Tobey Maguire stars as Peter Parker, a guileless, awkward, bespectacled orphan who lives in Queens, New York, with his devoted Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson)

Scene from the box office smash hit 'Spider-Man 2'...

It's the very human charm of actor Tobey Maguire that makes all this swinging-from-threads superhero stuff work
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Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Daniel Gillies
Duration: 112 minutes

Not so long ago some chap was warbling along on the airwaves when, eventually, he caught my attention. This wasnít due to his mellifluous tones but rather an impassioned paean regarding Verdiís La Traviata; his point was that you shouldnít be disappointed that opera wasnít theatre. Opera, he proclaimed, is not theatre. Wow. Perhaps the profundity was lost on me, but Iím sure youíll grasp it.

Similarly you might be wondering a while up the wrong garden path if you intended to take your snugglechum to a romantic comedy, and thought Spiderman II fitted the bill. Itís your fault for missing the trailers last time: Sam Raimi does action thrillers. However thatís not a criticism, as if you want action thrillers then Mr Raimi knows how to tweak an old formula just enough for you to relax in blissful reflection while revelling in the searing pace of the action.

And Raimiís action is certainly up to standard, with the olí trademark flying Panavision kit working its magic around streets, skyscrapers and, heaven be praised, Kirsten Dunst. The technical accuracy of this film is all cutting edge, and thatís all fine but consider that so too was the first film, all three years previously, and which now is decidedly behind the benchmark set by its younger sibling. Every detail seems to have been worked out meticulously, far beyond the stretch of most crews but then the Spiderman franchise represents a more substantial greater slice of financial pie than most producers get to salivate over, and so it makes sense that every crumb of achievement is accounted for.

There is just enough science fiction, just enough humour and just enough melodrama, and bags of action encapsulating the fiscally lesser ingredients. However, technology ages far quicker than sentiment, and itís fair to suggest to that these films are meant only to garner quick popularity and be smartly succeeded at the following summerís box office. Making one film may still be art; making two must be business. Producers canít afford to make merely safe choices.

Potentially deformed geniuses donít go for the safe option outside of wives, either, which is a shame. The warmed-over Batman look and feel of Spiderman IIís turf would have such a brighter future if Dr. Octavius ploughed his energies into cold fusion instead of his peculiar choice for creating a scale-model solar system in his kitchen.

However, even if the MIT computers are chugging away hard at squashing atoms then thatís nothing compared to the severe number crunching at Sony Imageworks: their homework has paid off, and Iíll stake national pride that you wonít notice where whole scenes of Maguire and Molina actually areÖ absent, both corps and faces instead rendered digitally. Buildings, scenery, cars, trains, heroes and villains exist on celluloid where no camera has been. Which, once youíve scratched very lightly beneath the surface, explains a lot. Raimiís specialities are the exquisite simplified characters, with Peter Parker weighing in as probably the thinnest superhero ever, and thatís in persona, not girth. You canít really expect Maguire to grow in stature and likewise should restrain the urge to watch Parker emote. He keeps telling you how he feels, and the audience is incessantly instructed about his struggle, but it doesnít add up. Parkerís morsel of passion is probably greater than is in evidence on screen, and if so then itís due to a screenplay aimed at a younger market not all too concerned with the multiplicity of sensations behind the decisions we take. Peter Parker sees no available balance in his labours over love or duty.

For Parker itís rather black or white, and itís a struggle to understand why he must either be Spiderman rescuing the world or humble Peter Parker with no wiggle room in between. De-frustrate the girl or save the city? The principal thrust behind Spiderman II is nothing more or less and all that nucleic nonsense with Dock Ock canít really be taken seriously, and itís not meant to be. But his sentimental leanings towards Kirsten Dunst work just fine because there is absolutely nothing else to grab hold to. She deserves better than a man who refuses to stop a street fight if heís not sporting his Lucky Pants. Do you have to be a superhero in order to be decent? Raimiís getting a little mixed up here.

Yet in fairness if not credit, heís not alone. Even the Cannes Film Festival Guru isnít above duping himself or, in more attorney-conscious argot, he was technically inaccurate with the truth. Tarantinoís achingly trite spiel in Kill Bill II (another sequelÖ) on superheroes fell rather wide of the mark, as the superhero maxim has nothing to do with blue-and-red suits, nor the order you put them on or undress at bedtime. No, it may just about be tenuously linked to on which side you wear your Y-fronts, but, similar to Captain Haddockís beard over the duvet itís merely an assumption of delayed nausea. The suits are irrelevant: what counts for any superhero is the glasses. So which defect? Surely heís long sighted, otherwise by now Superman would have found every passing aircraft a moving blob of kryptonite. But then after saving the right girl he could end up getting jiggy with a yeti if he doesnít regain his 20/20.

No, the issue of tearing off your anniversary attire matters less than a figleaf on a freedom beach while the chapís lunettes provide the real key to your superheroís persona of choice: was he always a nerd, does he assume nerdiness, or did he have nerdissity imposed from above? In order to labour the point, examine closer. Christopher Reeve had to try hard to assume nerdiness.

Conversely, one could concede that Tobey Maguire is the plain archetype of anti-creatures whose sole, inveterate purpose would be to transform your unapproachable superman of choice into a more accessible, boy-next-door variety, not so remote and fully normal, and still inevitably the sort youíd consider the essential problem of normality and youíd prefer not to be accessible to. Rumours abound that Jake Gylenhaal was lined up to play the part of the agile arachnerd but, just as fate was turning to favour the fortunate, Tobey quit whinging about his sore back and turned up to work. Still, what can you do? Nobody needs to care about the superhero, anyway. Itís not that the script doesnít encourage it; itís just that Spiderman II isnít Rebecca, and nor is it less than fun for it. Just in case you need to be told that, too.

Daniel Masmanian/I>


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DVD Features: Disc One: Commentaries - cast and crew, technical. 4 featurettes. Music video. Spidey Sense 2 - factoid track.
Disc Two: 12 documentaries. 4 featurettes. Enter The Web multi-angle shots. Photo art gallery. Theatrical trailer.

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