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Okay, they made a sequel. And I know what you're going to ask so let's just get this out of the way right up front. You want to know: is there a Stan Lee cameo? Yes. Yes, there is.
SPIDER-MAN 2 was directed, once again, by Sam Raimi (THE EVIL DEAD, THE EVIL DEAD II, ARMY OF DARKNESS, THE GIFT, SPIDER-MAN) and written by Alvin Sargent (with a whole committee of people getting various story credits, including Stan Lee). Tobey Maguire (SPIDER-MAN) is back as the superhuman webslinger.
It's two years after the spider bite that made Pete Parker into Spiderman and we learn right away one of the major problems with being a superhero: they don't get paid. He may be able to survive ten story falls and bend steel bars but Peter Parker is still a starving student living in New York (not a cheap town). He works as a pizza delivery boy, lives in a crappy one-room apartment and is getting bad grades because he can't do his homework because he's out saving the world every night.
Leading this double life is really taking its toll on his sanity. Peter stares longingly at the billboard ads that have pictures of his childhood sweetheart, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst: INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, THE CROW: SALVATION, SPIDER-MAN), who's modeling and acting career has really taken off. But he resolved never to tell her his true feelings because people in his life are in danger.
His feelings are hardly a secret though - as his wealthy friend Harry Osborn (James Franco: SPIDER-MAN) points out. Harry inherited his father's company after his father, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe in the first movie) died. Norman Osborn went insane after an experiment went wrong and turned him into the Green Goblin. He died fighting Spiderman and Harry hates Spiderman for that reason.
Harry is also unsure what to make of the fact that his pal Peter always seems to get pictures of Spiderman (for his other job: freelance news photographer), implying he might know who Spiderman is (ha!). Just whose side is Peter on, anyway? One more relationship strained by Peter's double life.
Speaking of experiments gone wrong: Harry's company is funding the research of Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SPECIES, IDENTITY). Doc Ock (as he's known later) is working on a fusion power source that uses tritium to create a mini sun in an alarmingly open machine (open in the sense that something as truly dangerous as a large ball of fusion plasma would normally be carefully contained). By a happy coincidence, Peter is writing a long overdue physics paper on the Doctor's work so Harry invites Peter to the demo of the new invention.
A much more impressive invention is casually brought out during the fusion demonstration. For a poorly explained reason the good doctor uses an amazing four-steel-tentacle prosthetic when he runs the fusion generator to "help contain the magnetic fields" or something like that. These arms are controlled by their own artificial intelligence, which connects to Doc Ock's brain by nanowires that penetrate his spine. Ouch. And when the assembled news crews see this device an unusually astute reporter provides a key bit of exposition by asking the Doc how he keeps the tentacle AI from taking over his mind. Why, with this handy "inhibitor chip" right here on the device. I think we all see where that's going.
This movie tries and mostly succeeds to be more dramatic and true to life than the first film while still being very comic book. On the one hand there is great conflict in Peter's life as he struggles with the decision of just who he is and what he wants to do. He very much wants a normal life but the "with great power comes great responsibility" theme keeps bringing him back to his alter ego. On the other hand there are very over the top, comic book moments, especially with Peter's boss at the Daily Bugle, Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons: THE GIFT).
Sometimes a mixed style like that can be a disaster but here it works pretty well. A few small points bother me, like did Mary Jane's boyfriend really need to be a soldier/football hero/astronaut just back from the moon? And would the police, while trying to capture Doc Ock, really just start shooting while he's climbing a building, not caring that bullets were going through windows and probably killing innocent bystanders?
But as always, what really bothers me can only be expressed in a
1. What is the power source for Doc Ock's tentacles? Just because he can control them with his thoughts doesn't explain where their energy comes from.
Continued at the SCIENCE MOMENT.
But adding it all up, the excellent conflict, the occasional bad science, the interesting cameos (watch for Bruce Campbell of EVIL DEAD fame) and the cool effects, make this a pretty cool movie. I give it four shriek girls.
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