Film 1, Section 4210 14 June 2016
VISUAL MONOGRAPH OF:
DIRECTER: Sam Raimi
SCREENPLAY: Alvin Sargent
STARRING: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris
Spider-Man 2 tells the continuing story of Peter Park, a young adult from Queens, New York who has a double life as the crime-fighting superhero Spider-man. The film starts two years after the events of the first film, when Peter first acquired his powers and took on the mantle of Spider-man, defeating Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin, the father of Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn. In this world, Spider-man is established as a savior and hero to the people of New York City.
The beauty of this story, and why I chose to analyze it, is its decision to blend real life issues of love, identity, friendship, loss, and sacrifice, into a wonderfully executed super-hero film. Something that most films of this genre fail to do today so perfectly as Spider-man 2 did. I feel the structure of the storytelling and level of emotional connectedness these characters have to real life are what make Spider-man 2 the greatest super-hero film of all time, and one of the best examples not only of adapting source material into a masterful filmic structure, but representing what a movie sequel should be. In this case, it is elevating the established world and characters into a continuing story that tells the ark of our hero Peter Parker, and builds upon the foundation of love, identity, friendship, loss, and sacrifice that this world and story represents.
We begin our story with establishing Peter’s situation as a student struggling to maintain his job and educational career while balancing his life as Spider-man. Within the first few minutes of the story, we can see that Peter is not in a perfect position to balance his life, and can barely make ends-meat. We also learn that Peter is still in love with his childhood friend and love interest of the last film, Mary-Jane. Mary-Jane is also in love with Peter, but Peter keeps his distance and puts up an emotional wall between him and Mary-Jane because he feels he can’t keep her safe from the enemies of Spider-man if they were together.
We are then introduced to Dr. Otto Octavius, a brilliant scientist who is about to unveil a new project that can change the world by providing a sustainable source of energy for cities and communities on a global scale. His project is funded by Harry Osborn, now the head of his late father’s corporation, OsCorp. While unveiling his super project for the first time, the sun-like ball of energy he creates grows out of control, causing destruction and death to the people in his laboratory. Doctor Octavius has 4 bionic tentacles that were connected to his cerebellum permanently electrocuted into place on his back. The artificial intelligence of his tentacle creations have taken control of the actions of Dr. Octavius, corrupting him and sending him on a relentless path of destruction in order to recreate his energy project. His new moniker, “Doc Ock,” quickly becomes Spider-man’s nemesis.
The story focuses on the more emotional impact the role of Spider-man has on Peter’s life, and his struggle to uphold his ideology of “with great power, comes great responsibility,” with his personal life outside of fighting crime and protecting the city. The struggles of his personal life revolve around his relationships with Mary-Jane and Harry, as well as his relationship with his widowed aunt, May.
Peter wants to be with Mary-Jane, but can’t seem to be there for her when she expects him to. Something Peter has a hard to communicating to Mary-Jane since his identity as Spider- man is a secret to everyone. Peter’s friendship with his best friend Harry is also on the rocks, since Harry knows that Peter is the official photographer of Spider-man, whom Harry has a passionate hate for since he feels Spider-man murdered his father, unbeknownst that his father was actually the villainous Green Goblin of the first film. His aunt May is still grieving over the loss of her husband Ben, who was gunned down by a crook in the first film as well.
The struggle to maintain his dual lifestyle is central to the story and development of the character of Peter Parker. At one point, Peter decides to give up his role as Spider-man, and focuses on regaining balance and happiness in his personal life. This has a substantial impact on his happiness, but also creates a void in the protection of his city. Spider-man vanishes, and crime begins to skyrocket. The absence of Spider-man has a severe impact on the city, and it isn’t until his aunt May, also unbeknownst of Spider-man’s identity, tells Peter:
(aunt May to Peter, talking about young boy and Spider-man supporter, Henry)
He knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that... ...saving old girls like me.
And Lord knows,
kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people... ...setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them. Cheer them. Scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours... ...just to get a glimpse of the one... ...who taught them to hold on
a second longer.
I believe there's a hero in all of us...
...that keeps us honest... ...gives us strength... ...makes us noble...
...and finally allows us to die with pride.
Even though sometimes
we have to be steady... ...and give up the thing
we want the most.
Even our dreams. Spider-Man did that for Henry... ...and he wonders where he's gone He needs him.
