One of the themes of comics is the “POW!” and “BIFF!” of battles between a superhero and a supervillain. These battles overshadow almost every other aspect of the comic.
Instead of seeing adventure writ large on pages of comics, one saw the details of a teenager named Peter Parker who had the (mis)fortune of being bitten by a radioactive spider. This gave him arachnid powers, and he became Spider-Man.
Director Sam Raimi has done something noble. He has captured that element in his second film in the series, “Spider-Man 2.” Instead of getting caught up in the larger-than-life elements of a superhero’s adventures, we see the minutiae of what it means to be a person with superpowers.
The story picks up two years after the conclusion of the first movie. Peter Parker is trying to balance college, work, friendship and care for his widowed Aunt May. He is doing all of this badly.
One detail of a superhero’s life is how one holds down a job when someone always seems to need help. Peter can’t keep a minimum-wage job because he is always late. The only thing he seems to do well is be Spider-Man. But that runs into trouble. Over the course of the movie, Peter has to battle himself in the loss of his powers at inopportune moments.
He still loves Mary Jane Watson, who has become a supermodel and Broadway star. But he dares not profess his love for fear of what his enemies might do to her. Mary Jane loves Peter, but she cannot commit to someone so irresponsible that he can’t make it to her play on time.
The movie’s supervillain is Otto Octavius. A freak accident causes him to become Doc Ock, with four extra limbs that allow him to do things like climb walls and tear off bank-vault doors. All villains need motivation, of course, and Doc Ock’s is the death of his beloved wife and the apparent failure of his life’s work.
He and Spider-Man clash over that work. Doc Ock is unwilling to see the danger in which he places New York City, whereas Spider-Man must stop him at all costs.
Sam Raimi has crafted the best translation of a comic book to the screen. There has been a lot of seeming hyperbole about this movie, but it is all well deserved. There is nary a misstep in story, effects or casting.
Tobey Maguire is both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is a full-formed embodiment of the character that is rarely seen in today’s movies. He becomes a character that is familiar to many, and yet he makes the character his own and gives a performance that deserves recognition beyond words on a page.
Alfred Molina plays Doc Ock and avoids stereotype. He does not allow the villain’s grief to be the only motivation or overshadow what he is doing. His Doc Ock is funny and scary.
In this era of movie making, there is always a sequel. In the 1970s, George Lucas brought “Star Wars” to the screen. He followed it with “The Empire Strikes Back.” In the opinion of many, the second one was better. “The Empire Strikes Back,” though, had no real ending. It pointed us to the third movie, “The Return of the Jedi.”
Raimi has provided moviegoers with a chapter two as fine as “The Empire Strikes Back.” When it ends, you long for more about Peter Parker and his soap-opera life as Spider-Man.
Few movies this summer will leave you feeling that way.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for stylized action violence.
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Alvin Sargent (based on the comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko)
Cast: Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire; Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst; Dr. Otto Octavius: Alfred Molina; Harry Osborn: James Franco; Betty Brant: Elizabeth Banks; Aunt May: Rosemary Harris; J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons.
The movie’s official Web site is here.
Read Parnell’s review of the first “Spider-Man.”
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.