SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004). Director: Sam Raimi.
The sequel to Spider-Man is superior to the first film, being made of equal parts action and sentiment, and with – believe it or not -- a subtext of personal responsibility vs. freedom of choice. When Peter Parker realizes that his dual role as Spider-Man is playing havoc with his life (especially his love life) he gets rid of the uniform and vows never to play hero again. [This happened more than once in the comic books, usually at a time of great angst and disappointment, if not worse, for our hero.] His powers, especially his ability to create webs to swing around on [in the comics he uses a device to create webs; it is not an organic power], cuts out on him at inopportune moments due to his mixed emotions over being Spider-Man. Spider-Man recognizes that sometimes “you have to give up your dream” to do the right thing and sets out to fully regain his spider-like abilities. The climax is a thrilling all-out battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus (an excellent Alfred Molina) that features an eye-popping, harrowing conflict on a runaway elevated subway train. The film even manages to be moving at times (the music doesn't hurt), although to many viewers it may only seem on a sappy, Hallmark greeting card level. The screenplay has its dopey and outrageously contrived moments. Determined not to be a hero, Peter walks by an alley where several toughs are beating up one man, and, while troubled, keeps on walking. Surely it's possible for him to come to someone's rescue without dressing up in an ostentatious outfit! Later, he confesses to his Aunt May that he didn't bother to stop the criminal who later murdered her husband. Surely his aunt, who is unaware of his Spider-Man powers, would have told him that if he'd tried to stop the man he would only have been shot just like his uncle was. Still, this is not quite as maddeningly juvenile or idiotic as many other super-hero films. In fact, it's quite entertaining, although certainly not for everyone. The FX are generally excellent and exciting, although there are times when Spider-Man just seems to be an unreal cartoon figure hurtling through the sky. Tobey Maguire (Peter/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), and James Franco (Norm Osborne Jr.) are all quite good, as is the rest of the supporting cast.
Verdict: Web-swingin' fun. ***1/2.