Spider-Man may have been a mega-blockbuster, but Spider-Man 2 wastes little time reaffirming its loser bona fides. Successful crime-fighter though he may be, Spidey (Tobey Maguire) still has to wash out his form-fitting gatkes at the neighborhood laundromat. His youthful everyday incarnation, Peter Parker, can get neither respect nor satisfaction. Failed pizza delivery boy and deadbeat college student, he’s behind in the rent on his slum apartment while still mooning over girl next door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
As much as I enjoy Spidey’s high-flying Cheez-Doodle swoops through the skyscraper canyons of a digitally rearranged midtown Manhattan, I get no kick from his angst, especially since in this incarnation, as opposed to the ’60s comic book version, he’s more innocuously depressed than defensively paranoid. The movie’s first half is talky bordering on tiresome—endlessly rehashing the same mix of frustrated puppy love, survivor guilt, and identity crisis. Eventually, Spider-Man mixes it up with the villainous Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), a lunatic physicist controlled by four hissing robot tentacles. As both the mutant spider and the bionic octopus can scuttle up the sides of buildings, the mayhem has a sense of slammin’ vertigo that, in its hurtling metal and crashing cornices, gives the impression that Sam Raimi might have preferred to be directing in 3-D.
Scarcely devoid of Raimi’s humor, Spider-Man 2 regularly stops to showcase a street singer’s toneless rendition of the Electric Company “Spider-Man” song. J.K. Simmons’s impersonation of tabloid editor J. Jonah Jameson is pretty hilarious, as is Mary Jane’s performance in a Broadway revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. And there’s nothing funnier than the hurt on Peter’s face when he discovers that, evicted from her Archie Bunker–land frame house, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) disposed of his comic book collection. Given the panoply of Noo Yawk locations, it’s undeniably cool that the mad scientist has his lab in Anthology Film Archives. Could he have been driven mad by Stan Brakhage’s theory of closed-eye vision or repeated exposure to Ken Jacobs’s stereoscopic Nervous System?