Spider-Man 2 Movie Review

Here's why Toby Maguire's Spider-Man is the greatest superhero in movie history:

Maguire so completely embodies the character's unique yinand yang -- the joyous, daredevil confidence of Spidey and the sweet, self-doubtingyoung chump that is Peter Parker -- that the exhilarating action in "Spider-Man2" is less interesting than his inner turmoil at being torn betweendoing what he's compelled to do and having the life he wants.

It rips Peter up inside to lie to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst)-- the girl he not-so-secretly loves and who not-so-secretly loves himback -- in order to protect her from the horrors that could befall a superhero'sgirlfriend if any super villains knew who she was. It hurts him to knowthat his best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), wants to kill Spider-Man because Spider-Mankilled his father (the firstmovie's Green Goblin).

He's not a superhero who loves his job, like Superman.He's not a psychologically pent-up billionaire who works out his demonsas a vigilante, like "Batman".Peter Parker is an insecure kid who would be just an insecure kid if hedidn't believe, as his uncle said before he died in Peter's arms from acarjacker's bullet, that "with great power comes great responsibility."

And here's why "Spider-Man 2" is one of thoserarest of cinematic gems -- a sequel that bests its predecessor: None ofthis complexity takes a back seat to commercialism or clich=E9s. There'sno soundtrack-selling cameo by Macy Gray and no villain with an evil cackleeating away at the movie's surprising soul this time. Returning directorSam Raimi breaks more rules than he follows and the resulting depth willimprove the film's shelf life. 2002's "Spider-Man"was good bubble gum, but this movie is a Willie Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper.

In "Spider-Man 2," Peter Parker has become tormentedby living up to the responsibilities of his secret life, and that has madehis personal life a wreck. He's failing his beloved science courses atcollege, he can't pay his rent to his crazy Russian slumlord, the bankis foreclosing on the house he grew up in with his warm and loving auntMay (Rosemary Harris), and since Mary Jane has become an actress and amodel, he's haunted by her beautiful visage on perfume billboards all overNew York.

Worse yet, the stress has taken a toll on his super powers.Faced with the possibility of losing MJ forever (she's engaged to marryan astronaut), he's just about to ashcan the Spandex for good when oneof his scientific mentors, Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who hasbeen working on a breakthrough in fusion, falls victim to a lab accident(this happens a lot to Parker's scientific mentors). He becomes fused toa set of creepy, snake-like robotic arms -- harnessed to his back to helphim manipulate his unstable fusion experiments -- and soon the single-mindedartificial intelligence that controls the arms is manipulating him instead.

Suddenly determined to see his dangerous experiments throughat all costs, the now-psychotic Doc Ock becomes a menace to the city --and to Peter in particular since he knows Spider-Man is the only one whocan stop him from essentially creating a small sun that could consume Manhattan.

Raimi packs this sequel with ante-upping, white-knuckledaction scenes that are wildly imaginative -- even reinventing the anachronistictrain-top fight sequence on an elevated subway with spectacular results.(Nevermind that New York doesn't have elevated trains, let alone one withunfinished tracks that teeter over the waterfront.)

He improves enormously on the first film's mediocre web-slingingspecial effects. He peppers the picture with his uniquely, charismaticallycheesy sense of humor (one of Spidey's stress symptoms is a loss of webfluid, forcing him to take an elevator from a rooftop in one amusinglyawkward scene) and with insider homages to his B-movie beginnings.

Raimi also shows great respect for comic-book lore whilehaving a little ironic fun at the format's expense. "A guy named Octaviusends up with eight limbs! What are the chances?" barks vein-popping,cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), tight-fisted editor ofthe trashy tabloid for which Peter freelances as a photographer.

But most of all Raimi demonstrates a gift for melding overblownbig-budget action into what is, at its heart, a character-driven dramaof human conflict built upon almost profound performances.

Meeting Maguire on every level, Kirsten Dunst once againbrings out the depth and emotional puzzlement of Mary Jane, who is constantlyon tenterhooks over the pain she feels when Peter pushes her away despitea magnetism between them that is overwhelming. The actress also understandswhat it takes to be a great damsel in distress, adding fantastic tensionto the movie's climax.

Alfred Molina ("Frida"www.contactmusic.com/new/film.nsf)lends Doc Ock a surprising touch of heartbreak as somewhere inside hisbesieged mind he recognizes that he's destroying his dreams -- and potentiallykilling millions -- but is not able to stop himself. Rosemary Harris hasthis wonderful way of hinting very, very slightly at Aunt May's suspicionsof her dear nephew's secret identity -- even when she's saddled with somebadly over-scripted sagacity.

Only James Franco doesn't rise to the occasion, seemingshallow and pouty as Harry -- but maybe that's more the character thanthe actor. He is, after all, the spoiled but unloved son of a dead millionaire.

"Spider-Man 2" has its share of nagging imperfections-- not the least of which is the fallacious (if not impossible) solutionto the movie's action climax. But with the triple-whammy finale that follows,I guarantee you'll be left breathless -- and downright ravenous for thenext installment, which unfortunately isn't due until 2007.


Comments

Spider-Man 2 Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Wednesday, June 30, 2004

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