Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Alvin Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, & Michael Chabon

At one point in Spider-Man 2, Mary Jane Watson chastises Peter Parker for making simple things too complicated. Perhaps this was Sam Raimi's way of acknowledging that he was making a mountain out of a molehill with this frequently exciting, but terribly overblown, sequel.

I liked the first one, though like a lot of comic-book-inspired movies, it left me feeling a bit empty, like eating a Classic Triple from Wendy's … it was just a bit much. Spider-Man 2 is more like a Classic Sextuple, as it tries to follow multiple plotlines that would otherwise be sufficient for three separate movies, to the point where you start losing interest in all of them.

The most amazing stuff centers around Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina at his best), by far a better villain than the Green Goblin, whose story is rendered with jaw-dropping visual flair and a boundless sense of originality. Each Doc Ock scene is stunning; unfortunately, it's this storyline that ends up being irrelevant to the movie as a whole.

Instead, Sam Raimi gives us Spider-Man by way of Hamlet, detailing Peter Parker's internal struggle in painstaking detail. Though the characterizations are faultless and no scene ends up not serving the main theme (Parker coming to terms with his life as Spider-Man), the film is so long and so relentlessly psychological that by the time some web-spinnin' action finally happens, you've almost forgotten about the action.

The bulk of the film is comprised by Parker's endless hand-wringing about whether to pursue his Spidey life and whether to tell Mary Jane that he loves her. Though the attention paid to the emotion of these dilemmas pays off in several genuinely tearjerking scenes, I found myself befuddled that the Spider-Man mythos was being dealt with in such grandiose fashion. At one point, Spider-Man is crowd-surfed like Jesus by a trainload of people he's just saved, and I had to shake my head and exclaim, "Hey, man, this is fucking Spider-Man, not The Bible!"

The movie makes an effective argument for Spider-Man as a necessary hero, one who gives hope to the masses, but there were just too many plots to justify: the romance, the family drama, the dark struggle of Harry Osborn (James Franco), the conflict with Doc Ock … after what seemed like the fourth hour of the film, I was like, "Hey, Raimi, fucking choose what movie you want to make, already!"

Tobey Maguire is good as Parker, though his vacant presence reminded me of a younger Kevin Kline, a little too aware that he is acting. Kirsten Dunst is as she was in the last one: sexy, pretty, and totally one-dimensional. James Franco is great, but his scarce screen-time reduces his character to an almost laughable parody (though he is the world's preeminent brooder, that's for sure). Alfred Molina is amazing as Doc Ock, and J.K. Simmons delivers the expected hilarty as J. Jonah Jameson.

I could do without the Aunt May bullshit, although it is undeniably central to the Spider-Man saga, mainly because I don't like to watch old women doing anything. Fortunately, Raimi's weirdo sense of humor provides some great laughs, as in the Bruce Campbell cameo and an unexpected montage set to "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" that flat-out looks like a douche commercial.

Of the far-too-many endings, we get one which sets up the next sequel (Franco donning the Green Goblin costume and, assumedly, killing Mary Jane), and while I will definitely see that one, it will be out of obligation. Spider-Man 2 could have been many things; unfortunately, it is all of them.

Review by Paula Penne