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Spinning a worldly, wide web

“Spider-Man 2” Columbia Pictures Directed by Sam Raimi Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina Rated PG-13 Running Time: 127 Minutes 5 out of 5 stars

It was easy to assume that “Spider-Man 2” was going to be nothing special or, for that matter, anything different from the first film: a cut-rate summer blockbuster adapted from a comic book with steady performances from the leads, great action sequences and a decent story taken from solid source material.

The first and most notable point “Spider-Man 2” makes, though, is how incredibly unassuming it is.

Granted, “Spider-Man” was ahead of the rest of the pack. Without naming names, most other comic moves have been clunky star vehicles and/or subpar in every way possible.

For quality, that leaves “Hellboy” and the “X-Men” films, the former being only better-than-average and the latter being the standard for what works. The “X-Men” films had something the others didn’t-a near-perfect transition from comic book to silver screen, taking almost all of the action, excitement, drama and fantasy along for the ride.

What worked about “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” was their distinct senses of grandeur that brought the audience along for the ride, because, hey, let’s face it, superhuman powers aren’t exactly some of the most relatable, universal dramas. Common, real problems involve paying the bills, going to work and getting to class on time. So, making strong connections and relating to, say, Spider-Man, would seem a little…schizo?

Not so. The film opens on a love struck, hopeless, exhausted Peter Parker. There are bags under his eyes and a red and blue mask falling out of his jacket. He is late for work because he was daydreaming about a girl he doesn’t have time to see, after studying for class, which he didn’t get much time to do because he was out fighting crime as Spider-Man.

This isn’t a superhero-Peter Parker is a clumsy, modest dork trying to beat the four-year undergrad clock while holding two jobs and a voluntary community service gig on the side (fighting crime doesn’t pay much). He’s a hopeless romantic and a ball of nerves. When a fast-talking boss at The Daily Bugle (played by a scene-stealing, razor-sharp J.K. Simmons) demands pictures of Spider-Man, Parker is weak to argue against him. Without that superhero suit, the man behind the mask is your typical college student: self-conscious and drowning in the waters of disenchantment, cynicism and fatigue. So when Parker starts to lose his spider powers, he has to start asking questions not so exclusive to superheroes: Who am I? What am I responsible for? What kind of life do I want to live and ambitions do I want to have? What sacrifices must be made?

But his drama isn’t just existential-Spider-Man has a social life, and it is plagued, too. Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn, has serious beef with Spider-Man, seeing as how he killed his father, the Green Goblin, two years ago (something we’re caught up on through hand-drawn strips under the opening credits). Osborn funded Parker’s scientific idol, the charming Dr. Otto Octavius, who nearly blows up New York City in a science demonstration gone wrong. Octavius and his four mechanical arms go on a crime rampage throughout New York in order to rebuild the experiment (in the process becoming Dr. Octopus), and the one key ingredient is held by Osborn, who wants the body of Spider-Man. And Parker, who, once upon a time, stole the lovely Mary Jane Watson from Osborn, manages to get pictures and time out of Spider-Man that nobody else can. Put the two together. Parker still carries the burden, and secret, of his uncle’s death, something partially his fault and the love of his life, Mary Jane, is set to get married soon.

There’s more, but I don’t want to ruin it. The kid has problems galore, and is stuck for resources. And sure, the action sequences are great-Spider-Man swings, jumps and fights so fast you won’t have time to take in the CGI, as his battles with crime and villains don’t overextend themselves or give audiences too much or not enough (see: “The Matrix”). They’re exciting, more fun and much more imagined than too much of what we’ve seen before-explosions, explosions, explosions.

Spidey is stopping runaway el-trains, trading punches while tumbling down a skyscraper and watching as both his aunt and girl are taken hostage by a maniacal scientist. Of course there’s that kind of excitement. The real meat of “Spider-Man 2,” though, is the home and beginning of the story, for Sam Raimi makes the classic comic book that has swept up millions upon millions come to life in every way. And if home is where the heart is, then “Spider-Man 2” is one big ball of human sincerity. No apologies are made for self-narrative questioning and throwing around large ideas of love, responsibility and identity-they’re making a comic book here. Shots don’t shift around and concentrate on building dramatic tension. Danny Elfman’s score keeps in tune to every line of dialogue and every punch by the nanosecond. New York City bustles around Parker in full color and energy without any remorse.

Like a comic book, each and every frame says something very distinct about the story and its characters, and bursts with life in doing so. Maguire simply is Peter Parker, as it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane tugs endlessly at heartstrings as the hero’s ultimate salvation, yet does even better as the quintessential girl waiting for her boy to come around. Alfred Molina becomes Otto Octavius like Octavius becomes Doc Ock-with endless submission and resignation to becoming something else. It’s good, yeah; but that we can relate to these struggles? That they don’t seem so otherworldly? That Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Otto Octavius don’t seem so far from ourselves? That’s greatness.

You could give credit to Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, who gave the screenplay a touchup for depth during preproduction. You could hand it over to Sam Raimi, who took control of a project that could have flailed into mediocrity and made it his own incredibly creative, colorful vision. You could give it to the actors, who make these struggles so understandable and common. Or you could give it to series creator Stan Lee, who might have been in on all of this superhero business long before anyone here.

But, see, “Spider-Man 2” isn’t just a movie about a superhero. For the special effects summer blowout movies studios pour so much into, for comic book movies, for sequels, and maybe even for major-studio American film, “Spider-Man 2” simply is a superhero.

And like any good superhero, not only does this film save the day for bored, overcharged audiences in need of an exciting film with heart, but will stand the test of time as a model of what a classic action film should be.

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