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 V.13 No.27 | July 1 - 7, 2004 

Film Review

Spider-Man 2

Bigger, darker and more dramatic, this Spidey sequel is almost too much of a good thing.

Here comes the Spider-Man!
Here comes the Spider-Man!

Spider-Man 2

Directed by Sam Raimi

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, ALfred Molina

For people of a certain age—those raised in the '60s and '70s, certainly—comic books are the Vedic Texts of their generation. Much as tales of Beowulf or King Arthur instructed generations of plague-ravaged Europeans on the meaning of right and wrong, Spider-Man, Superman and Batman provided shining paragons of heroism for generations of Slurpee-addled Americans.

Of all the superhero tales to make the leap from page to screen, 2002's Spider-Man is among the most reverent retellings. Now comes Spider-Man 2 to give us more—much more, as it turns out—of the same. We've got more drama, bigger romance, grander villains and an appropriately inflated run time.

Already, the Spider-Man films have more internal consistency than any movie series (let alone superhero movie series) I can think of. With every Batman film, you know Bruce Wayne will have a new girlfriend, Batman will have a new villain and District Attorney Harvey Dent could transform from Billy Dee Williams into Tommy Lee Jones at a moment's notice. Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, picks up its narrative right where Spider-Man left off.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is coping with his newly acquired superpowers and pining for galpal Mary Jane Watson. Harry Osbourne (James Franco) is brooding over his megalomaniacal father's death at the hands of Spider-Man. And poor, confused Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is caught somewhere in the middle of this superhero/supervillain sandwich.

You'd think having superpowers would be a blessing. But that's just not the Marvel Comics way. Peter's busy working two jobs, he's lost the girl he loves, his aunt is about to have her house foreclosed and the entire town seems up in arms over the "vigilante" Spider-Man. It's enough to make a guy in tights suffer from superhero impotence ... which, as it turns out, is exactly what happens. While the first film mixed atomic mutation with the horrors of puberty, S-M 2 finds our overworked, underloved Web-Slinger feeling inadequate and unable to shoot his big, sticky webs all over town (which, in this case, is not a metaphor). To make things even worse, while Spidey is losing his powers, a new villain—the multi-armed Doctor Octopus—is threatening New York City.

The story is more melodramatic this time around, but director Sam Raimi knows that sense of heightened drama is a part of comic books lore. It's obvious Raimi has fallen in love with Peter, M.J., Harry, Aunt May and the tight little universe they inhabit. His screenwriters (including "Smallville" scripters Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and Adventures of Kavalier and Clay author Michael Chabon) are called upon to explore every possible emotion of the characters in this crazy situation. They do an exceptional job. It's so much easier to buy a kid with irradiated spider blood fighting a mad scientist-turned-metal octopus when the characters are so earthy and real.

The angst level may be amped up a bit high, with Maguire trying on his patented "pained expression" every few minutes. Admittedly, there are also times when this costume drama threatens to turn into a talky treatise on the nature of heroism and responsibility. Those craving explosive action and nothing but would do better at a screening of The Chronicles of Riddick. Spider-Man 2 does eventually have action. It has some of the best superhero action ever committed to film. The direction is kinetic and the digital effects have improved leaps and bounds over the original. But in Sam Raimi's estimation, there's so much more to this story than mere fisticuffs.

Spider-Man 2 is the Gone With the Wind of superhero movies. The romance is grand, the emotions raging and the action titanic in scope. By the time I reached the end credits—emotionally abused, physically battered and maybe just a little sleepy from sitting so long—the only thing I could think of is where these characters will go now. ... So, how many months until the release of Spider-Man 3?

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