Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can! Sits on his web all day and all night, just thinking about getting into a fight...

There is very little in this account of the return of the webbed wonder which is not well scripted, well acted and well directed, but it needs a good 40 minutes cut out of it to make it worth watching all the way through. In the absence of that, I suggest you do what the opening titles hint at and take along a comic to read. It really is extraordinary how dull a film Raimi and his team have managed to create around a man with spider-powers fighting a man with giant mechanical octopus arms. When the fights happen, they really do deliver, but the angst in between will have you reaching for the bug spray.

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Spider-Man 2's problems are two-fold. Firstly, it is a transitional film, weighed down by excess plot as it sets things up for future installments in the series (with the Green Goblin junior and Venom); it's simply not strong enough as an individual story to stand up under this burden.

Secondly, it is aiming to take us through some important changes in Peter Parker's life which simply aren't as engaging as those in the first movie. It was one thing to be along for the ride as our hero first learned to use his arachnid powers (and most viewers can sympathise with the agonies of adolescence); it's quite another to watch him try to come to terms with his moral burden through agonies of repetition and the recounting of events we're quite familiar with (and viwers are less keen to share the frustrations of erectile dysfunction).

Poor Tobey MaGuire works really hard with the material he's been given, but there's just too much of it, and it's hard to keep caring. As a result, the characters who prove most engaging are those with the least screen time - Alfred Molina's superb Dr Otto Octavius, and (surprisingly) James Franco's increasingly embittered Harry Osborn. There's also a delicious cameo from Willem Dafoe, reminding us of what this story has to live up to.

What everybody really wants to know about, of course, is the FX. These are much more impressive than in the first film, with only a few badly CGI'd swinging and throwing shots; the fights themselves are cleverly choreographed and Doc Ock's arms work surprisingly well. It's simple enough to overlook the impossibility of engineering them into the body that way when one considers the ludicrous physics one is obliged to overlook in order to accept the madman's plan to create a small fusion-sun in lower Manhattan. This is comic-book territory, after all.

Many of the action sequences here are old classics - the bank robbery, the runaway train, the carrying-off of the damsel in distress - but they're enthusiastically rendered and we get more of a sense of Spiderman being in peril than we did the first time around. Although the finale is extremely silly and wastes some good opportunities, it's also a lot of fun. It's just unfortunate that's it's followed by so many unnecessarily-extended sentimental scenes telling us what we already knew.

This is a spider without much bite, but it seems to be an indicator of better things to come.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
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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
Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

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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