Sam Raimi has once again raised the bar for superhero films and summer blockbusters, this time to the top of a skyscraper where only spider-men dare to crawl.
It’s been two years since Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) was bitten by a radioactive spider and became the spectacular Spider-Man, but it isn’t just J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and the Daily Bugle’s newspaper coming down on Spidey this time. Being a superhero and ready for action has started to take its toll on Peter’s real life: his grades are slipping, he can’t hold a part time job, and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is starting to move on with her life. If all the day-to-day tribulations weren’t enough, a new supervillain is on the loose in New York, but is the city really in enough danger to keep Spidey swinging from the skyscrapers and Peter Parker away from the life he’s always dreamed of?
If the above synopsis sounds a bit heavy in the plot, good! It is, and that’s before all the twists and turns. The hallmark of Marvel Comics characters, especially Spider-Man, has been portraying them as human first; being a superhero was something they did, not completely who they were. On the flip side, DC Comics (a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Bros.) have always been about the hero we all see in costume, such as Batman and Superman. While the first outing for Spider-Man spent equal time with the Green Goblin, this sequel does the Wallcrawler right and delves more into why Spider-Man keeps doing the hero thing and what he’s really willing to give up to do it.
As a feature filmmaker, Spider-Man 2 is the culmination of director Sam Raimi’s previous work to date; a superhero film that touches on multiple levels and genres. Like X2, this sequel could not exist without the previous groundwork already set down in the original film, but it has already become unimaginable that any other director could make Spidey work this well and look this good. Personal moments of revelation between characters are honestly balanced with epic sequences of superpowered beings locked in combat, and the transition is seamless. The sequel exceeds the original while building up all aspects of the story.
Tobey Maguire has become Peter Parker (and his alter-ego) in his portrayal so effortlessly that he sells it completely; Tobey is Spider-Man like Arnold Schwarzenegger is Conan the Barbarian, totally and completely. Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius is dead on and yet manages to bring a human factor to a megalomaniac villain; this Doc Ock is interesting, motivated, and yet still sympathetic. Rosemary Harris as Peter’s Aunt May is not only perfectly cast in her performance but also adds an overdue spunk to her character. While I have no problem with Kirsten Dunst as an actress, she just isn’t a very interesting Mary Jane Watson; the sequel makes it obvious to ‘true believers’ just how miscast she really was to begin with, but the average audience member likely won’t notice.
Toward the end, the running time seems a bit stretched as the film slips a little into the future, but fans of Raimi’s work will see this as a return to form, giving the audience a small glimpse into where he’d like to go with everything. One thing is certain: when Sony fits the bill for a third Spider-Man film, they’d better give Raimi whatever he wants to do it, because the kind of money this film is going to make will ensure the next film will have people lined up around the block to see it first.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)