Spider-Man 2
***.7 GM
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, J.K. Simmons, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, Daniel Gillies, Donna Murphy

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BIAS ALERT: The prerequisite announcement that yes, I am a comic book nerd, and therefore I'm inclined to inflate or deflate my ratings of comic book nerd movies based on how happy or aggravated I am by the adaptations. Although it seems everyone in the universe (except a couple of people over at Amazing Colossal, natch [hah! I said 'natch!' I never say 'natch!']} dug on the first Spidey flick, so I suppose I shouldn't have to include this. Spidey lets everyone indulge their nerd tendencies, which should be done more often.

So, Spidey 2 has a lot to live up to, what with the first one being the cash-cow Cain Marko that it was. Luckily for us, it raises the bar and manages to nudge itself over the top of the original. One of the few sequels to EVER manage that feat.

Let's get down to brass tacks, ladies and germs. The story thus far: Peter Parker's still going to college, but he's finding life as a superhero completely fucking up his personal life. He can't keep a job, he can't make it to his classes, he can't pay his rent and neither can his Aunt May. His friends rarely see him, but when they do, Harry Osborn's giving him shit about being friends with 'the bug' what killed his pappy, or so he thinks, and the love of his life, the LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, Mary Jane Watson, thinks he's a total flake spazz, but somehow still harbors feelings for him, despite dating the astronaut son of J. Jonah Jameson. The more frustrated he gets with his life, the worse he feels, until suddenly his spider-powers start shorting out at really unpleasant times - a swan dive in the middle of a webswing onto some ventilation ducts is NOT a pleasant thing to see. Meanwhile, Peter's science-world idol and term paper subject, one OTTO FUCKING OCTAVIUS, BABY, is whipping together a fusion-based energy system for the good of mankind, with the help of some schmancy mechanical arms he needs to manipulate the dangerouns environment required for the self-sustaining tritium reaction. In other words, SCIENCE! Unfortunately, Otto blinds himself with said science, the experiment goes horribly awry, fusing the metal arms to Otto's spine and creating a veritable monster out of the good doctor - although it doesn't help that he lost his wife and life's work in the accident. Otto, hilariously dubbed "Doctor Octopus" by JJJ once Ock escapes custody, and his obsessive desire to recreate his dream project leads to conflicts with Spidey, who is in turn going crazy trying to figure out if he has to be miserable all his life to keep his word to Uncle Ben, and giving all sorts of mixed signals to MJ, who's giving lots of 'em back. Plus, Harry's getting drunk a lot and surly.

LOTS more stuff going down in this issue, Mighty Marvelites! Drama, intrigue, angst, woe, crazy-ass action! It feels like there's a lot more attention given to Peter Parker than to Spider-Man, storywise, and it makes for a reasonably compelling saga. This isn't a fantasy happy-time tale - this is what it would be like if some poor bastard magically got superpowers and tried to fit being a vigilante hero-boy into his hectic daily life - if he felt COMPELLED to drop what he was doing and put on tights and swing around the city whenever he heard so much as a siren. Peter just gets bum break after bum break until it feels like he'd rather just be kicked repeatedly in the nards (Spider-Man's got nards!) instead.

What's REALLY improved are the special effects, since they obviously had a bigger budget for this one. The webswinging is MUCH more believable and breathtaking, and the fight sequences between Ock and Spidey are lightning-quick and so well-rendered that you can't always tell when actors end and computers begin. THAT'S what's really going to send people out of the theaters with 'wows' on their lips. Or maybe 'hot damns.' Perhaps 'hotchee-wawas.'

J.K. Simmons once again steals the show with his J. Jonah Jameson - I love this guy. There can never be too much of him in any of these films. James Franco steps it up a notch as the deteriorating Harry Osborn (which is good, because he was a notch behind in the last movie). There's something about Kirsten Dunst that's strange - she's got an odd face that's beautiful when she's smiling, but looks a bit off when she isn't - but her wedding-dress jog-a-thon really felt like a Mary Jane Watson moment. Alfred Molina is just dead-on perfect as Doc Ock. Looks the part completely, and is just a blast to watch doing his thing. "You've stuck your webs into my business one too many times!" will be this film's "WE'LL MEET AGAIN, SPIDER-MAN!" nod to classic supervillainy.

If there's any trouble I have with the film, it'd probably be the fact that maybe a full fifth of it is just a close-up on Tobey Maguire's blank stare. Don't get me wrong, the guy does an admirable job playing Peter for the most part, but there are times when I'm dying for SOME sort of facial expression. Smirk, damn you! Sneer a little! Wisecrack, why don't you? I've seen the film twice now, and the second viewing, one notices the slower bits a bit more acutely (although admittedly it was a vastly different audience - much smaller, less of that infectious nerd-movie giddiness that tends to pump you up), but that could have been helped by just a LITTLE more oomph out of Maguire's performance at certain point throughout. Although, when he finally starts screaming his head off trying to stop that train, it feels a lot more intense.

My theory is that Peter hasn't been the happy-go-lucky wallcrawler we know and love because he's been so angst-ridden and unhappy for most of the first two movies, and now that he's got a dab of happiness by the end of this one, MAYBE Part The Third will have a lot more snappy patter. SNAPPY PATTER! MY KINGDOM FOR SOME MORE SNAPPY PATTER! I'm also gunning for MJ to have a Gwen Stacy pulled on her, what with Dunst saying she's leaving after the third one. It'd make sense, and have perhaps the same sort of effect that Gwen's death did in the comics at the time (it'd been compared to what it would have been like killing off Lois Lane). We've got Doc Curt Connors all lined up to be the Lizard. All we need is some Mysterio action. Maybe a little Shocker. ELECTRO, baby. Let's just agree to try to avoid the whole Venom-style crap for as long as we can.

Aunt May even has a good treatise on heroism in here. Spider-Man never made any phat cash savin' the world from Rhino and Blacklash... and sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him.

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