Slight tingling sensation

Installment two in Spider-Man franchise delivers well enough

SAY, “UNCLE” Tobey Maguire is <i>the</i> Spider-Man, and it’s a safe bet that those rock-hard abs will be enough to bust him out of Dr. Octopus’ evil straightjacket.

SAY, “UNCLE” Tobey Maguire is the Spider-Man, and it’s a safe bet that those rock-hard abs will be enough to bust him out of Dr. Octopus’ evil straightjacket.

Spider-Man 2
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina. Directed by Sam Raimi. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

The new Spider-Man picture is a nice piece of work—engaging, energetic, sweetly charming, adroitly paced, full of smart simplicity and directness. And its deft mixture of delicate, intimate character drama and flashy, cartoonish action-movie spectacle just might get you thinking the thing is not quite as lightweight as comic-book-based flicks are often thought to be.

Indeed, the second installment in the Spidey flick franchise has been getting credit from reviewers for a kind of emotional realism. For, while the superhero has to fight Doc Ock, the requisite supervillain (Alfred Molina as a scientist transformed into a multi-armed monster by his own invention), he’s also having romantic problems and an identity crisis—can he really live without his beloved Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and does he really even want to put up with the problems of being a superhero?

Director Sam Raimi gives such questions their due without ever derailing the film’s action-movie momentum, and that at least partially rescues the film from the inevitable two-dimensional weightlessness of its snazzy special-effects heroics. The emotional burdens of superheroes may be a largely imaginary issue, but the fallible, half-formed young man struggling to come to terms with his own special gifts and potential is another matter, and a more genuinely compelling one to boot.

Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent stir the story’s mix of mythic potential just enough to keep a variety of suggestive possibilities in play. Peter Parker’s sticky fingers, and the temporary loss of his ability to shoot that sticky stuff, are allowed only the briefest of flirtations with Freudian symbolism, but there are plenty of signs that the guy is a semi-arrested adolescent hesitating on the brink of an adulthood that is sexual as well as social and moral. And there’s more than one hint that the story itself might be the fantasy of just such a person.

But the film maintains a light touch with all such matters, and it resorts to simplistic, viewer-friendly reassurances with its central sci-fi themes. Through the superhuman powers of hero and villain alike, Spider-Man 2 notes that extraordinary power almost always entails extraordinary danger—and the possibility of extraordinary destruction. Nevertheless, superpowers in the political sense are an issue only by way of collateral damage that keeps turning up in the margins of the combatants’ exploits.

If all that sounds too serious for such a nifty piece of summer entertainment, then rest assured: Spider-Man 2 is too nice a film to awaken any nightmares that you’re not already having.