Pity poor Peter Parker. No crime-fighting superhero I’m aware of has had to endure as much inner turmoil as this unfortunate schmo. This young lad’s identity crisis is not only wreaking havoc on his love life and his college studies and his employment at Joe’s Pizza, it’s seriously hindering his production of the web material that shoots from his wrists. Not cool if your alter ego is something called Spider-Man. Peter Parker is in that classic, albeit uncomfortable, position of being damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If he chooses to fight crime as Spider-Man, he loses the opportunity for any semblance of a normal life. If he chooses to lead a normal life, he will forever suffer the mind-blowing guilt that he could be protecting the world from evil monsters. The poor guy wants a little tail, but this whole superhero thing is giving him a monumental case of blue balls.
As if all of the above quandaries weren’t enough to deal with, New York City has a lunatic running around with four arms fused to his spine, and he’s hell-bent on creating a new energy source that could potentially destroy the whole city. Talk about your bad days. Peter Parker had better shake his existential fever or his fellow denizens in the Big Apple are toast.
Director Sam Raimi’s follow-up to his first Spider-Man (2002) is damn near perfect. Not only does he treat us to a deliciously intelligent script filled with well-drawn characters and real-life pathos, he balances all that fine writing with some of the most beautifully choreographed and gasp-inducing action sequences ever put on the screen. The scene where Spider-Man saves a runaway elevated train from crashing into the streets below will become a classic. You’ll actually be exhausted after witnessing every manic frame of this commuter nightmare.
Raimi brings back almost everyone from the original movie, in addition to getting brilliant character actor Alfred Molina on board as Spider-Man 2’s bad guy. Molina plays a genius (all scientists in comic books are geniuses) who has devised a nasty set of mechanical arms that are connected right to his spine in order to better manipulate a rare element he is using to create a new energy source that will solve all of mankind’s energy needs. OK, it’s kind of a weak premise, but who cares? It’s only there so we can watch as his experiment goes terribly wrong (all experiments in comic books go terribly wrong) and the arms are permanently fused to his neural pathways. The arms were given the gift of artificial intelligence by their creator, and now they have taken over Dr. Otto Octavius and have turned him into the evil Doc Ock, a metallic octopus filled with menace and criminal intent. He may not be the scenery-chewer that the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) was in the first Spider-Man, but he’s a pretty cool villain nonetheless.
Tobey Maguire is back as Peter Parker. Kirsten Dunst is back as Mary Jane, Peter’s love interest. James Franco is back as Harry Osborn, Peter’s good friend and son of the recently deceased Green Goblin; Harry, by the way, is still obsessed with killing Spider-Man for taking his dad’s life in the last flick. Also back is J. K. Simmons as the fast-talking, always hilarious newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson, a treat every time he’s ranting and raving on the screen. And, yes, what would a Raimi flick be without his old chum Bruce Campbell, who has a funny and too-short cameo as a theater usher?
Spider-Man 2, although a Marvel comic book turned into a movie, is so much better than all those other pretenders because it’s smart when it’s supposed to be, and dumb and fun when it’s supposed to be. The kids will dig the carnival ride of it all, the older folks will dig the snappy dialogue, and the girls will understand and appreciate the love story (even if the latter does drag on a bit). Like I said, it’s damn near perfect.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.