> Volume 6 > Number 25


Sam Raimi

Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
James Franco
Alfred Molina
Rosemary Harris
J.K. Simmons
Daniel Gillies

Release: 30 Jun. 04

Spider-Man 2


“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time,” Mary Jane (Dunst) says as she glances into the dark abyss for her longtime friend Peter Parker (Maguire). She’s playing Cecily in an off-Broadway performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, and he’s supposed to be there as moral support, something he hasn’t been for years.

Superhero and mortal, Parker is the man living Oscar Wilde’s duplicity, the prince and the pauper, the unrequited and the boor, all rolled into one. He’s no Bruce Wayne, handsome millionaire by day, dashing masked hero at night -- Peter’s lucky if he makes enough delivering pizzas to pay for his one room hovel in lower Manhattan. His status in life leaves him depressed as he walks in his street clothes before donning his webbed costume.  The advertisements for Spider-Man 2 promise a new nemesis, but what the film really delivers is the same old neurosis.

But even as the self-import becomes deadweight on Sam Raimi’s otherwise spry sequel, Spider-Man 2 delivers more for the willing filmgoer than most of the recent offerings in the spate of comic films of late. Short of hitting the same dramatic cues found in X-Men and X2, where the depth didn’t feel as overbearing, Spider-Man 2 delivers the type of well-worn storytelling that has made this a successful literary franchise for nearly a half-century. With a character so compelling -- regardless of his more whiny (or worse, the other characters’ tragically omniscient) moments, I desperately wanted to keep discovering the ways Raimi, writers Alvin Sargent and Michael Chabon, and, especially, star Tobey Maguire dealt with the contrivances of the character.

The previous film concluded with the payoff of self-denial and its resonance was heartbreaking. While Spider-Man 2 falls short of hitting the same perfect notes for its own conclusion, it does ride this level of dejection for nearly 2 hours with only the occasional and very welcome hints of Raimi-style comedy (the best being his Content Peter Parker montage set to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”). This isn’t quite B-movie material -- which is Raimi’s forte -- but the filmmakers’ decision to play this film almost exhaustingly straight is both grueling and compelling.

The headway made with the character -- short of that from the Lee-Ditko source material -- comes from a pedigree of writing that shouldn’t be overlooked. Though Chabon is certainly the most recognizable name in the opening credits -- with a very worthy companion in his novel Wonder Boys and its young character dealing with an inability to coalesce his many personalities -- the plume seems most clearly dependent on the hand of Sargent. Two decades have passed since he won an Oscar for Ordinary People, but his impression of the struggle with early-adulthood masculinity still can be seen in much of today’s cynical bildungsroman works, ranging from Wonder Boys to The Ice Storm to The Cider House Rules (all, coincidence or not, starring Tobey Maguire in their film adaptations).

Sargent’s Peter Parker is an wonderfully constructed character -- the way he speaks (immeasurably enhanced by Maguire’s dopey, slightly effeminate voice) has a ring of melancholy, the inner desperation coiling around the words he uses to convince the rest of the world (and, to some extent, himself) that he’s happy. More opaque than the mask he wears when saving damsels in distress, this is his real disguise.

©2004, David L. Blaylock,, 18 June 2004