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Spider-Man 2 (2004)

This summer a man will face his destiny. A hero will be revealed

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 127 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: PG

Even if film franchises adapted from comic books have the advantage that their source material comes readymade in serial form, it is always difficult to carry off a successful sequel – which must be both similar enough to the previous film to remind viewers of what they liked first time round, but different enough to avoid the diminishing returns of pure repetition. Certainly 'Spider-Man 2' retreads all the themes of the first film – earnest, awkward Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), now in college, must learn once again about the responsibility that comes with power, struggle to find room in his webslinging schedule for a personal life, and defeat yet another mutated human enemy (Doc Ock, played by Alfred Molina) who is imperilling New York City and, more particularly, Peter's aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and best friend Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) – all of which is woven around the evolving soap opera of Peter's difficult relationship with Mary-Jane.

The team of screenwriters for 'Spiderman 2' has opted to go the way of 'Superman 2', unmasking our hero to his girl, and having him renounce his superpowers for a more ordinary life, only to return to the fray when he sees the consequences of his absence (a plot in fact as old as Homer's 'Iliad'). Yet 'Spider-Man 2' really works. For a start, still in the director's chair is Sam Raimi, who once again demonstrates an ability to craft excellent sequels, as he did with his 'Evil Dead' series (fans of which will be delighted by Bruce 'Ash' Campbell's hilarious cameo in 'Spider-Man 2' as an officious theatre usher).

The film strikes just the right balance between dizzying aerial action (with special effects and high-flying fisticuffs far more heart-stopping than in the original) and grounded human drama, so that we get to know the characters (even the villains) enough actually to empathise with what happens to them. Parker's superpowers may distinguish him from everyone else, but the film focusses far more on his human vulnerabilities, like losing his job, struggling to pay the rent, falling behind in university – and these failings and inner conflicts, far from disappearing whenever he dons his Spider-Man costume, continue to haunt him as he fights crime, even making him (temporarily, of course) lose his super mojo. Indeed, the costume itself brings its own set of comic problems, staining the rest of his clothes red at the local laundromat and causing him to complain of itching and tightness in the crotch. Such banal details bring Parker down to the earth that the rest of us inhabit, and suggest that his (and our) adventures in everyday life can be just as heroic as his acrobatic wrestles with Doc Ock.

Production on the first Spider-Man was completed before 9/11, but the film was released after that dark day, forcing a promotion campaign which had originally included an image of a giant web slung between the Twin Towers to be dropped at the last minute. ‘Spider-Man 2’ has been made in the full shadow of those events, and, unlike the capers of other crimed crusaders, is set in an undisguised New York, so Spidey’s exertions to save the Big Apple from untold destruction (with conspicuous emphasis on burning buildings and the rescue of people plummeting from skyscrapers) has a special resonance with a contemporary audience. At a time when the world needs exemplars of heroism (and ‘Hellboy’, ‘The Punisher’ and Catwoman are all coming out in this year), few cinematic heroes will prove as morally responsible, believably human, and just plain likeable, as Spider-Man. If, in the aftermath of terrorist destruction in New York, Fahrenheit 9/11 has exposed the venality, self-interest and incompetence of Bush and his administration and the supine spinelessness of the Democratic opposition, then ‘Spider-Man 2’ allows viewers to dream once again of a more decent, honourable, self-sacrificing alternative.”

It's Got: A modest, serious, yet goofy hero; a villain whose eight limbs and inner conflicts make him a close-fitting match for Spider-Man himself; a stylishly horrifying image (that is straight out of Dario Argento) of a screaming face reflected in the flying sherds of glass that are about to hit it; breath-taking stuntwork and special effects; some knowing humour (Aunt May throwing out Parkers dreadful comic books, an usher declaring "no-one will be seated after the doors are closed - it helps maintain the illusion", a busker singing the old Spider-Man song, and the question being raised of how much money the Spider-suit could make on e-bay).

It Needs: To be seen by the Bush administration (and is not James Francos character Harry Osborn - made rich and powerful on his fathers merits rather than his own and determined to carry out vengeance on his fathers behalf despite the destructive consequences - a sly mirror of Bush Jr?)


Superlative Spidey sequel, with a considered moral response to 9/11 that is distinctly lacking in America's political leadership.