Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:07 - Released 6/30/04

From the start of its beautifully animated opening credits, which cleverly recount the events of the previous episode, Spider-Man 2 is a colorful and thrilling affair, better even than its predecessor, continuing in a most satisfying manner the exploits of the Marvel Comics-based web-spinning superhero while still leaving considerable room for continued sequels. Tobey Maguire, who originated the role two years ago, makes a triumphant return for this second adventure, along with director Sam Raimi and all of the supporting cast of the previous film, plus a few additions. While I have enjoyed Maguire’s work in more serious movies like Wonder Boys, The Cider House Rules, and Seabiscuit, and I certainly hope he will continue to seek out parts in thought-provoking cinema, there is no doubt he owns this role and will replace the likes of Paul Soles, Dan Gilvezan, Christopher Daniel Barnes, and even Nicholas Hammond as “the definitive Spider-Man” in the hearts and minds of the moviegoing public.

In this second adventure, penned by Alvin Sargent from a story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Michael Chabon, Peter Parker (Maguire) has fallen on difficult times. Although he is trying to make a living and continue his college education, his duties as the webbed wonder are seriously cutting into his time and forcing him to shirk his other obligations, resulting in a reputation for irresponsibility among his employers, his college professor, and most importantly, his best friend and secret love interest, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). After being fired from his pizza delivery job, he almost loses his news photography gig too, since his boss, J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), editor of the Daily Bugle, is only interested in pictures of Spider-Man, which he continually uses to malign the superhero in his gleefully slanted reporting. But Peter hopes to save his reputation by writing a killer college paper on noted scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who is working with Peter’s friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) on a new fusion reactor which will create a miniature sun capable of supplying the entire earth with renewable solar power.

Octavius’s first test of the experiment goes wrong, however, and the serpentine metallic arms he has attached to his body to operate the reactor soon take on a life of their own, transforming him into the evil Dr. Octopus, a menacing creature capable of walking up the sides of buildings, throwing cars, and generally terrorizing New York City, which he begins doing with very little hesitation. So Peter is faced with a choice: he can abandon his Spidey persona and pursue his relationship with Mary Jane (which he’d better do quickly, because she’s about to marry another man), or he can disappoint her and all his friends and pursue “Doc Ock” for the ultimate spider vs. octopus showdown. Which does he pick? Take a guess.

This movie is so full of excitement, part of the credit for which must no doubt be attributed to the incredible music of Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek, and several other composers, that there is little time to notice the occasional lapses in logic which, to be fair, are commonplace in comic book superhero stories. Maguire’s sweet-guy Peter Parker persona is well complemented by his—or his stunt double’s, or his CGI incarnation’s—gleeful flying around the city, supported only by the well-placed webs which spray from the wrists of his fabulously colorful costume (except when they don’t, during his crisis of conscience). These scenes are so much fun to watch, I could stand a whole movie made up of just web-swinging, but this is not just another special-effects extravaganza. The film’s story is also engaging and believable, featuring good performances from Molina (who in some scenes appears more spidery than Spider-Man), Franco, and especially Dunst, whose plain face can be transformed into that of a ravishing beauty with the merest adjustment of lighting and makeup. There is also, of course, plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, mainly delivered by Simmons, whose character is so happily cheap and opportunistic, it’s hilarious. Although some scenes are, I believe, a bit intense for a PG-13 rating, most of the violence is of the overblown, cartoon variety, and there is virtually no blood despite situations which, outside the comic-book universe, would cause massive amounts of it to be shed. Even though this film is just over 2 hours long, it fully sustains that running time with action and adventure, and overly capitalizes on the highly energetic groundwork laid by its predecessor.

Incidentally, Spider-Man 3 has indeed been announced and is scheduled for the summer of 2007, with Maguire again set to reprise his role. Go, Tobey, go! ****½

Copyright 2004 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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