Spider-Man 2 Movie Review

As with the review of the first film, I tried not to update my perspective on the film and ancillary issues in order to preserve my feelings about the film when it was first released.

The runaway train at the center of the most action-packed scene in Spider-Man 2 was an apt metaphor for the runaway hype that almost consumed this film and created dangerously high expectations. Normally, I consider myself immune to Hollywood’s relentless assault on the senses because it is usually so shrill as to be offensive, and is often pushing an unpalatable product (how many films are touted as “One of the Year’s Best!”). However, this time the product was something that I’ve loved since I was 10 years old. And the trailers, both the teaser and the full one, had me breathlessly wanting more. Still, I was determined to wait and see the film at the time of my choosing, sometime during the weekend.

Then came wave upon wave of bombastic, relentlessly positive reviews. “Best superhero movie ever!” was the mantra. Even the notoriously difficult Roger Ebert, who was thumbs down on the first film, couldn’t stop talking about how great no. 2 was. I remember how nervous I was about seeing the first film, because although it was well hyped (nothing like no. 2, though), it didn’t come with a near universal flood of praise prior to the general release. So, the first time I watched it I remembered being gripped by feelings of “please, don’t let this film suck, please don’t let this film suck.”

As the week wore on, seeing Spider-Man 2 changed from something to look forward to on the weekend to a major event that I had to be a part of ASAP! I just had to see this film – and as a result did something I would never had contemplated before. See, I have to get up at 5 am in order to make it to downtown Cleveland by 7 am – so seeing a midnight movie and going to work the next day bordered on stupid and suicidal. Not only that, but I was afraid social services would come after me for child endangerment when someone noticed that my 9 year old daughter was accompanying me (hey, she wanted to go). No longer just expecting a good night at the movies against all common sense I was expecting a life changing experience.

And I didn’t get it.

But then again, how could I have? I was very subdued walking out of the theater, as was most of the audience – but then again, watching a movie until after 2 am will do that to you.

Anyway, as of this writing I have seen the film three times - the better to come to a proper conclusion. My verdict? A good film. Really. I can say that unequivocably. However, neither better nor worse than the first. Certainly different, and for that I give credit to Sam Raimi and crew for being daring enough to shift into a different gear for this film, although it was saddled with a certain amount of repetitiveness. The easiest thing to have done would have been to try to make the second Spider-Man louder and more violent than the first, with even more absurd situations, and not one, but two over the top diabolical villains. It certainly has been the formula followed by other superhero film franchises. But, they went the opposite way, with a softer film and an underplayed, sympathetic villain. Fortunately, for the most part, the critics, who have long lamblasted superhero and other sci-fi/action films as being too much special effects and not enough heart, recognized Spider-Man 2's devotion to something different.

I vacillated between a B+ and A- on the first, and will likely straddle that fence for the second as well. Try as I might, I could not bring myself to love this film up to the level of public affection it was receiving. I kept running into folks who told me they thought it was better than the first, an opinion I don't share. I think part of my dilemma is that I'm torn between seeking a good movie experience, and seeking a good Spider-Man experience, whereas the general public in really only seeking the former. However, as long as the movie continues to rack up the grosses, I’m more than happy to be slightly out of step with the movie going public.

And for some reason, in many of the reviews I've read, there seems to be a fanboy tendency, to seize on everything that was wrong with the film and didn’t work, and then relentlessly beat it to death – even if when all the cards are face down on the table - we liked it! I’m not sure why so many people engage in such self-flagellation. Is it because our perspective has gotten too warped over the years – because Spider-Man for many of us is more than simply a comic book character turned movie character? Because we’ve become so enamored of the source material in its original interpretation that the automatic reflex is to disdain or look for the faults of any other interpretation? Because deep down we feel like outsiders when compared to the rest of the mainstream and desperately want the Spider-Man films to connect with the public so that when it is accepted, we will be accepted as well? Or even, have we become so worried about how well the movie performs at the box office, either because we’re so afraid there won’t be more, or we want the vicarious thrill of bragging rights (like if your favorite team wins the World Series or Super Bowl) the more successful the film is, that we simply can’t relax and enjoy the thing for what it is?