This speech to Peter is what he needed to realize his importance and responsibility to the people of his city that Spider-man has. It harkens back to his main ideology: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Peter finds it within himself to return to his duty of being Spider-man, and gives up his newly established happy personal life. He eventually regains his power just enough to defeat Doc Ock, who has now began amassing a new, more powerful energy source, this time bent on using it for destruction. In the final climactic battle between Peter and Doc Ock, Mary-Jane discovers that Peter is Spider-man. Peter though, knows they can’t be together, and Mary-Jane leaves him in order to return to her would-be future husband.
The story ends with Mary-Jane running away on her wedding day, and confronting Peter, revealing that she can’t live a life without Peter in it. She accepts the risk of being with Spider-
man, and the film ends on a slightly melancholy tone as Peter quickly has to leave Mary-Jane alone, fulfilling his responsibility as the city’s protector under Spider-man.
The late Roger Ebert was also a huge fan of this film. I remember watching videos of him, and reading articles about his defense of this film and its greatness. He gave it his highest ranking of 4 stars. Here’s what he had to say about it.
“Now this is what a superhero movie should be. "Spider-Man 2" believes in its story in the same way serious comic readers believe, when the adventures on the page express their own dreams and wishes. It's not camp and it's not nostalgia, it's not wall-to-wall special effects and it's not pickled in angst. It's simply and poignantly a realization that being Spider-Man is a burden that Peter Parker is not entirely willing to bear.”
“Spider-Man 2" is in another category: It's a real movie, full-blooded and smart, with qualities even for those who have no idea who Stan Lee is. It's a superhero movie for people who don't go to superhero movies, and for those who do, it's the one they've been yearning for.”
- Roger Ebert
What makes Spider-man 2 so engaging on an emotional level, is how the structure of its story and narrative manages to intertwine so many themes that people can relate to. It’s the humanization of Peter Parker that makes him such a compelling character, and the conflicts he faces while trying to control a dual life. The central ideology and theme that is explored the most in the film manifests from Peter’s mantra, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” The line was first spoken to Peter in the film prior, and the central idea of this ideology is the central thematic backbone of Peter’s story.
Responsibility, to put it shortly, is the conflict in which Peter struggles with the most. He feels he has a duty to use his powers for the good of common people. When a threat arises, he has a moral responsibility to use his powers in a good way. He was gifted these powers, and whether he likes it or not, he feels it is within his responsibility to use them for good. The whole idea of this central theme or responsibility is what drives the main conflict of Peter.
Peter’s struggle stems from his personal suffering due to the weight of being Spider- man. We see him physically and emotionally struggling on a day-to-day basis. He can never seem to catch a break, no matter how hard he tries. He wants to be there for Mary-Jane, but keeps letting her down because of the responsibility of being Spider-man keeps getting in the way. His conflict is heartfelt, and the actions of his personal life directly stem from this conflict. Peter is broken. Late in the second act, Peter gives up being Spider-man, and his personal life becomes must more manageable. He starts doing better in school, takes care of himself, and has time to try and be there for Mary-Jane.
Even when things begin looking up though, they still aren’t perfect. Peter begins maintaining more of a control over his personal life, but the consequences of not having Spider- man around begin to take their tole on the city of New York. Crime rates begin to skyrocket, and Peter is left with the decision of keeping a normal life, or fulfilling his duty of being responsible for the safety of New York. This conflict is central to the story and actions of Peter.
Aesthetic Stylization & Design
Director Sam Raimi has a very distinct stylistic flair. There a few scenes in which he utilizes techniques he was best known for in his Evil Dead series, including quick pull-ins, frantic camera movement, extreme close-ups of characters’ faces, and sharp, quick editing of sounds. The overall sound design of the film is truly unique.
The extreme example of this unique style is the scene in which Doc Ock wakes up at the hospital he has been taken to after the first accident in his laboratory. The film was cut together almost exactly like in the horror scenes of Raimi’s Evil Dead series. Sharp, quick cuts to characters over-exaggerated faces, shrieks of horror, use of character shadows, and the oddly sporadic sound effects add a very unique, albeit tonally different, feel to the film.
