Spider-Man 2 (PG)

A skilfully woven web

When was the last time you saw a superhero being fired from his job as a pizza-delivery boy? That is the first of many humiliations to be endured by Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, a sequel that not only outstrips its predecessor but has a perversity and quick-wittedness that hardly seem to belong in a comic-book movie. It's about a crisis of conscience: Peter is falling behind on his rent, is failing the grade at college, is feeling generally exhausted, all because his alter ego, Spider-Man, is too busy swinging through the high-rise canyons of Manhattan, fighting crime. Public duty has sabotaged personal choice.

Worst of all, his double life is losing him the love of his dream girl Mary Jane Watson - MJ (Kirsten Dunst). She's baffled by his hesitant courtship, little realising that he's afraid that her life will always be in danger from Spider-Man's enemies. When Peter doesn't show up at the theatre for MJ's starring performance in The Importance of Being Earnest - another tale of love and disguise - she takes it as evidence of his flakiness, whereas Peter has been diverted en route by yet another summons to keep New York safe from wrongdoers. Oh, what a tangled web he weaves...

Raimi and his screenwriter Alvin Sargent (with "story" input from the novelist Michael Chabon) shrewdly avoid the cheap attractions of parody and camp and instead imagine how human frailty and loneliness might affect a superhero. In this regard Maguire is a good choice for the title role, since his faraway look and sleepy voice seem rather more l'uomo vague than dynamic crimebuster: most of the time he appears to be in need of a decent night's kip. His spiritual unease becomes manifest in the malfunctioning of his Spider powers. His hands and feet are losing their prehensile strength, and he can no longer rely on the great looping skeins of webbing he used to shoot from his wrist. Peter tells a doctor that "a friend" of his has had dreams in which he is a failing Spider-Man; when the doctor kindly suggests that identity involves a choice, a light clicks on in Peter's eyes - maybe he doesn't have to be Spider-Man at all.

But renouncing his heroic self isn't as simple as it looks. He can witness a mugging in a back alley and walk away, but will he allow himself to do the same when the whole city is in peril? The menace comes in the shape of a scientist, Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), whose backfiring experiment with fusion leaves him with four retractable metal tentacles coiling around his body like Medusa's snakes. "A guy named Octavius winds up with eight limbs - what are the odds?!" barks the truculent tabloid editor J Jonah Jameson (J K Simmons, relishing every moment of his unpleasantness). "Doc Ock", as he is known, makes for a much better supervillain than the first movie's Green Goblin; where the latter simply cackled hysterically, Molina's chunky torso floats above his limbs in sinister arachnoid fashion, and announces his approach with footsteps as thunderous as a T-rex. Hopes that you-know-who will save the day seem to have been dashed when a vagrant goes to the tabloid with the trademark red-and-blue Spidey-suit he has found discarded in a bin. Editor Jameson offers to pay him $50. "I could get more than that for it on eBay", whines the tramp.

But destiny will out, and our hero must eventually answer the rescue call. As in the first movie, there is something weightless and flimsy in the spectacle of Spider-Man swinging between the Manhattan scrapers, and the question of what he swings from remains uncertain. Tarzan had his vines, but Spider-Man seems to be slinging his jets of goo into thin air. Otherwise, Raimi and his production consultant, Neil Spisak, deserve credit for resisting the urge to create a mausoleum of design; instead they manage to finesse a crisply shot New York with a vivid comic-book overlay, and the cinematographer, Bill Pope, even finds room for the occasional grace note - a lovely Hopper-esque shot of a laundromat at night, and a nod to Warhol, too, as Peter walks distractedly past a wall covered in multiple poster images of MJ.

It's unusual and gratifying to find a multimillion dollar movie that's been put together with some thoughtfulness, that doesn't neglect subtlety in between delivering the smash-bang-wallop. Indeed, it combines them very winningly in a scene where MJ and Peter, tremulous with romantic longing, are on the verge of kissing when their tender moment is shattered by a car flung full at them through a café window: we are suddenly reminded why Spider-Man felt driven to forswear his love in order to protect her.

There are dull patches, and James Franco as Harry Osborn, scion of the Green Goblin, seems to be working himself up into a permanent state of angst, yet even he is a beneficiary of Raimi's generosity with a close-up, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. A showdown will be inevitable in the next sequel.

It's the interest in human fallibility that sets this movie apart. The superhero who bridles at his own responsibility may not sound an especially gripping prospect, but his dilemma is explored with a conviction that, within the fantasy genre, feels almost groundbreaking. "Intelligence is something to be used for the good of mankind," says Octavius before his calamitous mishap, a line that would provoke jeers in your average blockbuster. But it doesn't in this movie.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

    Caught in the web of legal imperialism

    The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
    Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

    'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

    The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
    Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards