3 STARS – Wholesome
It is refreshing in this postmodern world to find a film that encourages us to be willing to sacrifice our self-interest for the well-being of others. It is also helpful for the same film to show the struggle such a decision creates. Taking the old-fashioned values of Marvel Comic Books onto the big screen, director Sam Raimi creates another exciting morality tale in “Spider-Man 2.”
Using the art of a comic book to tell us the tale of the first film during the opening credits, this second installment continues the tale of Peter Parker (Toby Maguire). Having been bitten by a special spider during a class science trip, Peter is endowed with special powers. Accepting his uncle’s dying commission to take his powers as a responsibility to fight for what is right, Peter said goodbye to the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). M.J., as he calls her, has been confused with his decision since he obviously loves her, but she gives him the opportunity to change his mind. Peter’s struggle with his decision to sacrifice his relationship with M.J. to protect her from danger from his enemies is the primary theme of this second film.
What makes the journey interesting is not just the engaging ways in which his decision is questioned in both the action portions of the film as well as the romantic moments, but also in the way it reveals itself in the perspectives of both teenager and elderly alike. Joining in their idealism about what the world could be like, grandson and grandmother have a powerful discussion about the purpose of life and the necessity for a hero.
The need for heroes who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to “save the world” is built into our spiritual longings. Spider-man is an archetypal figure in such a longing. Being a person who has been “bitten by a spider” and has turned that misfortune right-side-up by using it as a power for good, Spider-man is struggling with his identity. He now has a choice – will he or will he not sacrifice his own individual desires for the good of the whole? And how will M.J. decide the same issue?
The action in the film revolves around the son of the villain in the first film, who just happens to be Peter Parker’s best friend. Harry Osborn (James Franco) blames Spider-man for the death of his father and is consumed with his conflicting desires to become the success his father demanded he be and avenging the one who killed this same tyrannical father. The mental anguish creates the opportunity for true evil to inadvertently be created. This is perhaps a nod to postmodern thought that evil is not truly meant to be evil but only becomes so by scientific miscalculation. But evil it is, as man and machine bond together in an attempt to create unlimited power.
The final decisions of Peter and M.J. are wrapped up in the angst of moral choices and the awareness that evil must be confronted. These are two messages that are often missing from the public debate of our postmodern lives. But the morality tale of “Spider-Man 2” is true and the struggle is real. It is a tale worth telling.
- When Peter decides to not tell M.J. who he really is and instead lies to her when she asks if he loves her, we know he is building his future on shifting sand. How do you believe his final choice changed that? Where is it still lacking solid foundational choices?
- The power of the artificially intelligent arms to permeate Dr. Otto Octavius’ (Alfred Molina) brain and tempt him into what he does speaks to our fears about the computers that interact with us every day. What do you believe the real dangers are in this bond of man and machine? Is it cyborg life, as Dr. Ock experienced, or is it something less obvious?
- The postmodern ambivalence about what evil really is, that it is just the product of machines trying to protect themselves and humans wanting to create new power sources, implies there is no real evil for evil’s sake. Yet the vengeance that Harry feels toward Spider-man is darker in feeling. What do you think evil is and how is it most often expressed in our world? How does “e-v-i-l” reverse “l-i-v-e” and take life away?
- The decision of M.J. implies the same level of self-sacrifice that Peter decides he must make. What do you think their future will be like?