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Review: 'Spider-Man 2' one for the ages

Film surpasses original in many ways

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man in "Spider-Man 2."
Stan Lee
Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst

(CNN) -- "Spider-Man 2" joins "Shrek 2" as a 2004 blockbuster sequel that's every bit as good -- if not better -- than the original.

Two great sequels in one summer. No mean feat, that.

In the new "Spider-Man," two years have passed since Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) walked away from his true love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and decided to take the road of responsibility as Spider-Man. But he's finding the burden of being a superhero more than he bargained for, and things have reached a crisis.

Parker is trying to hold down a job as a pizza delivery guy, remain a full-time student at Columbia University, keep his feelings for Mary Jane at bay, and still be the Spider-Man on whom everyone has come to depend. Talk about a tough job.

This mild-mannered, Average Joe quality is what makes this particular superhero so accessible to fans, and director Sam Raimi -- along with numerous screenwriters, including Alvin Sargent (who won Academy Awards for his screenplays for 1977's"Julia" 1980's "Ordinary People") -- underscore Parker's ordinary-guy persona every chance they get.

Parker isn't the only character audiences can relate to. Even the villain this time out -- Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) -- is a reluctant bad guy with everyman qualities. Molina, who starts out a promising scientist involved in an experiment gone wrong, is great in the role of "Doc Ock."

Having a well-rounded villain makes the story, and the dilemmas suffered by our protagonist, more plausible than, say, the comic book plots in other films, even the "Batman" or the "X-Men" series. Let's not even mention "Daredevil."

(OK, giant steel arms growing out of Octavius' back is a far cry from plausible -- but this is based on a comic book.)

Great runaway train, Spider-Man!

While upping the emotional ante, Raimi has not forgotten that action is king in a summer movie, and there are plenty of razzle-dazzle, heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping action sequences. Indeed, a scene featuring runaway subway cars is the best use of a train in an action sequence I've seen since "The Fugitive."

James Franco is back as Peter's best friend, Harry Osborn, who's still nursing a grudge against Spider-Man for killing his father (Willem Dafoe), aka the Green Goblin, in the original film. His seething anger is pitch perfect. (Perhaps Franco is remembering that he auditioned for the role of Peter Parker and lost out to Maguire.)

Doc Ock
Alfred Molina plays "Spider-Man 2's" villain, Dr. Otto Octavius, who becomes Doctor Octopus.

Rosemary Harris also returns as Peter's Aunt May, and her role is more active than it was in her first outing.

J.K. Simmons continues to be a hoot, playing Peter's cigar-chomping, scenery-chewing boss at the Daily Bugle newspaper, where Peter's claim to fame is his ability to capture Spider-Man on film. It's never made clear how Peter can fly through the air as Spider-Man while taking his own pictures at the same time, but whatever.

(Editor's note: Several readers have since written in to say Parker uses timers or remote controls on his cameras, which are set up in advance of his Spidey derring-do.)

"Spider-Man 2" is faithful to the spirit of Stan Lee's invention and the Marvel comics that made this action hero so beloved. Thanks to this terrific film, the bar has been set high for Part Three -- scheduled for a theater near you in 2007.

"Spider-Man 2" opens nationwide on Wednesday, June 30.

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