Spiderman 2 (PG)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Reviewed by Tim Kopp

Improving upon its predecessor in almost every aspect, Spiderman 2 successfully strikes a balance between strong characterisation and riveting action set-pieces. Mediocre score and some overly expository scenes aside, the film is a resounding success. (****1/2 out of five)

Some time has passed since the events of the first film, and Peter Parker struggles to cope with the dual challenge of leading a normal life as a university student and part-time worker, and, as his secret alter ego Spider-Man, to fight crime. His relationship with his girlfriend Mary-Jane also suffers since he is too concerned for her safety to tell her the truth about his double life. His friend Harry Osborne, bent on revenge after Spiderman killed his father, introduces Parker to the scientist Doctor Octavius who experiments with nuclear energy. The demonstration ends disastrously with Octavius’ transformation into the mad Doctor Octopus who, in his quest to restart and finish the experiment, begins to cause mayhem in the city. Peter not only has to stop him but also to regain the trust of Mary-Jane while Harry continues to question him over Spiderman’s whereabouts.

Already an unqualified success in the US and expected to do equally well overseas, Spiderman 2 earns and deserves wide recognition by building on, and nearly perfecting its solid predecessor’s blend of comic-book action and wide-ranging reflections on self-belief, torn identities and the need to accept one’s responsibilities. The sequel further delves into this right from the start when fighting crime has become so demanding and time-consuming that Peter has started to neglect his academic work and is fired from his job as a pizza delivery boy.

The opening draws you in immediately with its frenzied pace, while its well-judged balance of humour and introspection sets the tone for the whole proceedings. Spiderman 2 is suffused from start to finish with melancholy moments of its characters scrutinising themselves and contemplating their future, searching for answers about what they are meant to be. That is true of Peter/Spiderman and Mary-Jane as well as Harry Osborne and Doctor Octopus, yet it is not only the inward-looking nature of its characters that distinguishes Raimi’s film, but also the courageous decision to devote a big chunk of the plot to character scenes: for a blockbuster, and a summer film in particular, there are surprisingly few action set-pieces in Spiderman 2 but what there is on offer is all the more ferocious in its impact and absolutely thrilling to watch: whereas other films like Singer’s X-Men 2 peak too early (Nightcrawler’s White House invasion being that picture’s standout action sequence), Raimi succeeds admirably in giving each big set-piece its own resonance (including a nod to his Evil Dead days) and making them all equally powerful. To that end, he gets vital support from the cast: there is wonderful chemistry between Dunst and Maguire whose scenes together are some of the picture’s most poignant and touching, while Alfred Molina’s terrific Doctor Octopus is a vast improvement on Willem Dafoe’s dire Green Goblin from the first film.

The subplot involving Osborne’s son and his hatred of Spiderman is the least engaging storyline but its presence is justifiable in that it mirrors Spiderman’s own identity crisis, and sets up events for the third film. That aside, Elfman’s music is unmemorable, and very occasionally, narrative momentum falters during stretches of too expository scenes. Altogether though, the picture stands as a remarkable triple achievement: a sequel superior to the original, a splendid summer blockbuster, and the finest superhero film in years.