Spider-Man 2

Sleeker, faster, leaner, meaner and packed with features, the 2004 edition of “Spider-Man” blows the 2002 model off the road. With rare exception, sequels take a step down, but “Spider-Man 2” isn’t so much a sequel as a continuation, allowing director Sam Raimi and writer Alvin Sargent to further explore the double-edged sword that is youthful and exuberant newspaper photographer Peter Parker and his super hero alter ego Spider-Man.


Parker’s duality takes some dark, twisted turns in “Spider-Man 2,” forcing the reluctant savior to hang up his tights and hood in order to pursue the woman he loves: Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the girl next door who has blossomed into a beautiful woman. After two years of saving New York from one peril after another, all Parker (Tobey Maguire) wants to do is save his relationship with Watson, who is tiring of Parker’s frequent absences.

Being a super hero also leaves Parker little time to fulfill his duties as best friend to Harry Osborn (James Franco), who still seeks revenge against Spider-man for killing his father; as a pizza delivery boy (even with Spider-Man speed cross town traffic is a bitch); and as Daily Bugle photographer.

Just as the weight of the world take it’s toll, Parker is hit with a bombshell: Watson has decided to marry astronaut (and son of Bugle publisher) John Jameson (Daniel Gillies). Parker not only become an emotional wreck, he loses his super powers, allowing a new super villain to terrorize the unprotected city.

Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is another brilliant, mild-mannered scientist who undergoes a radical transformation and becomes a madman, intent on taking out Spider-Man. When Octavius becomes fused to four mechanical arms capable of great strength and damage, his new appendages slowly take control, turning him into the notorious Dr. Ock.

With so much on his mind, it’s no wonder Parker/Spider-Man is impotent. Dr. Ock serves as Spider-Man’s Viagra, giving him a crime-fighting hard-on and the courage to win back Watson’s heart. Both take plenty of effort, but the cast, writer and director and more than up to it.

On so many levels “Spider-Man 2” is better than the first film. Raimi has been given a bigger budget, but he’s not just throwing money at the screen. He creates amazing landscapes and jaw- dropping visuals that work in harmony with the strong, character-driven story arcs. Raimi never loses touch with the human element of what is essentially an action film. The action is breathtaking, but the drama is equally commanding. Credit writer Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Unfaithful) for the film’s emotional core, a sturdy backbone that effortlessly supports the film’s gee-whiz factor.

There’s plenty of gee-whiz in the numerous action scenes (including a train-top battle that makes you believe in movie magic all over again), but I found the quiet moments just as satisfying. After having survived teen angst, Parker finds adulthood equally stressful. There’s great irony in the parallels between what most young men his age consider a crisis.

Maguire has grown with the role. Parker has lost his innocence, and Maguire looks more worldly and weary. He still lights up when Watson enters a room, but look deep in his eyes and you see a man who has experienced more than his share of hardship. Maguire is at his best when he bonds with father-figure Octavius or shares his guilt over the death of his uncle with Aunt Mary (Rosemary Harris).

Dunst has also matured as Watson, now an aspiring actress. Dunst is given more emotional weight this film, and she carries it with finesse. Harry’s anger has escalated into obsession, and Franco, with dark determination, conveys that compulsion with frightening reality. Molina, with his digitally and mechanically attached arms, is both sympathetic and menacing as Parker’s splintered nemesis.

The stakes are higher in “Spider-Man 2,” but Raimi doesn’t gamble with the formula. He takes the characters and us on the ride of our lives, leaving us anxious to jump on for another spin.

Swing Blade

Spider-Man 2 explores Parker’s splitting headache

SPIDER-MAN 2

Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, J. K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris. Directed by Sam Raimi. Rated PG-13. 127 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $8.00



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