Spider-Man 2

Didn't think I'd ever see the day when Spider-Man would suffer a Tony Soprano panic attack. But there's Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, born for the role), all sweaty and insecure, chucking his Spidey costume when his powers fail him — he can't shoot a web or climb a wall. With no shrink to tell him it's an identity issue, Peter thinks maybe his belief — "With great power comes great responsibility" — is a crock. Maybe he'd just like to get it on with Mary Jane Watson (delicious Kirsten Dunst) instead of mooning after her while she falls for an astronaut (Daniel Gillies). Maybe New Yorkers can just take care of themselves.p>hat's the setup for Spider-Man 2, a sequel of twisted thrills and sly surprises (Spidey gets unmasked!) that stays true to the Marvel Comics spirit created by Stan Lee in 1962 while letting director Sam Raimi cut deeper than the 2002 original. Don't get me wrong. Spider-Man 2 is all you can ask for in summer fun, right from the opener, when Peter, who works part-time delivering pizzas, resorts to Spidey speed to guarantee delivery in twenty-nine minutes. And his big action moments — stopping a bank robbery, halting a runaway train and rescuing Mary Jane by holding up a falling building ("It's heavy," he jokes) — will pop your eyes, fry your nerves and keep you laughing. But the film's distinction is its heart. Here's escapist fluff that makes time for its characters (listen up, Van Helsing and The Day After Tomorrow) and refuses to mock the love story that Maguire and Dunst, a terrific team, play with ravishing, romantic gravity. My fear was that the follow-up movie would just repeat itself — a built-in pressure for a hit that grossed $403 million to become the fifth-biggest box-office hit of all time. Instead, the sequel brings out the mischief in Raimi that we know from Darkman and the Evil Dead trilogy. The result is that rare comic-book sequel (along with X2 and Superman II) that one-ups the original. The computer effects are better, and the widescreen camerawork of Bill Pope (The Matrix) creates a bracing expansiveness. And let's hear it for the villain. Alfred Molina's tentacled Doc Ock has it all over Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, rightly flambXed by critics for wearing that plastic Halloween mask.p>olina brings wit and sympathy to the role of a scientist gone mad when the mechanical tentacles he wears for a fusion experiment take over his brain. John Dykstra's FX team outdoes itself with these "smart arms" — they're equipped with artificial intelligence and move like sinuous belly dancers eager to seduce the doc to the dark side. James Franco adds dimension to Harry, Peter's rich, tormented pal who uncovers secrets about the death of his goblin father. So what if it's a lure for a sequel? I'm in.p>ogues are notorious scene stealers — none funnier than J.K. Simmons as the gruff editor of the Daily Bugle — which makes it hard on the goody-goodies, such as Peter's Aunt May, artfully played by Rosemary Harris even when screenwriter Alvin Sargent saddles her with speeches about the world's need for a hero. Hell, we already know that. Spider-Man is the ultimate fantasy hero because he's a screwed-up crybaby who still chooses to follow his heart. Go get 'em, tiger.

From The Archives Issue 329: October 30, 1980