—About this Film
Warning, there are spoiler elements included in this review. I tried to stay far from giving everything away, but there are elements of the movie that are revealed. Don’t worry though, there is a lot more left out than included.
In a summer filled with discord and conflict, we needed a hero to bring us all back into focus. And just when we thought he had left us and wouldn’t return, we get a new and better dose of heroism from none other than Spider-Man. While our young hero may be going through some difficult times of self-searching, the lessons he learns are lessons that will benefit us all. Not only are we exhilarated by the movie experience of the summer, but we come away feeling good and finding answers about the struggles we go through in our own lives -- we realize they have value and help us become the very person we need to be to help the planet we live on.
A funny thing happened this summer: a prophet of the dangers of fear gave us a movie that only increased that fear. As debate and conflict goes on abut the political climate in America, leave it to Stan Lee and the folks at Marvel Comics to remind all of us across our planet of the mighty lessons learned from a simple, childlike comic book and story. While in my review of the first Spider-Man movie, I stated that Spider-Man was the most spiritual of all comic book heroes, Spider-Man 2 lets us know that those spiritual truths come at a cost, a cost of finding oneself in order to have the capability of giving love to others.
Sequels to movies are a funny thing. More often than not, they are a disappointing letdown, and it is rare that one finds a sequel that is actually better than the original. There are all kinds of reasons for that generally: lack of plot development, a tendency to forget about character development, cheesy special effects -- and I could go on and on. What we have in Spider-Man 2 is a rare and wonderful exception, a sequel that is even better than an excellent predecessor. Spider-Man 2 has conquered Van Helsing to become my favorite movie of the summer -- and believe me, that says a lot.
Those that read my review in 2002 you know that I am a fan of comics and especially Spiderman. I was the first in line in 2002 and I was again the first in line this year for the follow-up. My son Nathan was with me again, and we had awaited this showing for some time. For the first Spider-Man, we were at the theater for a sold-out show at about an hour and a half before show time. This year we arrived an hour before the movie and even then, the theater ended up being only about half full. Not much to worry about though, it won’t take long for this special effects, plot-laden exploration into self-acceptance and self-understanding to take hold. We all crave that dose of love and understanding, and this movie delivers. Just like the original, expect not just action and story, but more of a story that will cause you to think, and one that is packed just as full as it could get with spiritual parallels.
The story of Spiderman 2 begins two years after the conclusion of the first Spiderman. Mary Jane has gone her way and become an actress and model. Peter Parker has continued with the dual role of Spider-Man and, of course, Peter Parker the photographer. Between part-time work as a pizza deliveryman, working at school, and everything else, Peter comes to the realization that he just doesn’t have time for Mary Jane and the things that he truly loves, and that includes being Spider-Man.
How can he come to the knowledge of how to love while at the same time serve humanity? This reminded me of the call of Jesus to those who choose to follow him:
You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life. – (Luke 14:26) (Contemporary English Version)
For many that call is difficult, and it is one of the things that causes great confusion. It is also a conflict that rages within the heart and soul of Peter Parker. He is reminded of the lesson from his Uncle Ben: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” But that responsibility also requires sacrifice and difficulty. Peter, played beautifully by Toby Maguire, realizes that cost and even recognizes that it may cost him the loss of his great love, Mary Jane, played by Kirsten Duntz. To give up something that you love is easier said than done, but eventually Peter recognizes that he is being torn between his desire and his responsibility. The good that Spider-Man can accomplish and the love that he has for Mary Jane will both require great sacrifice, and by the time he comes to the realization of what he needs to do, he has put himself at risk of losing everything.
Sacrifices are made by many. Whether they be coaches, teachers, preachers, missionaries, or the little lady taking meals to the elderly for Meals on Wheels, all make sacrifices. The lessons portrayed in Spider-Man 2 are lived out before our very eyes on a daily basis. Often those sacrifices are made at a cost that we don’t fully understand. Spider-Man 2 helps us understand the sacrifice that others make. There are real heroes, but those heroes often have struggles and a need to be given freedom to serve.
