Tobey Maguire returns as the mild-mannered Peter Parker, who is juggling the delicatebalance of his dual life as college student and asuperhuman crime fighter. Peter’s life becomes even more complicated when he confronts a new nemesis, the brilliant Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) whohas been reincarnated as the maniacal and multi-tentacled “Doc Ock.” When Doc Ock kidnaps MJ (Kirsten Dunst), “Spider-Man” must swing back into action as the adventure reaches new heights of unprecedented excitement.
More than a few critics hailed Spider-Man 2 as “the best superhero movie ever,” and there’s no compelling reason to argue—thanks to a bigger budget, better special effects, and a dynamic, character-driven plot, it’s a notch above Spider-Man in terms of emotional depth and rich comic-book sensibility. Ordinary People Oscar®-winner Alvin Sargent received screenplay credit, and celebrated author and comic-book expert Michael Chabon worked on the story, but it’s director Sam Raimi’s affinity for the material that brings Spidey 2 to vivid life. When a fusion experiment goes terribly wrong, a brilliant physicist (Alfred Molina) is turned into Spidey’s newest nemesis, the deranged, mechanically tentacled “Doctor Octopus,” obsessed with completing his experiment and killing Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) in the process. Even more compelling is Peter Parker’s urgent dilemma: continue his burdensome, lonely life of crime-fighting as Spider-Man, or pursue love and happiness with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst)? Molina’s outstanding as a tragic villain controlled by his own invention, and the action sequences are nothing less than breathtaking, but the real success of Spider-Man 2 is its sense of priorities. With all of Hollywood’s biggest and best toys at his disposal, Raimi and his writers stay true to the Marvel mythology, honoring Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and setting the bar impressively high for the challenge of Spider-Man 3. —Jeff Shannon
Barnes and Noble
Another of those infrequent sequels that just might be better than the original, Spider-Man 2 not only offers a surfeit of spectacular action sequences but also advances the first film’s romantic subplot and continues to develop its principal characters. In Tobey Maguire, director Sam Raimi has a soulful young actor perfectly suited to convey the angst of the crusading superhero Spider-Man—honor bound to serve humanity, yet deeply resentful that this responsibility exacts an onerous toll on his personal life. As the film opens, Peter Parker (Maguire) is struggling to keep up with both his college studies and his part-time job as a freelance photographer, while fighting crime as Spider-Man. His old flame, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), now a successful model and actress, still has feelings for Peter—but he holds her at arm’s length, fearful of engaging in a romance that could end tragically if his enemies learn of their relationship. And then there’s his best pal, Harry Osborn (James Franco), who blames Spider-Man for the death of his father and has vowed revenge, not knowing that Peter is actually the web-crawler he seeks. Over-the-top villainy is supplied by Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist who goes mad when mechanical tentacles become welded to his body in a laboratory accident. There’s enough plot for two movies, with the doctor’s depredations at times taking a backseat to the Peter/Harry/Mary Jane psychodrama. But Raimi is a proficient director, and he juggles the disparate story elements with admirable dexterity. The characters’ interplay gives Spider-Man 2 a third dimension that most comic-book movies could use: It’s fun to watch costumed combatants whaling the tar out of each other, but emotional underpinnings help make the physical conflicts more satisfying. As in the first film, Raimi and his special-effects team rely heavily on computer-generated imagery to give the fight scenes a larger-than-life quality. As a result, the sequel’s visuals are, if anything, even more sophisticated than those of the original. Spider-Man 2, however, should never be mistaken for eye candy; it’s an enormously satisfying adventure film for the kids that adults will find surprisingly affecting and enjoyable. Ed Hulse
What’s a woebegone wall-crawler to do? Arachnid-powered superteen Peter Parker’s all-too-human foibles are never far from the heart of director Sam Raimi’s second installment of the Spider-Man saga, giving it an emotional resonance that sets it smartly apart from its summer blockbuster competition. But while Raimi and star Toby McGuire help emotionally ground the film, its stunning CGI effects—and this robust, aggressive orchestral score by Danny Elfman—insure we never forget this is no mere soap opera. The composer returns with a vengeance to the…