I don’t know. It’s probably a combination of all of the above. Plus, on the other end, there are some folks out that are going to hate this movie because (1) it was hyped to the point that even some Spider-fans were getting sick of hearing about it (2) it’s a big budgeted superhero flick, period or (3) someone like Roger Ebert or Harry Knowles raved about it – so they’ll be g**damned if they’re going to like it. I've seen some weird reviews where I'm not sure the reviewers even bothered to actually watch the film.

This movie’s far more labored and deliberate pace, which seemed to be designed to wring out every last bit of soap opera angst, made me appreciate just how well paced and smartly edited the first feature film was. With the exception of the hospital scene in the original Spider-Man where Peter tells MJ what he supposedly told Spider-Man about her (which made me wretch a bit), there really isn’t a wasted scene in that film. In fact, it left me begging for more because there seemed to be such a rush to get where it was going that it glossed over some areas that were begging for more detail. This film, however, did get a bit tedious in the middle during the period where Peter had given up being Spider-Man, and it seemed like a couple of scenes could have been whacked and another couple trimmed to improve the pacing.

And we needed more Doc Ock!

Still, as far as comparisons with other superhero films – frankly, its' only competition is the first Spider-Man film, and Superman I & II. The first Batman film, as finely crafted as it is – lacks the emotional depth of any of the aforementioned films. The X-Men franchise has generated good, solid, and well-cast films (particularly the critical roles of Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine), but the requirements of highlighting as many members of the team as possible work against it connecting as much on a personal level as those that feature a solitary hero.

I’ve seen a number of comparisons to Spider-Man 2 and Superman II, the latter which is considered by many to be better than the original, and the standard by which superhero movies are compared. When I first saw the Superman sequel as a sophomore in college in 1982, I would have agreed. Nowadays, however, I must admit that although the second Superman was much more of a rousing adventure that certainly got off the ground a lot faster – the first just seems to age much better and has much more of an epic feel to it. Watching the two films back to back - Superman II seems to come off as a quicker and cheaper version of the first (especially in II when you hear the John Williams music – but it's not played by John Williams! I hate when that happens). Also, for all of the turmoil and progression in the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane – we end up right back at the status quo with Lois forgetting about Clark’s dual identity because she “can’t handle it” and Superman making her forget because of some unheard of, never seen before “amnesia power.” Spider-Man 2 is clearly a much bolder film in that it ends at an entirely different point than its beginning or the end of the previous film, with two of Spider-Man’s most important personal relationships irrevocably altered. Still, Spider-Man 2, in its focus on the troubles and misery that Peter Parker’s dual life brings him, lacks a strong sense of exhilaration like scenes in Superman II (“General, would you like to step outside?” and “That’s funny – never seen garbage eat garbage before” two scenes where Superman exacts a certain amount of personal vengeance to the delighted cheers of all put down upon folks everywhere) and Spider-Man (“Ladies and gentlemen – the new Champeeeeen – Spiiiiiiiiider-Maaaaaaan!!!” when Peter topples professional wrestler BoneSaw McGraw in the first serious test of his super powers. I still smile at that scene, even though I’ve seen it probably 100 times by now). Even J. Jonah Jameson’s anguished howl about Spider-Man returning combined with the image of Spidey crashing through the Daily Bugle front page comes up a little short after such a prolonged period of non-superhero action. I was a little miffed, too at some of the repetitiveness reminiscent of the first film such as (1) another conversation between Peter and MJ in the back yard, (2) another rescue of a child from a burning building, (3) another boyfriend pumped and dumped by MJ, (4) more Mary Jane hostage moments (Spider-Man 2: Kirsten Screams Again!) and (5) the average New Yorkers banding together to help out their friendly neighborhood superhero.

Now, there will be some folks that try to pass off Superman II as the inspiration for this film. Don’t believe it for a second. Two of the key concepts of the film “Spider-Man No More!” and "Spidey loses his powers," had been portrayed in the famous Amazing Spider-Man #50 and the very first Amazing Spider-Man Annual, clearly preceeding the Superman films by more than a decade. Mr. Raimi does do his homework. And except for some stray moments, the Spider-Man films do not contain too many over the top campy moments, which even makes fans of the first Superman film cringe.

