Saturday, August 14, 2004

Spider-Man Swings into Superficiality

Spider-Man 2. 2004. Dir. Sam Raimi. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Danilel Gillies.

Although one never truly expects sequels to live up to their precursors, Spider-Man 2 was perhaps a bigger disappointment than most, helping continue the pitiful tradition of Matrix: Reloaded and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones by sloughing character development and plot depth off to the side in an effort to show fancy special effects and great film editing. Despite my fondness for brilliant and seamless CGI and other effects, I was sadly disapponted by the emphasis laid upon digital graphics in this film. The plot was predictable and flimsy, and the human side of the film was sadly lacking.

As Peter Parker (Maguire) juggles school, work, friends, money troubles, his dreams of a pretty girl (Dunst), and the immense responsibility laid upon him due to his superhero powers, he tries hard to find a balance between what he wants and what he should do. In the meantime, he meets Doctor Otto Octavius (Molina), a brilliant and amiable scientist experimenting with the properties of fusion. Molina carries out the responsibilities of his role with more fervor and depth than any other character in the film, and presents a far more sympathetic villain than I ever hoped to meet, breaking down slowly under the pressure of literal voices inside his head. As the film progresses, Parker is pitted against his former friend and idol with interesting results.

The crux of this film is supposed to be Parker's choice between life as the hero everyone badly needs and life as a real person, winning the girl he's always loved, accomplishing great things at school and work, and generally proving himself worthy of respect even when he's not wearing tights. However, Maguire's stilted performance is facilitated by a poor script, as Parker spends most of his ponderings feeling sorry for himself rather than debating or fighting his emotions. The pure idiocy of his attempts to court Mary Jane do little to improve his struggle, as any idiot should be able to read between the lines, though this film couple seems grossly incompetent in this regard.

Frankly, the only story worth watching is that of Doctor Octavius, and had it more than a few minutes of screen time, it would have made the film. Molina is a brilliant actor, well capable of handling the nuances of his role, and his performance alone gives the film its modicum of meaning and quality.

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