Eventually Spider-Man decides to give up being Spider-Man. Prior to his final decision, though, he struggles because he has heard young boys tell of how important Spider-Man is and we see the salvation of Aunt May by Spider-Man -- and a little assistance by the hands of an Angel. Yet, he is just unsure of who he is and who he should be. As he starts to lose his Spidy power, we begin to realize that in part that power is tied in some way to his understanding and desire to use the power. When we lose the passion for the things we are called to, we often lose the power that comes with the passion, the gifts and talents that each of us possess.
As the story progresses, character actor Alfred Molina plays the wonderful archnemesis of Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus -- or "Doc Oct," as J. Jonah Jameson, played to perfection by J.K. Simmons, calls him. (As an aside here: let me say that many of us were wanting more of Jameson in the sequel, and we got our wish -- he is as good as ever.) In the character of Doctor Octopus, we see complexity of character like none we have seen in quite some time. Molina is a wonderful theater and character actor, and many questioned his desire to take this seemingly trivial part. But the two sides presented by this complex character could have been delivered to perfection only by a great actor. Molina is as perfect for the part as any other character in this movie.
In Doctor Octopus, we see the battle within each individual. We see the struggle between good and evil, and again the spiritual parallels are numerous. He is a character that while good initially, is overcome by an evil invention in part created by him, and in part influenced by Spider-Man. Yet, that character still struggles with the voices or demons that tell him what to do, just as he struggles with aspects of revenge. The unfortunate truth is that the evil that possesses him will ultimately not only destroy him, but everything that Spider-Man loves, and potentially even the entire planet.
Several scenes that show Spider-Man after he has given up his powers reveal to the viewer his realization that there are innocent people who need his love and power. No scene portrays this as well as a scene where he goes out of his way to save a child. While he chooses to save the child by his own power, he soon realizes that his gifts and powers would have saved more than the one if only he had used the other powers that he had been given. He realizes that in and of himself he has limitations. It is then that he decides to take a leap of faith, totally sacrificing everything he loves so he can serve those that need him. His steps of faith are actually that, steps of faith. At times he gets battered and bruised, but there is enough power left in him to protect him and help him get to the place he needs to be.
By now, viewers have an understanding of the cost of his sacrifice. In many ways Peter Parker/Spider-Man takes on a Messiah role. We see him not only as salvation for the planet but for those he loves. This is played out quite beautifully in a scene a little later in the movie.
There is a scene where Spider-Man has chosen to sacrifice his own life for the sake of others. In this one particular scene, we are reminded of the sacrifice made by Jesus. We see a savior who decides to risk his own life for the life of others; he even takes a crucifixion-style pose with his arms outstretched. He is beaten, scorned, accused and put down; he has his body ripped and bloodied as if he had been scourged like Jesus; yet, he continues to offer his life for the salvation of others. In the conclusion of this scene, people see Spider-Man as he truly is. They take his body and it over their heads, knowing that he has sacrificed himself for them. They who initially rejoiced at his arrival because they saw the hope of salvation he provided, then wept at his beating and apparent death. After a resurrection scene, they rejoice again and are willing to even give up their own lives for his protection and care. They truly love Spider-Man and appreciate the salvation he has provided. While these images are not perfectly aligned to the gospel, still, I have to wonder why such explicit detail has Spider-Man mirroring the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our true Savior.
The story line concludes only after so many twists and turns that you might think you are watching an Academy Award-style drama directed by Clint Eastwood. But in the end, love conquers all. For the fans of the first movie: you are not going to be disappointed. you will laugh, jump, cringe and cry, this baby has it all, and I am ready to see it again.
In terms of assigning a rating, I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. It is the dose of joy that we all needed this summer, and the one that will get us back to caring for our fellow human, whether we agree with them, are the same as them, or not. In the tumultuous political climate surrounding our world right now, Spider-Man 2 is a breath of fresh air. Don’t just believe me, go see it yourself.
On a scale of 1-10, a very rare find indeed, a sequel that was as good as an original that was itself near-perfect. For the 8 appendages of Doctor Octopus, plus the other two villains making an appearance in the movie, a wonderful 10!