away from in the name of “responsibility.” Enter woman, who pries man away from his all-consuming work, a consequence of The Fall, and invites him to love and be loved.

Even the evil Octavius understands this, because he says, “If you keep something as complicated as love stored up, it will make you sick inside.” But the point is most movingly demonstrated in a beautiful scene where Mary Jane utters a line that will no doubt be long remembered in film history: “Isn’t it time someone saved your life?”

It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.

The film makes us laugh, several times over (watch for a Chinese lady aka William Hung singing “Spider-Man”) and the music is great. Also, instead of its CGI-saturated original, “Spider-Man 2” uses digital graphics to enhance the film, not carry it. And, the characters all play it straight. There’s no cinematic “winking” at the camera, to tell us that they know it’s really a cartoon. The result is a fabulous job, especially Maguire, whose boyish confusion and self-doubt play perfectly into the hands of the devilish but believable Molina.

One caution: although the language and sexuality are mild, making the film suitable for older children, the violence is graphic and, at times, disturbing. It’s comic-book brutality, with its requisite property destruction and slams against brick walls (no blood or visible injuries, though). Combined with the soaring but scary music, it is not appropriate for younger children, who were crying and had to be carried out when I screened the film.

Otherwise, “Spider-Man 2” will delight the entire family. It’s a great guy’s night out, a fun date movie and, surprisingly, maybe even one for the girls. After all, the world has yet to figure out what men are really feeling.

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