- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Watching the hotly anticipated sequel “Spider-Man 2” feels like deja vu, not for the 2002 screen adaptation of the popular Marvel Comics superhero, but for the sequel to 1978’s high-flying “Superman.”

Not bad source material to swipe from, since many declared 1980’s “Superman 2” superior to the original.

The same claim, however, can’t be made here.

Like with the second “Superman” installment, the new “Spider-Man” sequel deepens the romance between its protagonists; in this case Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). The film also similarly finds Peter turning his back on his powers only to reconsider after an inspiring flashback from a father figure.

“Superman 2,” on the other hand, sweetened the superhero pot by introducing three Krypton baddies for the Man of Steel to vanquish.

The thorn in Spider-Man’s side here is the tentacled Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina) — though their clashes prove infrequent, unsatisfying and oh, so computer-generated.

Bravo to director Sam Raimi for insisting on flesh and blood characters. But we line up to see superhero films for the slam-bang action, not the emotional epiphanies.

It’s been two years since we last left a heartbroken Peter Parker and his life hasn’t gotten any better.

He can’t hold down a simple job like delivering pizzas. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), his dyspeptic editor at the Daily Bugle, won’t cut him a break. His Aunt May is on the brink of bankruptcy. And Mary Jane won’t even return his calls, since he keeps standing her up to fight one crime or another.

It’s enough to drive a Spider-Man up a wall.

The clouds brighten, but only for a moment, when his buddy Harry (James Franco) sets Peter up for an interview with Dr. Otto Octavius to help him complete his research paper.

Even that goes awry when the doctor’s latest experiment becomes a full-scale meltdown. The subsequent blast fuses to his body a quartet of metallic arms he had strapped on to help him handle dangerous materials. The blast simultaneously pushes his brain to “crazy villain” mode.

Now Peter has to decide whether to square off with “Doc Ock,” try to woo M.J. one last time or trash his Spider-Man uniform and get on with his life.

What’s a guy to do?

“Spider-Man 2” is the rare sequel where the action sequences take a back seat to character development. The Peter/M.J. romance reaches some major milestones here, all given considerable pathos by both Mr. Maguire and Miss Dunst.

We never tire of Mr. Maguire gazing at M.J. with those watery eyes, the words to win her stalled on his lips.

Audiences are gonna want a comic book smack down at some point, though, and Mr. Raimi doesn’t deliver.

The “Evil Dead” director remains the ideal artist to bring this pulpy saga to life. Yet he cradles the source material like a newborn. Perhaps he’s become too close to the saga.

He may also have caught a case of George Lucas syndrome: falling madly in love with computer-generated effects to the detriment of storytelling. Parts of “Spider-Man 2” would make a great PlayStation game, but on screen the super-skirmishes are a wash of digitized confusion.

Mr. Molina brings welcome depth to the Doc Ock role, but can’t quite overcome the massive amount of ones and zeroes needed to bring those four new arms to life.

The director also jams the film with some extreme, and unnecessarily violent moments, a shame since few parents will be able to dissuade their children from watching the film either now or on home video.

It’s impossible for “Spider-Man 2” to replicate the wonders of the first film adaptation from just two years ago. By intensifying the interpersonal drama without supplying the pow, bang or zoom of the comics, “Spider-Man 2” only gets a sequel’s mission half right.


WHAT: “Spider-Man 2”

RATING: PG:13 (Violence, a disturbing sequence in an operating room)

CREDITS: Directed by Sam Raimi. Screenplay by Alvin Sargent based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Visual effects designed by John Dykstra.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

WEB SITE: www.spiderman.sonypictures.com/


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