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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #411: Spider-Man 2

“Spider-Man 2” answers a question many cynics must have asked about superheroes: how does this guy wash his costume? It turns out he washes it at the Laundromat like everybody else and unfortunately it soils his underwear. Apparently even a superhero should know not to mix the colours with the whites. 

One of the biggest hits of 2004, “Spider-Man 2” made my day during a rather mediocre summer. I had just finished my last year of high school (not a good one), I was looking for a summer job (no luck), and I was about to start my first year of college. The previous year I had moved from South America to Quebec City and the transition had been a lot less smooth than I had anticipated. I was nervous about college, finding a job, and too many other things. Well at least I didn’t have to worry about fighting a mad scientist in my spare time.

“Spider-Man 2” surpassed the previous movie because in this sequel we see the hero deal with normal problems like the rest of us. When Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) isn’t busy putting on a costume and chasing bank robbers, he has to deal with his crumbling life. His freelance photography job for the irascible editor J. J. Jameson (J.K Simmons) of the Daily Bugle is not paying his rent so he takes a second job delivering pizzas. The job takes time away from his college courses so his grades begin to drop. 

Then there is his social life. His best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) wants Spider-Man dead for killing his father in the previous movie. He knows Peter knows something so in a drunken fit he attacks him at a public event. Meanwhile, the girl of his dreams, Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), is moving away from him.  She has found success on Broadway and is now engaged to an astronaut. How do you compete with a man who can literally fly off the planet?

With all this pressure, is it any wonder Peter is considering tossing his costume in the trash? Bad timing as it turns out. A freak accident involving a new form of energy creates the film’s villain, doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). The incident welds four mechanical arms to his back, turning him into a mad scientist hell-bent on finishing his experiment, even if it means destroying all of New York.

Writer Alvin Sargent brought plenty of self-aware humour to this super-hero tale. When sightings of the mad doctor surface, Jameson and his team brainstorm a name for this new villain. Lets see, a man called Otto Octavius with four mechanical arms welded to his body. “Doctor Octopus?” asks one of his writers. Too cheesy is Jameson’s reply, before stealing the idea a minute later.

Then there is that moment when Spider-Man’s web-slinging abilities fail him, leaving stranded on top of a building. Imagine you are about to take your dog out for walk, the doors of the elevator open, and standing before you is a man in Spider-Man costume, calmly waiting for you to get in. With that awkward elevator music playing in the background, the hero suddenly doesn’t look so super.

It’s not all angst and humour. Director Sam Raimi brought some horror elements to the mix, specifically when the mechanical arms of Doctor Octavius spring to life at the hospital's operating table. As though they can sense the doctors are about to chop them off with buzz saws, the arms grab the surgical team one by one, tossing them like rag dolls. One doctor even leaves nail marks on the floor as the arms drag him by the legs.

Speaking of Raimi, one of the highlights of the entire Spider-Man trilogy has always been the cameo of the director’s old friend, Bruce “Hail to the King” Campbell. In the first movie he played an announcer at a wrestling match. This time, he plays a snooty usher at a theatre where Mary Jane is playing. Good luck getting through the theatre doors if “the chin” is guarding them while the play is in progress.

The vulnerability of the hero, the solid script, and Sam Raimi’s direction made “Spider-Man 2” one of the best super hero movies of the 2000s. Its protagonist is a young man facing problems most men his age face: money, work, stress, love, and friendship. If it weren’t for his ability to climb brick walls and throw spider webs at criminals, he would be just another guy in the city trying to make a living. Things are stressful enough as it is, I don’t think I would want the extra responsibility.


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