"Spider-Man 2" finds our hero (Tobey Maguire) far from the life of adrenaline and adoration one might imagine. Being a champion of the people is not a paying gig, and Spidey's alter-ego, the underemployed Peter Parker, is suffering from overexertion, lack of sleep, poverty, an identity crisis, a guilty conscience and a broken heart. It's telling that the threat of losing lifelong love Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is a more pressing concern for Peter than the newest menace to Gotham, namely one Otto Octavius, a scientist whose good intentions go awry and an experiment meant to help mankind ends up fusing mechanical arms to his spinal chord. ("A guy named Otto Octavius has eight limbs. What are the odds?" the scene-stealing J. Jonah Greek-choruses dryly.) Doc Ock, as he's dubbed, goes insane and is bent on bringing his invention to fruition, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
Critical darling Alfred Molina may have seemed an unlikely choice for a comicbook villain, but the esteemed thesp brings a subtlety, gravitas, sly charm and chilling menace to the character, taking the film to the next level. (Whether he could have pulled off gravitas in the traditional lime-green bodysuit and Moe Howard haircut is a question best left unanswered.) Though Doc Ock's scheme and motivations seem a little manufactured, he has audiences in the palm of his tentacle as he uses one pincer to knock Spider-Man clear across the room and another to doff his hat.
Not to be the critical equivalent of the Orkin Man, but "Spider-Man 2" is not perfect. Though the fight scenes are thrilling, the CGI incredible, the one-liners hilarious and the romantic tension palpable, it all feels a bit familiar. And the threat of more extra redundant repeats looms for the threequel, which is set up to feature a son-of-the-monster-brand nemesis. But the exhilaratingly fun, obliquely clever and feverishly crowd-pleasing achievement of director Sam Raimi spins a web that everyone wants to be caught up in. Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina and James Franco. Directed by Sam Raimi. Written by Alvin Sargent. Produced by Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad. A Columbia release. Action. Rated PG-13 for stylized action violence. Running time: 128 min