Dissecting Sam Raimi’s Spider-Men: Part 2 – Spider-Man 2

This intro is re-purposed from the Part 1 in this three part series on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films.

For The Other Entries: Part 1: Spider-Man, Part 3: Spider-Man 3

I’ll be honest, I never connected with Raimi’s Spider-Man films. That’s not to say I wasn’t a fan of the comic book movie genre in 2002, sparse as it may have been up to this point, and I have been a proponent of it ever since. I loved the first two X-Men movies, Batman VHS’ were staples in my house in the 90s, Ninja Turtles!, The Rocketeer!, Dick Tracy!, hell, I even liked Stallone’s Judge Dredd. I was a mark for these things. So why didn’t the Web-Head suck me in?

I never read Spider-Man comics, so hold that against me if you wish, but I never read any comics, so, why didn’t these Spider-Man movies fire on the same level its contemporaries did?

I immediately felt on the outside after seeing the first Raimi Spider-Man on opening weekend. At a graduation party (high school), right after coming from the theater having seen the film, I was baffled to hear everyone else who had also caught it to have loved it. I must have carried a confused face that whole night as I tried to debate with friends that the movie was, in fact, bad.

But, my opinions on this introduction to the character didn’t stop me from going out and seeing the other two Raimi films when they were released. And, I got to say, I didn’t like those a lot either. In fact, the almost universal “Masterpiece” praise for Spider-Man 2 probably actively worked against my opinion on the film as the years ticked by. After all three of these films were out, I was the guy who said 3 was the best, and “emo Peter” was the best part.

I promise, I wasn’t trolling.

So, where does that leave me now? Well, I originally tried to write this article with my last re-watch of these films four years ago, and my continued apathy towards them must have knocked that idea out of me? That re-watch was sparked by Spidey’s impending appearance in the MCU (in what turned out to be the second of THREE better interpretations of the Web-Slinger that we’ve gotten in cinema since Raimi’s [yes I like the Andrew Garfield staring Amazing Spider-Man films more than Raimi’s 1-3] {FOUR better adaptations if you count Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4}), so maybe the joy of seeing Tom Holland as Spider-Man tampered the urge to be negative about the character; even if I am probably on the record as saying the Spider-Man diversion was the worst part of that movie (it felt out of place! [man, this, fucking, sentence!]).

With no new comic book movies in sight, and fresh off a play through of the aforementioned PS4 game, I got the itch to give these Raimi films, yet again, another shot. So, let’s see how they hold up, shall we?

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

First off, I watched the 2.1 Director’s Cut of the movie, which is about ten minutes longer, and I’m not sure it adds a lot. Looking at a breakdown, it adds a bit of fighting and a lot of poor attempts at humor. I also think, ultimately, it probably hurts the film as a whole as the gaps between characters showing up feel even more stretched out than the theatrical version does. But more on that later.

This rewatch was a really negative turn around on this film, after a slight bounce back in appreciation the previous time, and I really just am baffled how people latch onto this film; especially all of these years later and the much better adaptations of this character. I understand these films were the starting points for the new age of the genre, and so many people who never thought these stories were ever going to be possible on the big screen felt seen and joy getting to experience these films, but it doesn’t remotely hold up; even to the first film.

What Works?
The Birth Of Doc Ock: The one thing, we can all agree on, is that the Doctor Octavius operation room scene is really great. Well, outside focusing on THREE separate women doing blood-curdling screams (this, as a whole, is something director Sam Raimi really leans into in this film, and it is…bizarre? It happens, at least, a dozen times! Just focusing on a woman being terrified, screaming their lungs out.)

Robot Arms: Doc Ock’s extra arms are also really, really well done. They look great, Raimi’s best direction comes around how he visualizes and utilizes these in the film, and you can’t help but appreciate the anthropomorphizing of them. That said, they aren’t as convincing in the brief back and forths with Octavius head as Dafoe’s inner conversation in the first film.

5 Minutes Of CEO Harry: Harry being a cocky CEO asshole is a great 180 for Franco’s performance; he’s really hamming it up, and he’s good. But, it’s a shame it so quickly fades away to him being such a one note and dour presence again as we wait for him to get set up to be a bad guy for the third film.

