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Spider-Man (2004)
Director: Sam Raimi

review by Amy Harlib

That wondrous web-slinger returns in Spider-Man 2, the stunning sequel to Spider-Man - both films deserving their huge box-office successes. The stellar cast and crew, with the former entirely and the latter mostly, return for the second go-round. The triumph of these comicbook to screen adaptations can be credited to the love and respect for the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko source material by director Sam Raimi and a superb team of scripters: Michael Chabon, Alfred Gough and Miles Miller under the supervision of veteran Alvin Sargent. The story's perfect balance of super-heroic adventure thrills, wit and character-driven emotional intensity make the production succeed as one of the best comic-based opuses on a par with X-Men 1 and 2 and Hellboy.

Set in present-day New York City two years after events in the first Spider-Man film, the plot opens with the stressed-out Peter Parker's (Toby Maguire) struggles to pay the rent and make deadlines, simultaneously toiling at his pizza delivery job and at his freelance photography assignments for the Daily Bugle while studying fulltime at Columbia University. Peter Parker's heartthrob Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) by contrast, enjoys success modelling, and acting in a critically acclaimed classic play The Importance Of Being Ernest. A chance encounter with the now seldom-seen Mary Jane once more intensifies Peter's yearning for her, feelings that he thinks he must deny, in order to devote his life to a hero's responsibilities. Insult gets added to injury when Mary Jane reveals her plans to wed the famous astronaut John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), son of Daily Bugle boss J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).
Doc Ock before the accident Dr Octavius, at work - before his tragic accident...
Meanwhile, Peter's physics professor Dr Curt Connors (Dylan Baker) pressures his prize student to finish his paper on the brilliant physicist Dr Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) whom our protagonist idolises. Peter's friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), now chairs mega-corporation Oscorp since the death of his father (secretly the Green Goblin) two years ago at the hands of Spider-Man - told in the first film. Harry in his position heading Oscorp, sponsors Dr Octavius' research and invites the delighted Peter (of whose clandestine heroic identity Harry know nothing), to a heralded demonstration by the genius scientist.

At this event Dr Octavius unveils a complex apparatus designed to create infinite energy in a controlled fusion reaction. When the device goes unexpectedly haywire, generating an out-of-control miniature sun-like fireball, the accident causes damage to Octavius' quartet of artificially-intelligent, exo-skeletal arms designed to aid their wielder in handling dangerous material while harnessed to his body and wired directly into his nervous system. During the mayhem, these contraptions then get permanently fused into Octavius' brain, taking over his mind and transforming him into a psychopathic menace that a while later, media-meister J. Jonah Jameson dubs Dr Octopus. Peter, in the nick of time, appears as Spider-Man to pull the plug and abort an explosion that could have destroyed most of New York City, but does this too late to prevent the harm done to the physicist who flees into hiding.
behind the mask Spider-Man unmasked!
Harried to mental and physical exhaustion to the point of losing his uncanny powers, Peter finds some peace by discarding his Spider-Man garb and absorbing himself in mundane life, a short-lived interlude. At this point, Dr Octopus reconciles with Harry Osborne, devastated by the fusion-gone-wrong debacle and still seeking to avenge his father's death. The renegade scientist promises to deliver Spider-Man to Harry in exchange for the Oscorp head's exclusive supply of the rare tritium element needed to complete a new, resurrected experiment. To lure the superhero, Dr Octopus first threatens Peter's beloved, widowed Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), but this fails thanks to Spider-Man's heroics, capabilities restored by the stimulus of the danger to his sole, remaining relative. Dr Octopus then sets his sights on Mary Jane, precipitating a crisis that leads to an exciting and highly charged (pun intended) denouement.

Spider-Man 2 really dazzles with its perfect blend of human emotion and better than ever CGI-enhanced heroics, the protagonist's weird web-wrangling more dynamic and amazing than before. Likewise, the opponent's mechanical arms' dexterity and strength prove equally astonishing, worthy challenges to the hero, the successful effects due also to Molina's superb acting ability, giving the character torment and motivation to a degree greater than usual for villains in genre pictures. Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, J. Jonah Jameson, the newcomer John Jameson, Harry Osborne - all get great character moments in scenes full of resonant feelings and often, much wit. The film comes loaded with cameos and sly references to delight the geeks while not distracting from the main events.
Spider-Man versus Doc Ock Spidey wishes he'd caught the bus instead...
Memorable set-pieces include: Spider-Man rescuing Aunt May from Dr Octopus during a struggle on vertiginous walls of high buildings; Spider-Man versus Dr Octopus outside and inside a runaway, elevated train; Dr Octavius' arms taking over and wrecking a hospital operating room and attacking the medical team; J. Jonah Jameson's antics as Peter's volatile, penny-pinching boss (a dead-on performance by J.K. Simmons); Peter's maturation and depth as a character who makes his transitions from mundane angst to super-heroics believable; misty-eye-making bits with Aunt May and also with Mary Jane; two hilarious, brief encounters with an off-key street-singer warbling the tune from the original Spider-Man cartoon TV series; and the spectacular finale pitting Spider-Man against Dr Octopus.

Skilfully, Spider-Man 2 delivers everything any comicbook lover and genre cinemagoer could want, including another terrific score from Danny Elfman, while gilding the lily by containing many hints and plot threads setting-up more to come in 'Spider-Man 3' due out in another couple of years. It will be a long and impatient wait for another wonderful chance to get ensnared again in Spider-Man's web of excitement, thrills and sheer fun!
Spider-Man 2 poster

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