Ultimately, the greatest strength of this film, even moreso than the special effects, was in the selection of actors. So without further ado:

The Actors
This comment has been made so often by reviewers and fans that it’s become cliché’, but yes, I was one of those who initially had reservations about Tobey Maguire in the lead role (personally, I would have liked to have seen a real 19 or 20 year old in the role) – but that’s all gone. Tobey is Peter Parker. He brings all of the ordinariness, emotional sensitivity, self-pitying angst, and although somewhat underused in the two Spider-Man films, the bravado and bluster that comes when Peter becomes Spider-Man. And fortunately for Tobey, that ordinariness about him may prevent his years as Spider-Man from relentlessly hanging over him, as the role of Superman did Christopher Reeve, who so perfectly captured that mixture of godhood and humanity that is Superman that it was hard seeing him as anyone or anything else.

If this were not a big budgeted, over hyped superhero flick, I think Maguire would get serious consideration for an Oscar nomination, and I don’t say that lightly. He seems so much more comfortable in the role this time – maybe because he realized how good of a role it really was after he came within a hair of losing it. There’s been a lot of spin put out by both Maguire and Raimi to make this issue look like a simple misunderstanding about the severity of Tobey's back pain, since everyone is buddies and pals these days after $250+ million in domestic grosses in the first 12 days of release. However, when this was first going down, there was a VERY detailed article in the Los Angeles Times (I wish I had either printed the article or saved the link. Damn. But take my word for it.) making it pretty clear that the problem back was only part of a larger deal going on – so much so that Maguire’s girlfriend’s father at the time, who was also a studio magnate – got involved and told Tobey he was making a big mistake if he didn’t do the second film. And then there’s the fact that Maguire fired his agent soon after everything was settled (for giving bad advice about holding out - perhaps?). Like Michael Corleone says “it’s nothing personal – it’s just business.”

Still, there does seem to be a genuine mutual respect between actor and director. Extras and other observers of the filming on New York streets noted how well the two seemed to get along, whereas Kirsten Dunst was more distant and aloof. Of the current cast, Maguire is the one who might very well stay with the franchise past the third film IF Sam Raimi continues to direct them (and of course, if he receives more $$$$$ each and every time).

Of course, one of the most anticipated aspects of any superhero flick is the villain, and the subsequent casting. Well, Spider-fans were in exceptional hands this time as Alfred Molina IS Doc Ock. Even with my beloved Green Goblin, who was indeed well played by Willem DaFoe, I still wonder if there were other actors, such as Christopher Walken or James Woods, or even Tommy Lee Jones (whom artist Mike Deadato has used as a reference when he draws Norman Osborn in the comics) who might have been able to pull the character off. After all, no one in real life truly looks like Norman Osborn. However, I simply can’t imagine anyone else playing Doc Ock, particularly the ones that Molina mentioned in an interview as being contenders for the role, including Walken and Ed Harris. Fine actors all – but Molina looks as much like Doc Ock as possible and still is somewhat appealing, also giving the role the physical heft that Doctor Octopus needed (I suppose that they could have cast someone who looked like the squat, near sighted, bad bowl haircut mad scientist he often appears as in the comics, but that would probably have looked too cartoony). Interestingly enough, Molina and Raimi seemed to have approached this role from the aspect of underplaying the character rather than going straight for the scenery-chewing megalomaniac that is the Doc Ock of the comics and was also Willem DaFoe’s Green Goblin. With the exception of a couple of "go for the gusto" super villain moments (1) at the end of the hospital scene where Molina rises up and gives us a full throated anguished “Noooooooo!” and (2) in his new dump of a headquarters when he makes the decision to rebuild his experiment, Doc Ock is actually a pretty subdued character emotionally. No mad cackling laughs or wild, exaggerated gestures – but a single mindedness of purpose and an ability to toss out the perfect zinger for the occasion (“Butterfingers” when he drops Aunt May, “You have a train to catch,” when he leaves Spidey to handle the runaway train).

A lot of folks had problems with the fact that while comic book Ock is largely evil and unredeemable (although with a small sliver of decency every now and then), movie Ock was at his core a decent man who acted out of grief after losing everything he cared about and was also subject to the manipulation of his artifical intelligence tentacles. To them, this was a huge violation of comic book canon. After all, going back to the first film, who would have wanted to see a sympathetic Norman Osborn, or discover that Osborn was not acting on his own devices, but under the influence of another?

