Fans and critics alike were so eager for a Spider-Man film that
perhaps they were a bit too laudatory in their assessment of Sam
Raimi’s (“Evil Dead”) treatment of the classic
comic book. But with “Spider-Man 2,” the
highly-anticipated sequel to 2002’s well-received adaptation,
whatever superlatives are showered on the film are justified.

Film Reviews
Stare deeply into my poor dialogue. (Courtesy of Sony)

Converting comic-books to movies is a delicate operation.
Filmmakers must sift through decades of back-story, choose from
dozens of outlandish villains and remain true to the hero’s
core principles and character. Purists must be appeased with the
inclusion of minute details — fans protested the first
Spider-Man because he didn’t use mechanical web-shooters
— while the story is streamlined and made accessible for
mainstream audiences. And since nearly every
comic-book-turned-movie is intended to function as a franchise,
filmmakers have to maintain the open-ended, serialized feel of a
comic book without presenting audiences with an incomplete
story.

Of course, thorough characterization and quality plot
development have to fit in somewhere.When directors half-ass the
conversion process, viewers are left with such cinematic waste as
the Batman franchise.

Film sequels can have a slight advantage over one-shot ventures
because, in terms of publicity and experience, they hit the ground
running: Once director Bryan Singer worked the bugs out of the
filmmaking process, “X-2: X-Men United” showed a vast
improvement over the first X-Men movie.

The makers of “Spider-Man 2” learned quickly,
building off the positive aspects of the original while dropping
many of the negatives. The special effects have tightened up, and
the rooftop web-swinging looks much more realistic. The more
organic look of Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina, “Coffee and
Cigarettes”) replaces the detestable Green Goblin (William
Dafoe, “Finding Nemo”) of the original. The kinetic,
fast-paced fight scenes exilhirate audiences.

During the opening credit sequence (animated by famous comics
artist Alex Ross), the key elements of the first movie are
refreshed, and the film shows the train wreck that has become Peter
Parker’s (Tobey Maguire, ‘Seabiscuit’) life.
Peter is constantly on the cusp of unemployment and eviction, all
while flunking out of college and slowly running out of friends.
Anxiety from his civilian life is causing performance problems as
Spider-Man, while his association with Spider-Man alienates those
around him. All this leads Parker to question his raison
d’etre as New York City’s web-slinging protector.

Hollywood drama and grandstanding be damned, it’s a good
move for everybody that Tobey Maguire reprised his role as
Spider-Man. His everyman pathos is the key to this franchise, and
his performance is something that can easily be taken for granted
in a film where the whole can seem much greater than the sum of its
parts. J.K. Simmons (“The Ladykillers”) is an absolute
scene stealer as irascible newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson, and
Aunt May (Rosemary Harris, “The Gift”) is given
touching emotional relevance in Peter’s life.

With a lot of early adolescent angst behind it,
“Spider-Man 2” captures the true essence of
Maguire’s character better than the first film. Director
Raimi portrays Peter as a perpetual loser-cum-common man who just
happens to be a wisecracking super-hero as well. Happily, for
“Evil Dead” fans, cult hero Bruce Campbell gets
considerably more screen time, and Raimi has fun with his horror
origins. Raimi makes sure to capture the oft-overlooked humanism of
New Yorkers as the city’s people defend the vigilante
Spider-Man from a villain yet again.

Maybe even more so than the “Lord of the Rings”
trilogy, this new installment of the Spider-Man franchise
represents a new benchmark in filmmaking adapted from literature.
In-jokes and specific references abound to keep fanboys happy
— Spidey creator Stan Lee even makes a cameo. For everyone
else “Spider-Man 2” provides dramatic, exilhirating
movie magic that appeals to diverse audiences — and a film
like that is pretty hard to find.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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