The Action: All the action set pieces also have some worthy beats in them, but nothing revolutionary. Raimi knows how to frame his fights, and you never get lost in the action, but I was never blown away by the beats nonetheless. A major step up from the first film though, which was surprisingly claustrophobic and small in scale on this rewatch. Raimi takes full advantage of his carte blanche status when it comes to the action (given this film’s success, weird Sony tried to constrain him so much when it came to how Spider-Man 3 came together).

JK Simmons In The Spider-Man Suit: The director’s cut greatest addition! Simmons also just knocks every beat he gets out of the park. As expected at this point.

What Doesn’t Work?
No Through Line: Where I praised Raimi’s direction and tone in the first film being consistent throughout, for the most part, this film never really feels like a cohesive and balanced story. The dual origin story of the first film really grounded that movie’s structure, while this one just feels all over the place.

Raimi seems most interested in two threads, the will they/won’t they between Peter and MJ and the spider power impotence that arises from this. The problem there is that the Peter/MJ stuff, as I mentioned in the first film section, is just unbelievable in any way in the text of the film and that becomes even more baffling here (more, later). The impotence piece of Pete losing his powers and reverting to his pre-spider bite days just doesn’t make any damn sense. Sure, neither does getting bit by a genetically modified spider making you sort of like one either, but from a story standpoint it just seems weird. Sure, you can see it as an analogue to his depression or exhaustion around being alone/Spider-Man, but when the film is about Peter deciding whether to take on the “great responsibility” of being Spider-Man or not, having his powers disappear sort of makes the decision for him, no?

Then, as with the first film, his strongest drive to be Spider-Man is driven by a near blind rage to protect the ones he loves (stalks). He decides to embrace Spider-Man again not to protect the city, but to save MJ, and then his powers just hang around after he rejects her, again!, when we’ve just been shown that this choice he re-embraces leads to his powers fading. It doesn’t track. (It’s also used as a device to throw a couple wrenches in the combat, when the webbing won’t work, but there is no logic to what makes that happen when other than a convenient distraction/problem to level the playing field against Octavius, speaking of which!)

Doctor Otto Octavius: This feels like a huge step back from the Green Goblin, and it’s not Alfred Molina’s fault, but the character is such a device and so underdeveloped that we don’t remotely have a chance to care about him in the way the film seems to want us to. Before his inhibitor is taken out he is already full of arrogance and hubris, but once he goes full Ock he is entirely a one note villain. There’s no nuance there, which also makes the final self-sacrifice seem so hollow and unbelievable. He’s so unnaturally forced upon the plot to set up the set pieces, which fine, I get it, but outside randomly being in the same place as Peter to cause trouble, we just check in with him working on his fusion machine. There is no attempt to connect his story to Spider-Man’s, and that’s a shame and let down from the first film.

Aunt May, Again: She fares better in this film than the last (though she seems to just be a homemaker, again), but is still just used to spell out the obvious to Peter when it comes to some of his challenges in life. Peter is, again, a shell of a human with no interiority, which makes these scenes where it is dependent on someone he loves (or a random doctor!) to tell him how to feel, feel so forced and bad. Rosemary Harris also gets another hilarious line delivery, to compliment her prayer in the first film, when she out of nowhere yells at Peter to take 20 dollars that she can’t afford to give up. WTF, May!

Also, how is her house not paid off yet? She’s 70 years old now? They’ve lived in that house for at least half the time of a 30-year mortgage with Pete, probably got some money from selling off Pete’s parents’ assets. Was Uncle Ben a bigger lazy piece of shit than he came across as in the first film? Also, horrible flashback sequence, WE DON’T CARE ABOUT THIS UNCLE BEN!

An Aimless Peter Parker: Watching him mope around, have no idea what he wants to be, do, etc…, is not entertaining to watch. Made worse so by the fact that Peter shows almost no interiority beyond his undying stalker-esque obsession with MJ. There is just scene, after scene of people telling him what he should do, who he should be, he never takes any initiative on his own until something is forced upon him. Usually driven by something that involves MJ. Sigh… Also, why does Raimi make it feel like everyone wants to fuck Peter in this movie? And if that’s the case, why can’t this guy move on from MJ? It’s not realistic at all, and also reinforces the obsessive stalker vibes Peter has towards MJ.

