Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Identity Crisis? Spiderman 2 a review.

Every so often, a blockbuster sequel comes along that succeeds in deepening and improving on its predecessor. Most notable in this regard has been The Empire Strikes Back, along with Superman II and Aliens. Now we have Spiderman 2, a film which blends action-packed adventure with a thoughtful exploration of identity. There is much more to this movie than thrills and spills, and it's refreshing to think of children and teenagers taking in notions of self-sacrificing heroism with their popcorn.

Spiderman 2 finds our hero in the midst of a crisis about his role in life. As his uncertainty about his direction grows, so do his spider-powers wane. For those of us who grew up with Spiderman cartoons in the '70s and '80s, the sight of Spidey falling out of the sky because his web-spinners have dried up is a striking image.

There are several elements in the emotional equation which trouble Peter Parker, alias Spiderman. He blames himself for his uncle's death, he feels he is forbidden a relationship with the girl he loves (for her own safety), and he knows that much of his academic potential is going to waste on account of his superhero schedule. He lives an impoverished life, both materially and otherwise, struggling to pay the rent on a hovel of a bedsit. Freelance photography work at The Daily Bugle cannot keep his head above water. On top of this, his beloved aunt's precarious financial situation weighs on his heart. Parker is an outsider with very little support.

These strains take a toll on this vulnerable young man, and for a time, he abandons his role as a hero he no longer feels capable of playing. The film combines humour and pathos: at one point, there is the hilarious sight of Spiderman having to take an elevator because he can no longer scale walls; at another, there is a moving encounter with his deceased uncle who urges Peter to embrace his Spiderman identity.

Meanwhile, as Spiderman ponders his position, New York falls prey to the new menace of Dr Octopus. Dr Otto Octavius is a brilliant scientist, who invents a bizarre contraption to enables him to carry out nuclear fusion. When his experiment goes wrong, he is left as an eight-limbed monster – Dr Octopus – completely in thrall to his new savage powers. Only Spiderman can save the day.

Dr Octopus (or Doc Oc, as he's known in The Daily Bugle) isn't the only enemy on Spiderman's horizon; he also has to contend with the son of the Green Goblin, Harry Osborn. Harry blames Spiderman for his father's death, but is best friends with Peter Parker. Although he's a successful whiz kid, Harry simmers with resentment throughout the film, and when he discovers his father's goblin gear near the end, it isn't difficult to predict which conflict will fuel Spiderman 3.

Ultimately, as is usually the case in Hollywood blockbusters, the hero prevails. Peter confesses to his Aunt May his feelings of guilt about his uncle's accidental death, thereby removing one large emotional blockage from his system. Later, she makes a coded reference to Peter's alter ego, encouraging him to find the hero inside himself. In the case of Mary Jane, she absolves Peter of his responsibility for her safety and accepts the risk of their relationship. The isolation which Peter experienced in the earlier part of Spiderman 2 is thus shown to have been partly self-imposed and slightly needless. No matter how heroic we think we have to be, there is always someone to turn to.

The action sequences of combat and chase are thrilling and fantastic, but in the end, it is the conflict within Dr Octopus that puts paid to his destructive tendencies. There is still sufficient goodness and humanity within him to draw him back from the brink of levelling his city. Continuing the theme of self-sacrifice, he destroys himself rather than those around him. Harry Osborn, by contrast, chooses vengeance and power. Having discovered that his best friend and his worst enemy are one and the same, it will be interesting to see how the battle between the new Green Goblin and Spiderman plays itself out in the sequel to this film.

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