Spider-Man 2

I saw Spider-Man 2 last night and was quite pleased with it. It worked well as a movie and, importantly for fans of the comic, was quite faithful to the Stan Lee original. It was very much the Peter Parker and Spider-Man of 1963, with a few subtle changes for the modern era. I agree with the critical consensus, which is that this sequel was better than the first installment.

The movie appears to be setting new box office records.

Box Office Mojo – ‘Spider-Man 2’ Amazes on Opening Day

Spider-Man 2 made no sacrifice in its Wednesday bow, capturing a stunning $40.4 million. The $200 million plus Marvel Comics adaptation snared the biggest opening day ever, besting the original Spider-Man’s $39.4 million — a record that had stood since that picture’s May 3, 2002 debut. It ultimately amassed $403.7 million by the close of its domestic run, the fifth highest grossing picture of all time. Spider-Man 2 also scored the top Wednesday ever, soaring past The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s $34.5 million. That movie and other fan-driven blockbusters started showing at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, and Spider-Man 2 followed suit, playing at more than 2,500 theaters at that time.

The sequel’s debut marks the best of 2004, eclipsing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s $38.3 million. Shrek 2 still holds the overall single day record with $44.8 million on its first Saturday.

Sony unmasked Spider-Man 2 at 4,152 theaters, the second widest release of all time behind Shrek 2’s 4,163. The launch eclipses the 3,615 debut of the first movie and casts a web across roughly 70% of the nation’s theaters.

When Sony zeroed in on Independence Day week, they were, in effect, not trying to top the $114.8 million opening weekend record of the first Spider-Man. The frame’s previous highs were 2002’s Men in Black II with $52.1 million, or, taking ticket price inflation into account, Independence Day with an adjusted $70 million. Whenever July 4 lands on a weekend, as it does this year, it tends to put a dent in the weekend gross. May is the month for a movie gunning for weekend honors.

The preliminary estimate is that the film has grossed $96,016,000 through Friday. If the $9 ticket price that I paid last night is indicative of a trend, though, it’s not surprising that they’re raking in more money.

Minor spoilers in extended entry.

The NYT review by A.O. Scott, “Putting Action After Feelings of a Superhero,” sums it up well.

At the very least, a movie audience brutalized by dumb, loud and cynical blockbusters can always stand to be reminded of what vibrant, intelligent and sincere popular filmmaking looks like. Directed by Sam Raimi from a story whose many begetters include the novelist Michael Chabon (the sole screenwriting credit belongs to Alvin Sargent, who wrote “Ordinary People” and “Paper Moon”), “Spider-Man 2” is full of bright colors, emphatic noises and elaborate special effects. That much is to be expected.

But its distinguishing features, I’m happy to report, are strong characters and honest feelings. Like its Marvel Comics cousin “X-Men 2,” this sequel, freed from the dreary burden of exposition, is better than its predecessor, and also superior to most other comic-book-based movies. It has a more credible (and more frightening) villain, a more capacious and original story and a self-confidence based not only on the huge success of the first “Spider-Man” but also on Mr. Raimi’s intuitive and enthusiastic grasp of the material.

At the end of “Spider-Man,” the hero was forced to choose between superhuman powers and the earthly charms of Kirsten Dunst. It was hard not to sympathize and to wonder why poor Peter Parker couldn’t have both. But the world, then as now, needed Spider-Man, and so Peter (Tobey Maguire) hardened his jaw and renounced his desperate, lifelong love of Mary Jane Watson (Ms. Dunst). The first hour of the sequel is largely devoted to exploring the consequences of this decision — to showing, in other words, what a drag it is to be Spider-Man. The weary web-slinger, though adored by the public, is mocked and maligned in The Daily Bugle (still edited by the blustery, blithely unethical J. Jonah Jameson, played with maniacal gusto by the incomparable J. K. Simmons). But the deeper wounds are suffered by his alter ego.

Peter, scrambling to balance the demands of normal life with costumed crime-fighting, is fired from his pizza-delivery gig, behind on his rent and in danger of failing his science courses at Columbia. Even worse, Peter’s reputation is the negative mirror-image of Spider-Man’s: he is routinely described as lazy, selfish and unreliable.

Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), still grieving from the loss of Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson, in a brief flashback), is in danger of losing her house, and her devotion to Peter is edged with palpable disappointment. Even Mary Jane, whose career as a model and actress is beginning to take off, is fed up with what she takes to be Peter’s habitual selfishness and excuses. Worst of all, she’s engaged to an astronaut, who happens to be Jonah Jameson’s son.

All of which leads up to that fateful moment at the movie’s midpoint when Spider-Man, his webs drying up because of Peter’s depression, crumples up his blue and red mask and body suit and dumps them in a back-alley garbage can. Not that his identity crisis is the only thing going on in the movie. Meanwhile, as they say in the comics, a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is cooking up a dangerous and ambitious fusion project financed by Peter’s best pal and Spider-Man’s nemesis, Harry Osborn (James Franco). A catastrophic malfunction leaves Octavius not only a widower but also a monster, his body hauled around by malevolent mechanical legs with diabolical minds of their own.

Doc Ock, as he is known in the tabloids, is Spider-Man’s enemy, but there are similarities between them. The difference is less a matter of good and evil than of servitude and free choice. Unlike Spidey, poor Ock is not the master of his powers but their servant. His humanity has been crushed by the unholy alliance of big money and technological ambition that is a persistent theme in the “Spider-Man” series (and in superhero comics in general).

UPDATE (7/4): Ananova — Spider-Man 2 to smash record

It looks as though Spider-Man has caught another box-office record in his web. Unofficial estimates put the gross for “Spider-Man 2” in the $150 million to $155 million range since the film opened last Wednesday, which would shatter the record for best Wednesday-Sunday opening set in May by “Shrek 2” with $129 million. “Spider-Man 2” distributor Sony declined to provide weekend estimates, saying it would wait to report numbers. But other studios generally were tracking “Spider-Man 2” at about $90 million for the three-day weekend, which followed an estimated $64 million take on Wednesday and Thursday.

Official figures could vary considerably, since the timing of the Fourth of July on a Sunday throws off the formulas studios use to calculate weekend grosses. Studios base their numbers on actual Friday and Saturday grosses, with estimates added for Sunday’s take. “People are very distracted on the Fourth. Usually it’s barbecues and fireworks, not movies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

At about $90 million, the movie’s estimated Friday-Sunday haul would fall well short of the record $114.8 million opening weekend of “Spider-Man” two years ago. The original “Spider-Man” opened on a Friday, though, while the sequel debuted Wednesday, and millions of fans already had seen it before the weekend. “Spider-Man,” which opened in early May, also didn’t have the handicap of a Sunday holiday.

Besides breaking the five-day debut record, “Spider-Man 2” was poised to shatter the previous high for best first six days, held by “The Matrix Reloaded” at $146.9 million.

If estimates from other studios are right, “Spider-Man 2” passed that mark in just five days. The film will pad its six-day figure Monday, when many people will be off work for the holiday and free to catch movies during the day.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brian J. says:

    Number of tickets sold should be the benchmark, since it’s an absolute number, unlike total money, which is relative to the ticket price.

    Until, of course, theaters start charging two tickets for the obese.

  2. Paul,

    Not necessarily insane. I have read that the rule of thumb for a movie to break even — in box office receipts only — is for it to double its budget in revenue. It’s a better than safe bet that it will make more than $420 million worldwide and entirely likely that it will pass $1 billion in worldwide receipts.