By • Jun 30th, 2004 •

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Columbia Pictures / A Marvel Enterprises/Laura Ziskin production
MPAA rating PG-13 / Running time — 127 minutes

QUOTE: Being a superhero has big financial and psychological drawbacks.

I missed the opening: I was in the Peruvian Andes participating in Huachuma ceremonies with shamans at Machupicchu and the Sacred Valley. It was no walk in the park but when one forges a covenant with emissaries of the Spirit World, offerings must be made.

I’m back now and have seen SPIDER-MAN 2. I have to say this: Being a superhero has big drawbacks.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is so poor he is living in a tenement room with a mattress and a bare light bulb. He works as a pizza deliveryman while taking science classes at Columbia University. His sweet Aunt Mary (Rosemary Harris) is so broke she is losing her tiny house. My advice to Parker? Take a mailroom job at your friend’s Harry Osborn (James Franco) monolithic company. Or, better yet, do an interview as Spider-Man with a tabloid for $100,000 in cash! Let Aunt Mary live her last days in financial peace. Don’t you owe her something (for being responsible for your uncle’s death that left Aunt Mary lonely and destitute)?

Chasing down bad guys has quite a few disadvantages: Parker loses his job delivering pizzas, is failing his courses, and can’t make commitments to the girl he secretly loves, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). This secret love frustrates Mary Jane, who has gotten a career as a stage actress and has a new boyfriend, astronaut John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), son of Parker’s sometime newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). Parker’s only claim to fame and source of money is his photos of Spider-Man. For some reason, Parker is conflicted about using his alter-ego Spider-Man as a source of income for himself. Could this be seen as a case of multiple-personality syndrome where a person actually believes another personality living inside them is a distinct and separate entity?

Instead of compromising Spider-Man for cash, Parker now finds himself without a job, his Aunt must get a room next to his in the tenement, and Mary-Jane gets engaged. Frustrated, yet not angry, Parker decides to dump crime-fighting since there is no possibility for career advancement.

If this isn’t enough to handle, Osborn is still angry over Spider-Man killing his father. Of course, first Osborn has to take his dad’s company even further. He has financed the work of Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a poetry-reading scientist, who is working on an alternate energy source. He has built a fancy mechanical device that fits around his waist and is connected to his spinal cord. He has four swirling tentacles he can direct like arms. Through some sort of faulty engineering, witnessed by the press, Parker, and Osborn, the spinal contraption fuses with Octavius and affects his brain functions. His wife dead and his laboratory destroyed, Octavius decides to continue his work and become a menace to society.

Spidey’s decision to leave crime-fighting causes a huge leap in crime and allows Dr. Octavius to fly around doing as he pleases (and sleeping on his stomach). But when he grabs hold of Aunt Mary, it becomes personal and Spidey comes back to save his Aunt and rid the city of Dr. Octavius.

The special effects are so amazing and dazzling that it is a marvel. More significant is how screenwriter Alvin Sargent (screen story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon) solves a problem that has plagued movies about superheroes under masks. We know that is not Maguire in the suit. The flying over buildings is computer-generated artwork done by very skillful technicians. All the live-action stuff in the suit is done by stunt men. But Maguire is the star and he must appear as Spider-Man. Sargent brilliantly orchestrates a story that allows Maguire to not only play Parker, but play Spider-Man.

The resolution of all the story plots is clever, with a very nice foreshadowing of things to come. Once again, I must complain about the Mary Jane storyline. How many times do we see people so totally disrespect a fiancé? When this thing is done in real life, the public and media attack. Mary-Jane’s disregard for her boyfriend is shameful conduct. I think Spider-Man should find a new girlfriend with a better moral character.

Spider-Man/Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire
Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst
Harry Osborn: James Franco
Dr. Otto Octavius: Alfred Molina
Mary Parker: Rosemary Harris
J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons
Rosalie Octavius: Donna Murphy

Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriter: Alvin Sargent
Screen story by: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon
Based on the Marvel comic book by: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Producers: Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad
Executive producers: Stan Lee, Kevin Feige, Joseph M. Carraciolo
Director of photography: Bill Pope
Production designer: Neil Spisak
Music: Danny Elfman
Co-producer: Grant Curtis
Costume designers: James Acheson, Gary Jones
Visual effects: John Dykstra
Editor: Bob Murawski

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