In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) gives up on love and dedicates his life to fighting crime, but he isn’t quite done negotiating that existential rift between Spider and Man. A working model and actress, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) gives Peter the opportunity to love her, but loving her back means revealing his identity and putting her in potential danger. Under such stress, most people would lose their hair—Peter, on the other hand, begins to lose his Spidey senses. Like Spider-Man before it, Spider-Man 2 is a superhero flick bursting at the seams with big emotions. From his editor at the Daily Bugle to the wait staff at a planetarium party, it seems like the entire world is out to squash Peter and his alter ego. More so than director Sam Raimi’s nostalgic, comic-book aesthetic and the rip-roaring set pieces that pit Spider-Man against Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), Maguire’s perpetually bloodshot eyes are the stars of this show. Maguire has never been better than he is here, and the game of stunted love he plays with Dunst is not only emotionally resonant but wittily paralleled at every turn with a performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. One could argue that there is too much earnestness on display here—not only are M.J. and Peter dealing with emotional baggage of considerable heft, but so are Dr. Ock, May Parker (Rosemary Harris), and Harry Osborn (a wasted James Franco, arguably the film’s deadweight)—but Raimi knows how to balance a closeted Spidey’s out-damned-spot existential crisis with moments of exhilarating humor and breathless visual flair. Opponents of the first film’s computer animation seem to forget that people in real life can’t swing from buildings, and as such I’m sure they’ll find something to complain about here. So if they find the film’s CGI Spider-Man a little gawky, I doubt they’ll have problems with Dr. Ock’s fabulous tentacles, which take on a life of their own whenever the mad scientist flips out. Dr. Ock himself remains somewhat of a cipher, but screenwriter Alvin Sargent does a remarkable job paralleling the man’s identity crisis with Peter’s own. There’s a beautiful scene in Spider-Man 2 where Maguire’s superhero forgets he isn’t wearing his mask. Tired from having to hide his identity, this accidental nakedness reveals to him the honesty of the world around him. If you get a sense that everyone in Spider-Man’s close circle knows his true identity, you also get the impression that they’re not going to tell him they’re on to him until he comes to grips with the truth himself.
- Sam Raimi
- Michael Chabon, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Alvin Sargent
- Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alred Molina, James Franco, Elizabeth Banks, Bruce Campbell, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Vanessa Ferlito
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