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July 2004
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Remembrance Through Memorable Statements: America, in Mourning, Looks at the Death of Three Icons


Linklater, Hawke and Delpy Still Have Magic Chemistry


Porter's Great Music Remembered in
De-Loving Biopic


Ferrell Goes All Out to Bring You the News


The Emperor Has No Clothes: 'Napoleon Dynamite' Not Even an Indie Firecracker

This Sequel's Spidey Senses are Tingling
 
 
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This Sequel’s Spidey Senses are Tingling
 
by Jeremy Mathews
 

“Spider-Man 2”
Columbia Pictures
Directed by Sam Raimi
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent
Produced by Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Banks, Rosemary Harris, Bruce Campbell, J.K. Simmons and Vanessa Ferlito

Rated PG-13

(out of four)

If holding down a job and going to college is taxing on the system, imagine being a superhero as well. “Spider-Man 2” studies the life of a crime-fighting man in his uncertainties and insecurities. Here’s a film in which a decline in powers doesn’t necessarily mean a kryptonite equivalent is around, but that the hero might be tired and doubtful that the personal sacrifices he makes to use his powers are worthwhile.

Director Sam Raimi has improved on every aspect of his first “Spider-Man,” bringing more conflict to the life of Peter Parker, played perfectly by Tobey Maguire, and making the action scenes as entertaining as the regular-life end of the story. Raimi has proved to be a master of pace with films like “A Simple Plan,” and here he constructs a journey with tight propulsion and flawless set pieces. With films like this and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” this summer is looking to be one in which summer films have been made properly.

Rather than being a simple special effects marvel, Spider-Man is relatable to everybody. Peter can’t hold down a job, even when using his web-slinging abilities to fly through the city in an attempt to deliver a pizza on time. He doesn’t get his homework done and only sees his professor when he’s leaving the class that he thinks he’s supposed to be entering. His eyes are red, and his reputation among his professors is of being brilliant but lazy.

 
  James Franco, who has the distinction of being a member of the cast of "Freaks and Geeks," plays Harry, who hates Spider-Man for killing his father. Little does he know that his father was…insane!

He doesn’t even remember his own birthday when his aunt (Rosemary Harris) and two best friends, perfect woman Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry Osborn (James Franco) throw him a surprise party. Peter can’t keep his life together, and knows he can’t start a relationship with pretty Mary Jane because of the dangers that come with superherodom.

Things are even more messed up between Peter and Harry, because Harry hates Spider-Man since he killed his father, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, in the last film. Peter’s only steady income comes from selling pictures of himself in costume to the Daily Bugle, whose editor (J.K. Simmons) prides himself on libeling the hero and painting him as a menace.

Maguire proves himself the ultimate Spider-Man in his physical ability to pull off the action scenes while also coming off as the good-natured, clumsy Peter Parker. Here’s a man suffering from overworking himself, and he can’t even tell his friends why, because he’d sacrifice his secret identity. He neglects the things he cares most about, like Mary Jane and her blossoming stage career (in “The Importance of Being Earnest”), because whenever cop cars go racing by, he has to change clothes and help out.

He finds guidance in the person who becomes the film’s villain, a brilliant and moral scientist-turned madman with four long, metal tentacles, known as Doc Ock after the scientific tools permanently attach to his body and take control of his brain. (“What are the odds of a guy named Otto Octavius ending up with eight limbs?”) Alfred Molina plays the character as a man who lets his originally noble ambitions overtake his high moral code.

Visually, Raimi and cinematographer Bill Pope create the perfect look for the story. As Peter Parker gets off to a running start to jump from one roof to another, the compositions are the same a comic book might use as a series of drawings to show a long run. These comic recollections include low angles and extreme close-ups like the characters’ eyes, Sergio Leone-style. When many action films substitute fast cuts for excitement, Raimi and editor Bob Murawski keep a strong sense of place and time without losing any excitement.

Raimi also accomplishes several clever and excellently executed physical comedy elements. A particularly strong gag involves Peter’s inability to pick up a fancy appetizer or drink at a social party he’s photographing. In another, Spider-Man has to take the elevator when his powers don’t work and in a long, static take (a rarity in modern action films), has an uncomfortable conversation about his “costume” with the other man in the elevator. As much care has gone into the setup and payoff of these comic reflections on everyday life as in the exciting action sequences.

 
  Tobey Maguire thinks Kirsten Dunst is hot. Uh, we mean their characters.

The action and dramatic elements meld nicely into one cohesive film, partly due to the improved special effects. The first film’s computer animation had no weight or gravity, and floated across the screen in gratuitous web-slinging scenes. This time, the technology is much better, as leanings and twistings seem to play a part in the control of schnazzy spider-like abilities (not that spiders can fly or skillfully swing from fast-shooting web string that can also be thrown at bad guys, but hey, they don’t have cool red costumes either). Even in a scene in which Doc Ock and Spider-Man fight while falling off a building, the hits and maneuvers are clear.

By succeeding in making all aspects of the film so strong, Raimi has reinvented the franchise he started, although its future installments may be at risk. An extra scene towards the end seems to only exist to put the sequel in play, and while it doesn’t hurt the film’s standalone capabilities, future films of the franchise aren’t likely to live up to this one’s quality, especially when considering that much of the tension has been resolved. Superhero movies with this one’s combination of action and personal stories aren’t easy to recreate.

jeremy@red-mag.com

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