What Kills The Movie?:
The Peter/MJ Romance?: The final scene of the first film, with MJ admitting she loves Peter after never caring about him for almost every minute of their lives before that moment was a baffling turn of events, only topped here by her continued two year holding of the candle for him. I mean, why? And what makes it worse is the fact that they put all the words in MJ’s mouth as to why she shouldn’t be with Peter. There are three or four scenes where she explains, word for word, why she shouldn’t want to be with Pete, why he’s bad for her, yet she still is looking to escape her perfectly solid relationship with an extremely successful man that she clearly felt enough feelings about that she thought she could marry him. Dunst tries her damnedest to sell it, and has a much more consistent and solid performance in this film, but she can’t make us believe.

We’ve, literally, never been shown why she is/should be attracted to Peter, nor him to her, other than that she looks like Kirsten Dunst. There is zero substance to these two’s love for each other, besides, maybe, a subtextual Spider-Man fetish thing going on. Which would have been interesting to explore further!

All of this culminates in another final scene that just destroys everything we’ve been watching before it, as the big self proclamation of love is completely unbelievable and has none of the intention the filmmakers hoped for. It starts with MJ punishing her fiancé by going through with this big wedding scene (just so Jameson could have a caviar caterer joke?), it’s such a cruel act towards someone who deserves none of it. I don’t want to root for these people, one of which consistently lets down and manipulates the other, while the other just humiliated someone she supposedly loved.

This supposedly romantic reunion? (oh yeah, Peter thinks they are picking things back up where they started, but they never had a relationship! And MJ acknowledges and is aware of his delusion! This guy is a stalker!), just misses the mark at every turn. It’s not romantic, it’s not an aspirational love, and they throw so much bullshit into MJ’s mouth to try and make us believe it. “I can’t survive without you,” we just spent a whole movie wrestling with the idea that being with him is very likely going to get her killed! “I’ve always been standing in your doorway,” feels like a Notting Hill rip off with none of the work. Also, she’s literally barely seen the guy for two years, has made a name for herself and found a really solid man! She doesn’t need Peter. She’s making, absolutely, the wrong choice. MJ doesn’t have to marry Space Jameson, but there is no way, in the text of the films, that Peter is right for her. Also, the “Can’t you respect me enough to make my own decision?” is garbage on a number of levels. One, in the realm of the context of the film, she is immediately being mansplained to, by the supposed man of her dreams, red flag! Second, and more egregious, this a false and terrible attempt by the writers to give MJ some female empowerment/agency, when we’ve spent the last two films with her not being anything other than an object for Peter’s affection or a damsel to be saved by Spider-Man. They should respect the audience enough to see right through this BS.

And then, it’s revealed that this has basically all been rushed and forced upon us so MJ can deliver one of the most masturbatory, fan service lines in the history of cinema; a completely unearned “Go get’em, Tiger.” GAH! I wanted to throw the movie out a window!

Peter Brings Ock Back From The Brink: We are supposed to believe, that Peter Parker, a college kid that Otto thinks is lazy, after one dinner scene (where Otto’s wife is regulated to a person who makes food [like so many women in these films!] and someone who fell for Otto’s trick for wooing women with poetry), could magically talk Ock back from the brink of his AI homicidal psychosis with a “think about the world” line. Seriously? Oh, and he will sacrifice himself too, by pulling a self-sustaining fusion reaction into some water? I guess that will do it?

The Terrible, Terrible Attempts At Humor: Yes, comedy is relative, but when Otto makes the dumb joke (as an icebreaker at a science demonstration, it wasn’t even topical) before his experiment, and acknowledging it was a terrible joke, I honestly wondered if Raimi was getting meta. Is Raimi admitting the countless attempts at humor (before and after) are bad, but he had to put them in because the studio wanted more jokes or something. Was it an attempt to counter the self-seriousness of the first film? The comedy attempts fall so flat, I have had to create this conspiracy theory trying to rationalize the glut of them.

The Script: See all the reasons above, but also, the film is constantly telling, never showing. The only attempt at subtlety was the wordless, Christ pose, crowd surfing sequence, which, well, wasn’t that subtle. I think every character gets a scene where they just blatantly lay out their motivations and goals, some more than once, there is no trust in the audience to understand who these characters are through their actions.

So Where Do I Stand?
I’ve officially decided Spider-Man 2 is a garbage movie. It’s fucking terrible. I don’t know if I can give this a re-watch again after this. For some reason I was a bit kind to it four years ago, but I think this is the nail in the coffin. Spider-Man 2 stands as the most overrated film in the genre, by a mile!


Onto Spider-Man 3!

For The Other Entries: Part 1: Spider-Man, Part 3: Spider-Man 3

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