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From Under A Rock: Spider-Man 2

July 23, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Spider-Man 2  

Superhero films have dominated the box office for the last decade or so: Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Thor, The Avengers, Man of Steel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, and Captain America: Civil War, just to name a few. The genre isn’t going anywhere, but it did start somewhere. We already reviewed the first superhero movie (1978’s Superman), but as far as the modern comic book movie scene, there is one group of films that set the standard for source reverent, shamelessly comic book style movies; Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Well, the first two, anyways.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael and Aaron called the Ghostbusters. This week, Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock by showing him Spider-Man 2.

Spider-Man 2
Released: June 30th, 2004
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Alvin Sargent
Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus
Kristen Stewart as Mary Jane Watson
Rosemary Harris as Aunt May Parker
James Franco as Harry Osborn

Aaron Hubbard While we are only reviewing the second film, Michael and I rewatched Spider-Man as well, and I do think these films should be viewed together. Spider-Man 2 is one of the most natural sequels ever made; it naturally progresses the story of the characters met in the original, and it reflects back on it. The films strengthen each other and neither one really stands tall over the other. This is really rare, and puts these two in the same breath as Star Wars and Empire, Alien and Aliens, and yes, even The Godfather and Part II. Not that they are necessarily as good as those films, but in the sense that they compliment each other so well.

Michael Ornelas: I definitely wouldn’t hold it up to those near-perfect movies you just listed, but I agree with what you’re going for — that they work well together. I actually think I liked the original a little bit better because the second one had a lot of goofy choices that were off-putting to me, but both were solid.
Sam Raimi’s Style (For Better or Worse)
Aaron: Considering how these two films essentially wrote the book on how to do comic book movies in the 21st century, I’m constantly amazed at how they still stand out over a decade later. That comes down to Sam Raimi’s directing style and how far he’s willing to push this film as a fantasy; Spider-Man 2 is not a grounded film the way The Dark Knight is, or even the way The Avengers is. The characters in this film live in a comic book world, a heightened reality that feels like it made it to the screen still fully intact from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original work. There’s an earnest Silver Age camp to this movie; it’s closer to Captain America: The First Avenger and Superman: The Movie than any other comic book films. But what always sticks out to me are things like the camera zooming in when Doc Ock steps closer to Peter, or the newspaper transition, or the “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” sequence. This movie is unpredictable and is always throwing interesting visuals at us and I love it for them; this is wholly Sam Raimi’s film and I get the same pleasure out of seeing his take that I do seeing John Romita or Todd McFarlane’s art on the comics.

Michael: So to start off, I need to say that I think Sam Raimi has done some great work. I love Evil Dead II with great passion, but it was many of Raimi’s “isms” that took me out of this movie on several occasions. The POV shot Peter had of MJ going in to kiss him was ridiculous. The execution of how Doc Ock’s wife died also looked hokey. The tug-of-war with Aunt May was silly at best, and by the end of the movie, there were so many soap opera tropes that it felt like the movie switched genres. I respect Raimi, and know he’s capable of gold, but this film felt like an odd place to make some of the choices he settled on.

Aaron: I can respect that take, and I am definitely aware that Raimi’s approach to this movie will not be for everyone. To make a comparison; Zack Snyder’s bleak, colorless presentation and frantic camera zooms largely undo whatever good Man of Steel might have had for me otherwise. I am aware that this is just a matter of preference, and Raimi’s presentation works for me. I will make an argument that Spider-Man, in comics or film, is a soap opera first and a science fantasy second.
Dat Villain Doe
Michael: I know I’ve been a tough crowd for this film, so I now want to talk about what I did really enjoy: Doctor Octavius. Visually (which, so far, has been my critique of the film), I loved the way his claws worked. They were a character unto themselves and Molina was perfect for it. He played conflicted, good, and bad all at once. At the end of the day, he even sacrificed himself in a heroic manner and I can’t think of many superheroes movies that have done something like that with their villain. As far as I’m concerned, he was the highlight of the film.