Now, if Ock had been the first villain featured in a Spider-Man film, I might have agreed. However, after already having had one irredeemable, black hatted, cackling mad villain in the form of the Green Goblin in the first film, Raimi and company might have worried that it would been sloppily repetitive to have the same sort of villain in the second. After all, it’s not like every scientist has as a career ambition of dressing in a gaudy costume and destroying the world every time one of his experiments falls flat on its face. And I simply liked Molina's interpretation of Ock. But, although I do agree with the creative decision made to have Ock as a more sympathetic character, I understand the consternation of Ock fans out there.

However, I will say this – I did feel that unlike the Goblin, who helped drive the plot of the first film – Ock seems like more of a bystander and an incidental player in this one. I really would have liked to have seen a little more of Ock and for him to have had a somewhat wider agenda than simply recreating his experiment, maybe an additional scene of him wrecking sheer havoc and wanton destruction across New York, striking out at the world in pain after having lost so much. And, the final battle between Spider-Man and Doc Ock was almost anti-climatic since it wound up with Spidey talking Ock into “doing the right thing,” rather than the wonderfully brutal and excessive slug fest that characterized the final Spidey/Goblin fight and ended in the only logical manner, with the violent death of one of the combatants. But again, there appeared to be a decision made to error on the side of doing something different. After all, look at the Batman films (pre- Batman Begins) – each and every one featured a hammy, overplayed villain, clearly to the detriment of the series (which admittedly, had other problems).

But what I don’t understand is why, for some reason, people want to supplement their compliments of Molina’s performance by dissing DaFoe’s, with numerous offhanded comments about the latter’s hamminess and tendency to take the Goblin over the top. This argument is used to justify the statements that this all makes Doc Ock a better villain. Whoa, nellie. There’s no doubt that the Goblin crossed the line a bit, but it’s not like DaFoe had a choice in that ineffective Power Ranger costume. The only way the Goblin could come across was either through using the eyes (when they were visible), modulating the voice, or wildly exaggerated movements. There is no way that the Goblin, for example, could have successfully displayed a deadpan sense of humor, such as Molina did with Doc Ock, simply because it wouldn’t have registered from behind that mask. And going back to the source material, the Green Goblin is a more over the top villain anyway as he’s the "Mr. Hyde" expression of Norman Osborn’s madness and anger, and frankly, Osborn flat out enjoys being the Green Goblin. Even the comic book Doc Ock will weaken every now and then and grieve over the loss of his ability of lead a “normal” life, or not having his work respected among scientific circles. Of course, I’m slightly biased because the original Goblin is my favorite villain – but one of the reasons Doc Ock works well in Spider-Man 2 is not because he’s a better villain, he works well because he’s a different kind of villain, played by a good actor. And those arms were flat out kick ass, which I'll discuss later.

Sigh. I was never really in love with Kirstin Dunst's Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man, but I felt her acting took some undeserved heat in the first film because the actual role of MJ was somewhat shallow and underwritten, and I was more than willing to cut her a little slack. Unfortunately, MJ doesn’t really come off much better as a character this time around, either. Finding out the truth about Peter Parker still didn’t give her reason to take John Jameson all the way to the altar, and then crap all over him and his family (since JJJ was paying for this wedding – a “privilege” usually reserved for the bride’s family). It makes for a more dramatic turn of events, I suppose, for her to rush from her wedding in her wedding gown with a goofy grin on her face than in her street clothes after rejecting a wedding proposal, but still…this left me rather uncomfortable and somewhat mitigated the feeling of happiness I was supposed to have for Peter and MJ. Her exasperation with Peter Parker is entirely understandable, but that still doesn’t explain rushing to the altar with John Jameson. I know, I know, MJ’s a struggling young woman from a troubled family and this handsome astronaut with a rich family falls in love with her and wants to marry her – probably hard for any girl in that situation to resist. Still, with those parameters built into the script, it becomes even more incumbent upon the performer to make the character likeable and her motivations understandable, even if she isn’t doing exactly what we feel she should do. I love the comic book MJ. I’m not very fond of movie MJ. And of all of the returning major character actors, Ms. Dunst was the only one I felt didn’t further grow into her role. Nor did she leave me with the feeling that “I can’t imagine anyone else playing this.” And although this makes me seem like a cranky old fart - the role demands more than a pair of good looking tits popping out whenever things get a little wet.