Action scenes were also cut together in a very stylized sense. The action was quick, and positioning of characters on screen was utilized wonderfully to give the viewers a better idea of the dimension of space during fights. Again, quick edits and sound effects were utilized in a unique way that highlighted a certain level of frantic motion. The fight scene between Spider- man and Doc Ock on the train was spectacularly choreographed, not to mention delivering a very emotional moment at the end for Peter.
Cinematography was lensed by Bill Pope. The style is very characteristic of modern techniques of the early 2000’s, with a unique blend of shallow depth of field for dramatic close ups, to much more wide shots during action and scenes with multiple characters. The composition was utilized well in order to capture the different shifts in tone that the film embraced. Lighting and the overall aesthetic look of the film shifted from scene to scene. Colors ranged from neutral and desaturated, to a soft warm dream-like feel in some scenes. The was a certain softness to the overall lighting as well. Visual tonality shifted throughout the different paces of the film as well.
In most super-hero films, it’s easy to forgive somewhat lackluster performances in exchange for extreme spectacle. Spider-man 2 thrives on the emotional conflict of Peter Parker, though, and leans more heavily on the dramatic performances of its actors. Each of the main characters exhibit some form of conflict within themselves, and the performances of the actors had to be particularly powerful in order to convincingly portray those emotions.
Tobey Maguire does not get enough credit for his work in this film. His conflict is believable, and the audience needed to connect with him on an emotionally engaging level. He brings the typical physicality to his performance as a super hero, but it’s his quieter, more emotional scenes that truly resonate. He wonderfully balances his emotions and the internal conflict of the character, ranging from sadness, frustration, happiness, silliness, and sternness. His performance was key in making the movie, and his character compelling. He succeeded.
Kirsten Dunst and James Franco play their parts convincingly as well. Mary-Jane seems at times just as conflicted as Peter. Dunst gives her character just enough dynamic to convincingly portray Peter’s love interest, and keep their relationship and her conflict believable. James Franco, also playing an emotionally conflicted character, adds a charismatic yet damaged quality to the character of Harry Osborn. His flashiness is a wonderful contrast to Peter’s quaint nerdiness. Rosemary Harris adds another dimension of emotional weight to her heartbreaking performance as Aunt May. Her struggle with real life problems and coping with the loss of her husband added another level of emotional weight to Peter’s world.
The other anchor of the acting ensemble that needed to be convincing was Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doc Ock. Often in comic book movies, the villain is one dimensional and stale. Molina brings a believable human quality to this character, and the motivations of his actions are felt throughout the plot. It’s important to have a villain that also exhibits human qualities, and again, Doc Ock contains a level of conflict that resonates opposite to Peter.
Societal & Cultural Context
Spider-man 2 came out June 30, 2004. The themes and ideas of the film were not necessarily directly influenced by the state of the society in which it was created. Instead, I feel, the themes relate to the world on a universal level of what it means to be human. It’s central ideas of conflict and sacrifice are not relevant only to the society in which the film was created. We as humans are connected and invested personally to Peter Parker’s story because he represents the positive qualities, as well as flaws in all of us.
The United States was at war in the year 2004, still affected by the attacks of 9/11. It can be argued that the central conflict in Spider-man 2 is a direct comparison to the conflict the United States when having with its war in the Middle East, though the comparisons are entirely direct. The film feels as though it touches more on universal themes, and is a reflection more of the struggles of life and growing up, than it was on any political or social issues during the time of its creation.
Spider-man 2 is a film that should resonate with anyone. It contains an emotional core that is often absent in other films of the genre. The narrative structure is near-perfect, and the characters are fully realized and developed. At the heart of Spider-man 2 lies the central conflict that each of us face throughout our entire lives. The film isn’t afraid to present the questions of personal conflict and identity, love, friendship, and responsibility. In fact, it nearly bashes you over the head with it.
A good story relies on the conflict and humanization of its characters. Plot and action should always come second. What Spider-man 2 does for a genre that is often focused on plot and action is break down the fundamentals of what make a movie and its characters great, and does so with an engaging and complicated story of human emotion and struggle. It paved the path for other films of the genre to follow, and quite frankly none have come close to its brilliance. In the end, Spider-man 2 stands on its own, not only as a great film in the genre of super-hero films, but in the realm of truly deep and emotional stories through any medium. The film about a web-slinging super-hero, at the end of the day, remains a testament to each our own stories and how we are all, in the end, just humans.