Peter Parker might as well be dead. Leading a double life causes havoc with his work (loses job as pizza delivery boy), ambitions as photojournalist (editor only wants Spider-Man pics), studies (misses classes), romance (Mary Jane Watson has given up on him), transport (moped wrecked in crash), finances (can't pay rent) and self-esteem (zero).

Batman's alter ego is a reclusive, respected millionaire, with an English butler and babes on tap, not to mention (let's not) Robin. Spider-man's alter ego is this pathetic loser, who can't even tell his girl he loves her, even when she asks.

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The second chapter in the history of Spidey: The Movie is so much better than the first. It contains psychological truths that dabble in the dysfunctional aspects of depression - how you feel affects how you perform. The homilies ("With great power comes great responsibility") and guiding principles ("We have to be steady and give up the things we want most") are complemented by moments of quicksilver comedy, courtesy of screenwriter Alvin Sargent.

The effects are eye-popping and the look of the film is exquisite. If superhero comicbook flicks can be considered art, and they can (Tim Burton's Batmans, to name but two), this deserves a special place at the Guggenheim. Everything from the set designs to the stunt coordination has been created to enhance the world of wonder that is Marvel.

Director Sam Raimi has said that his principal concern is the story. Anyone can go effect barmy, or CGI crazy, and produce a wham-bam-supermess, peopled by automated stereotypical actor clones, with plastic emotions. If you have the budget, it can be done. But not here.

Raimi is true to his word. He creates more tension inside Peter's head than out in the streets, where New York is about to be destroyed by a mad scientist's "fusion based energy source" - think nuclear and double it.

Tobey Maguire is as unsuitable for the role of a cat-suited avenger as Parker was, which is why he fits so perfectly. What he has is empathy and what Kirsten Dunst, as Mary Jane, has is heart.

The demands of Spider-man are making Peter's life a misery. He wants to be free of him. That's the drama of the sequel, like Dr Jekyll locking the door of his lab and throwing away the key. Except there is a difference - Mr Hyde was a monster and Spider-man is a saviour.

"You always have a choice, Peter," his saintly aunt (Rosemary Harris) says.

You know, and the world knows, he hasn't. When the bad guy sends a runaway train at full throttle to its inevitable end, through the buffers into the deep waters of the Hudson, far, far below, will Peter stand there gawping, like a goldfish? Within the flash of an eye, he's changed, airbourne and on board.

The headline reads: SPIDEY IS BACK

If makes you feel that there are people in Hollywood who care.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2004
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Spidey reluctantly returns to save New York from a mad scientist.
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Read more Spider-Man 2 reviews:

Scott Macdonald ****1/2
Jennie Kermode ***

Director: Sam Raimi

Writer: Alvin Sargent, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, JK Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Bill Nunn, Aasif Mandvi, Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson, Dylan Baker, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi

Year: 2004

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Batman Begins
Spider-Man