Also, of all of the regular actors, she also seems to be the most ambivalent about the Spider-Man franchise – she’s certainly enjoying it at the moment because of the exposure and fatter paychecks she’s getting as a result (which to her credit, she has admitted), but she also seems to be the one with the least true love for the franchise, and in a recent magazine interview spoke somewhat contemptuously about being "9 year old boys' fantasy wet dream." But that’s not a sin, either, I suppose, which takes us back to the Michael Corleone quote.

Poor old Aunt May was really on the spot in this movie unlike the last one. And fortunately, not that there was any doubt, but Rosemary Harris proved to be quite a trooper. Unlike the comic books, when it seemed like it took May forever to get over her Spider-Man phobia – movie May knows a hero when she ges rescued by one. Her hostage scenes with Doc Ock were a little over the top – I’m not sure Spidey could have snagged her with his web line without snapping a few of those brittle old bones (but then - this film's pseudo science seemed to be really weak) – and the scene on the ledge was a bit campy.

Still, Rosemary Harris had some of the most emotional moments of the film. May’s anguish was so palpable when she gave Peter the $20 for his birthday and told him not to dare leave it behind, that you truly felt sorry for her. We grieved with her over the loss of her husband and life long companion and could see the flood of strong and conflicting emotions that overcame her after Peter told her that he had actually been there when Ben died. Mary Jane’s love may give Peter Parker the strength to go out there day after day – but it’s May’s (and Ben’s) love that made him the man he is. Before J. Michael Straczynzki made some edits to May Parker in the comics recently, I was tired of the character and was glad when she apparently died the first time around. But I like movie May.

And yes, I think that May knows that Peter is Spider-Man as a result of the events of the second film, particularly after the scene where she gives her “hero” speech. Considering all of the other revelations and unmaskings that occurred, it wouldn’t have been appropriate, or had any impact whatsoever, to show that she knows in this film.

Some of the initial reviews thought that the brief dream sequence with Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben was unnecessary and awkward. While I tend to think it was an excuse to get Robertson in the film and agree that it wasn’t really needed (Raimi is clearly very fond of Robertson, as per his comments on the original Spider-Man DVD commentary, and probably just wanted to work him into the film somehow), Peter is always having conversations with Ben in some form of another in the comic book canon – most recently in Amazing Spider-Man #500. So – maybe it wasn’t needed in the film – but it is very much in tune with the source material. Perhaps a mistake, but an honest one.

And speaking of the unmaskings – a lot of folks had trouble with them and I've seen over and over that "now everyone knows who he is." That's bull. First of all, Mary Jane and Harry found out in the comics, so that's faithfully following the source material. Also, I just look at it as one of those concessions that has to be made in the translation from comic book media to film media. In the comic and in the cartoons, Spider-Man's mask can be animated - in the comics we see those white eyes actually narrow and widen occassionally, and in the cartoons, the mask can be animated to simulate conversation or a limited amount of emotion. But in a live action film - as payment for the producers remaining true to the source material in faithfully reproducing Spider-Man's iconic costume (apparently on the first film, Raimi was so concerned about this he actually considered making Spider-Man's eyes visible through the mask) - we have to see Tobey's face every once in awhile. On the train for example – if we hadn’t seen Tobey’s face – then some of the dramatic impact of him being stretched to his physical limits, as well as his incredulousness and subsequent response to “have you got any other bright ideas” with “I’ve got a few,” would have fallen flat. Ditto for the final conversation with Doc Ock. After all, with half of New York about to be destroyed, Peter gambled (correctly) that Doc Ock would respond more to Peter Parker than Spider-Man.

Like many have said, the highlight of the film from an acting/character perspective was J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson. In fact, after I asked my daughter what she liked about the film – the first thing she said was “Mr. Jameson was really funny.” Probably the only negative is that in these two films, Jonah has been written rather simplistically, as a one-note character. Also – do you realize that other than webbing JJJ’s mouth shut in the first film – there’s been no confrontations between him and Spidey? However, this is mitigated by the fact that he was this film’s essential comic relief and safety valve from becoming too maudlin. With Peter, MJ, Harry, and even Doc Ock all going through periods of grief and emotional angst, you had to have a character consistently lightening the load throughout the film. I just never thought it would be the guy who played one of the TV's most disgusting scumbags in OZ’s Shillinger.

