Spiderman 2 an enormous improvement over original

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 2, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Want a quick plot synopsis of the new action flick Spiderman 2? Here you go: Peter Parker is a lonely, introverted college student who secretly lusts after galpal Mary Jane Watson, who, like everyone else in town, is unaware that Parker masks the guise of local webslinging crimefighter Spiderman. Later on, one of the town’s most well-known scientists gets driven psycho with power by his own experiment, and goes on a killing and wrecking spree, forcing Parker to don his skin-tight red and blue suit and take on the new villain, risking not only his life, but his identity as well.

Right now, you’re probably thinking, &uot;Hey, wait a minute. That’s exactly what happened the first time we were here!&uot; Well, you’re right. But this time, the sequel has learned from the mistakes made the first time around.

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To begin with, the storyline here is much more straightforward than before. Again, Tobey Maguire is Parker, whose life is going nowhere fast. He’s just been fired as a pizza delivery boy, and is on the verge of being let go by the local newspaper. He’s living in a dungy apartment without his own bathroom, with the city ticked at his alter ego for killing local entrepreneur Norman Osborne, a.k.a. the Green Goblin. Mary Jane (once again played by the ever-reliable Kirsten Dunst) is a perfume model and stage actress, and, once again, Parker just can’t (won’t, doesn’t, what’s the difference?) let her know how he feels.

The first film tried to have it both ways – it never really decided whether to be an adult-oriented action flick (in the tradition of &uot;Batman&uot;) or a warp-speed comic romp filled with special effects and snappy dialogue (like with &uot;Mystery Men&uot;).

That brings us to the second improvement about this sequel; it is absolutely peppered with hysterically funny one-liners and sight gags that keep the picture moving between brawls (the scene with Spiderman in the elevator is hysterical, as is J.K. Simmons’ return turn as newspaper boss J. Jonah Jameson, who’s even more full of insults and turn-on-a-dime opinions that he was before).

We’ve also got a better villain to work with, as Alfred Molina’s turn as Dr. Otto Octavius (better known as Doc Ock) is much more effective than was Willem Dafoe’s Goblin. It’s not necessarily that Molina is a better actor than Dafoe – he’s just got a better character to play. Ock has invented a set of iron tentacles that stretch out from his upper back, controlled by his cerebellum. As before, his attempt to display them to the public goes tragically wrong, and he ends up using his powers for the greater bad.

With Osbourn’s Goblin, we had to spend far too much time listening to the complex battles between good and evil that raged inside him; here, we understand quickly what Ock’s so ticked about, and we understand and accept it enough to get the show on the road – and it goes like a freight train with the brakes sliced, especially during the Spidey vs. Ock slugfests up and down the sides of buildings and a subway.

The flick’s special effects, cartoonish before, are so well-done that we forget that they’re not 100 percent real.

Over on the sideline subplots, we get Norman’s son Harry (James Franco), who’s still upset with Spiderman for icing his pappy. Mary Jane’s in a romance with Jameson’s son John (altho-ugh a certain recreated upside-down kiss lets us know that she hasn’t quite forgotten an older sweetheart). Parker’s beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) gets a great deal more character developmental time than before (her speech to Parker about why heroes are so important is something the film couldn’t have done without), and even old Uncle Ben pops back in to let us know that &uot;With great power comes great responsibility&uot; still applies. No one gets too much screen time, and it works very well.

It’s rare that a sequel so outdoes it predecessor, but that’s what happens here. This film takes us where the first one didn’t know to go. It’s got humor, special effects, non-stop action, and even a heart – all too rare in action films today. If the third time is a charm (and there’s going to be another go-round, as the last minutes of this flick make clear), it’ll be hard-pressed to outdo Part Two.

Grade: B+