Wednesday, June 30, 2004

This 'Spider-Man' spins a fine yarn

Movie review

By Margaret A. McGurk
Enquirer staff writer

Tobey Maguire is back as Spider-Man in the sequel, which opens today.
Sony Pictures
Something wonderful happens in Spider-Man 2.

The adventures of a comic book superhero evolve from a bright popcorn flick into a fable as thrilling and heartfelt as Star Wars.

Everything works in this movie. Director Sam Raimi and company achieve a rare alchemy of plot, characters, action and special effects, with magical results. Yes, it's a high-tech, high-dollar studio blockbuster, but it feels like a labor of love.

Raimi and his terrific crew pay visual homage to the tale's origins as a beloved Marvel Comics series. But equally important is the spirit of the web-spinner's saga about a regular guy struggling with his destiny.

Spider-Man may possess awesome powers, but Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) lives in the real world where college students scramble to balance work, school, family and friends.

In Spider-Man 2, superhero-hood costs Peter his job, threatens his grades, undermines his friendships and torpedoes his chance to win back the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

10 out of 10

(PG-13 for stylized action violence) Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina. Directed by Sam Raimi. 127 minutes. AMC Newport, Great Escape 14, Midway Bethel, National Amusements, Oakley Drive-In, Princess Oxford, Rave West Chester, Showplace 8, Starlite Drive-In.

James Franco makes a fine appearance as Harry Osborn, Peter's best friend and former M.J. suitor, now burning with the hunger to punish Spider-Man for killing his father - who, unbeknownst to Harry, was the evil Green Goblin. His suffering makes Peter even more tempted to walk away from his crime-fighting chores.

As the love-lorn couple, Maguire and Dunst strike deep chords of sadness and desire. Their poignant relationship is as important to the success of the movie as the hero's showdown with the villain.

And a most excellent villain he is, too, in the person of Otto Octavius/Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist driven mad by an accident that fuses huge mechanical tentacles to his body. His affliction makes Doc Ock a foe who is both pitiable and scary. He is big and bad and a true threat to Spider-Man. When these two fight, the outcome is always in question.

The stunts, special effects and action scenes are outstanding, more fluid and realistic than in the first film, and choreographed to add more than mere sensation to the story.

One sequence in particular illustrates how intelligently Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent sculpt the action.

The set-up is as old as movies: Ock and Spidey battle ferociously on top of a speeding commuter train. Here, it looks entirely fresh, staged with the precision and excitement of a trapeze act.

Even better, the fight concludes with a quiet, remarkable scene that becomes a critical turning point in the story. In that moment of high drama, as graceful as a kiss, the battle is about heroism, not just brute strength.

The filmmakers understand that deep down, the Spider-Man story is about those profound matters that humans have always entrusted to fairy tales and parables and folklore.

Justice, honor, honesty, responsibility - this is what the real battles are about.

Plenty of superhero movies go through the motions, but in Spider-Man 2 we have the real thing.

Let's hear it for the boy.


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