Certainly the award for “most improved player” goes to James Franco as Harry Osborn. While he did succeed in making Harry a sympathetic character in the last film, at times it seemed like he was sleepwalking through the role, particularly in his final scene where he more mumbled than anything else that Spider-Man would pay for his father’s death. This time, however, Franco delivers an appropriately manic performance as a young man whose life is falling apart and who is steadily losing his grip on sanity. His pretty boy looks (which probably cost him the role of Spider-Man when he originally auditioned for it) notwithstanding, Franco now seems more than capable of chewing the scenery as a potential supervillain should Spider-Man 3 require that of him. There was a moment in the film where his director should have pulled him back a little (when Ock’s experiment is going wrong and Harry screams “I’m in charge here!”), but otherwise he was fine.

Of course, the DaFoe cameo at the end was great. It was perfect comic book canon, with Norman disparaging Harry for being weak, and for those movie-goes who aren't familiar with the nuances of Spider-Man continuity, seeing DaFoe again is quite a schock - with folks wondering whether or not he really did come back from the dead until Harry shatters the mirror.

Special Effects
I’m one of the worst people to ask about the special effects. I don’t really dissect them, and if they aren’t glaringly bad (for example, Star Trek V is an example where the effects were indeed so bad that they were distracting), they don’t bother me. Yeah, they were a little less cartoony in spots than the first film – particularly in that mesmerizing fight on the train, but frankly, the CGI never bothered me in the first place. “Spider-Man looks like a character in a video game” goes one comment. Well, yeah, so what? That reminds me of how one critic dissed the Scooby Doo 2 movie, for among other reasons, because Scooby didn’t look real. Think about it – knocking a film because the computer generated talking dog didn’t look real.

However, the work on Doc Ock was nothing short of amazing. This is a character that could have looked ridiculous, but the combination of CGI and puppeteers made those arms unnervingly real and downright scary (particularly with the addition of the subtle hissing, that made them seem more like snakes sometimes than the arms of an octopus). The net effect was that the arms truly looked like an extension of Molina, rather than something tacked on in the editing room. And there’s no doubt that these babies are deadly and capable of producing a catastrophic amount of damage.

I really had mixed feelings about the score. I understand the idea intellectually, that they were trying to build a "theme" for Spider-Man, sort of like John Williams’ Star Wars or Superman themes, or in a different vein, the Star Trek, Dragnet, or James Bond fanfare, which lead into the main themes - where when you hear it, it puts you in the mood for what you're going to see. However, even though Danny Elfman’s original score did grow on me over time, particularly after I listened to the Daredevil and Hulk movie themes, (the frenzied playing of the violins as at the beginning of Spider-Man as the Marvel logo flashes across the screen really does create the image of a multi-legged creature moving rather briskly), to paraphrase the late Senator Lloyd Bentsen - “it’s no John Williams,” whose themes, and variations thereof, were also routinely played on top 40 radio. So, I was surprised that there weren't at least some additional variations on the original themes.

At least there was no 2004 version of Macy Gray.

So - although I think this film is as good, overall, as the first one - I must confess - I think liked the first - just a little bit more. Still - that's a victory. With most sequels - it's almost a given that the first is always better. Not here.

And now that the basic conflict has been set up for the third - that one ought to kick some really serious ass.

Where do they go from here?
Well, yeah, Harry has to become the second Green Goblin. Hopefully, though, he won't look like the first one, obviously because of the Power Rangers motif, but also for licensing and marketing purposes.

A lot of people consider using another Goblin to be repetitive, particularly when Spider-Man has such a treasure trove of villains - but it is the most logical outcome to the story that is unfolding - and is the culmination of the tragic irony that was the friendship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn - two lonely young men who found love (not that kind) and friendship as a result of their mutual ostracism from "normal" teenage society. However, their disparate relationships with their father figures and their different approaches to dealing with tragedy and loss set them on a collision course in which only one can possibly survive. And with the "ghost" of Norman Osborn (I hope they bring DaFoe back for that one - and more than just a cameo) pushing Harry further and further past the breaking point - it sends chills down my spine thinking about it.