Aaron: I can’t argue that he isn’t the highlight; Molina gives a great performance, and the main reason I loved this movie as a teenager was because of the insane fight sequences on the train and the side of the building that were only really possible with these two characters. I actually think this is the best version of Otto; there’s a great sense of tragedy to him that isn’t present in the comics. He also serves as a perfect reflection of Peter; early on he is proof that an uncool science nerd can have success in both romance and a career, and once he is a villain he is literally a mad scientist with a warped sense of responsibility. I think he would still make any objective list of the best comic book movie villains.

Michael: In the movies, for sure. I hadn’t made the connection that essentially he’s a reflection of Parker, so I like that you did. He’s what you would get if someone wielded great power without great responsibility. He really held the movie together for me and they used his abilities to full effect in the action.
The Human Element
Aaron: Let’s talk about the one thing that Spider-Man 2 did better than any comic book movie before it and arguably better than any since. Peter Parker’s story has always been about being crushed by his responsibilities and his desires. He needs a job and has to get through college, he has to take care of his aunt, he wants to stay friends with Harry and more than friends with MJ. But being Spider-Man gets in the way of all this; this film is about the very personal cost of being a superhero, asks the audience if it’s worth it, and then firmly states that being good and doing what we are capable of doing is the most important thing. That’s everything a Spider-Man story should be about.

Michael: The emotional stakes were kept in the foreground (which added to the soapy nature of the film) and I actually really appreciated the straightforwardness of that fact. It made the layers this movie had easy to latch onto and opens up the demographic that’s able to see the film for what it is. It lacks subtlety but in this case it just works.

Aaron: Some things don’t need subtlety. But aside from MJ and her fiancé, I think most of the characters just feel more human than they might in other movies. Jameson, Aunt May, Harry and Octavius all have distinct personalities and roles to play, and even minor characters like Otto’s wife and Jameson’s staff are memorable. I also appreciate that Peter takes time to talk to kids as Spider-Man.


Aaron: I honestly can’t pretend to be unbiased when it comes to these films; I’m an advocate for both. Outside of a few plot threads that don’t quite work for me and a landlord character that feels uncomfortably close to being a racist caricature, there just isn’t a lot wrong with this movie. It wrote the book on how to do a proper sequel to a superhero film and I unabashedly love it.


Michael: I liked the first movie better, and I have that one at a B. I really did enjoy Doc Ock and Spider-Man’s identity crisis throughout the film, as well as the continuation of Harry’s arc, but the action didn’t do as much for me as I’d have hoped (much of it looking hokey, and the effects were dated) and Mary Jane barely felt a real person with how much she bent to Parker’s will. It was a good movie, but not an all-time great.


Aaron: One final note; there has never been nor is there likely to ever be a more perfect translation from panel to screen as J.K. Simmons’ playing J. Jonah Jameson.

Michael: He was definitely my favorite part of the first two movies (and I haven’t seen the third).

What is your favorite comic book movie series?
Next week:

Michael: If you read this column weekly, you know I’m a huge nerd for all things Alien. And seeing as Alien: Covenant wrapped filming a couple days ago, next week we’re going to watch the very polarizing predecessor to that film.
Aaron: Ah, controversy! I have heard mixed opinions on Prometheus but most of the people that I trust are fans of it, so I am excited.

Michael: I know you’re not going to see it in 3D, but it’s one of the most gorgeous live-action movies to use the technology.

Are you excited for Alien: Covenant?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2

Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

This week, Michael gets to go for a drive in Doc Brown’s DeLorean Time Machine from Back to the Future! Check it out below!

411 Comics Showcase takes a look at the success and failures of Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Michael and Aaron both like this movie, but differ on how good they think it is. Sam Raimi's distinct directing style is in full force in this movie; Aaron thought it enhanced it, while Michael felt it detracted. Either way, Spider-Man 2 is one of the defining films in the superhero genre and is (for now) one of the two best Spider-Man movies available. If you haven't seen them, do so. If you have, see it again.