I originally thought it would be o.k. if Harry became the Hobgoblin, for various reasons - but the more I think about it - no. Becoming the Green Goblin is simply Harry's destiny.

Also, I’m not sure how many of Spidey’s other villains really have a sufficiently large screen presence to carry a film. Obviously the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus do. But what about Spidey’s Tier II villains (i.e. Lizard, Mysterio, Vulture, etc). And then there's the Venom question. Although I have never liked Venom, perhaps in the context of a larger problem (like a looming symbiote invasion of Earth), that character could very well work - but it just seems so completely out of whack with the atmosphere that has been created in the first two films. I know that flying Goblins and multi-limbed mad scientists aren't exactly the definition of reality, either, but alien symbiotes - I just don't see it. And if it gets to be two villains or more in each film just to provide some extra punch, then you’re bordering on Batman-level silliness. Speaking of Batman, it will be interesting to see how well Batman Begins, which is a very different take on the legend than the other films, does with two “B” list (not dissing these villains, I’m talking from a public perspective – after all, everyone, even non comics fans, knows the Joker, Penquin, Catwoman, and Riddler, for example) villains in Scarecrow and Ras Al Ghul.

It drives me bonkers that people are talking about Spider-Man 4, wondering if the cast and/or Raimi will be back, and knocking Kirsten Dunst because she's already stated upfront she doesn't want to do a 4th film. If she doesn't want to do it, I don't want her in it. Spider-Man 4, if there is such a creature, won't be out until 2009 or 2010, although planning would probably start in 2007. I'm just trying to figure out what bills to pay with my next paycheck, and my idea of worrying about the future revolves around sending my kids to college, not whether or not some air headed actress wants to play Mary Jane Watson again.

Frankly, and I know this will likely get me stoned (the Shirley Jackson way, not the Bob Dylan way), but I'm just not convinced there should be a Spider-Man 4, period, at least not in the near future. More is not always better. The financial performance of the last two films (I’m writing this after the second film has just made $250+ million in the first 12 days of release) is on the verge of creating unreasonably bloated expectations. Everyone was holding their damn breath for a week on the grosses for no. 2, with a lot of vultures ready to pronounce the film a box office failure unless it shattered every single record in existence. And the budgets are getting more and more ridiculous, creating more pressure for higher and higher grosses. Based on the old 2X rule of thumb - the first film became profitable at $360 million - when it doubled the production ($130 million) and marketing costs ($50 million) - and it covered that domestically. The international, DVD, and licensing dollars were gravy. Now with a combined $260 million for production and marketing - the stakes are a bit higher - combined with the fact that licensing revenues for a sequel tend to be softer. Thus, the ancillary income isn't gravy, it's essential. A $300 million budget for the third film? Beyond the fact that it's not my money being spent - doesn't that just - seem so seriously screwed up - that a film would cost that much?

Also, historically, the public appetite for successive films in a franchise seems to almost universally wane. The third Harry Potter film is considered by many to be better than the other two, but domestic grosses have been less with each film (I know - that changed with the 4th one).

Plus, this series of films is being set up to have a very logical beginning, middle, and end. And the worst thing that could happen would be to wear out Spidey's welcome, much like Batman's and Superman's were worn out, although crappy films had as much to do with that as public apathy. Still, I can't help but think that it will be better in the long run, for the franchise, and for the character itself, to take a breather for awhile. Always leave them wanting more...

Although the actors have had numerous other projects in the interim, for Sam Raimi, Spider-Man has been a fulltime job since 2000 when he signed onto direct the first film. By the time the third film has been released, he will have worked on Spider-Man for seven years solid, even though he clearly has other business ventures and projects he would like to do. If he feels he has an idea for Spider-Man 4 and he wants to do it – that’s another matter entirely. But if he says he’s tapped out and wants to move on – let’s give him a big cheer and a big thank you for what he’s done, and allow him to walk away without any recriminations or muttering.

Of course, I say this now. I fully reserve the right to change my mind.

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Copyright © 1998-2007 J.R. Fettinger. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used here for the purpose of analysis and commentary.