“I guess I’ll always be Spiderman,” Tobey Maguire sighs to Kirsten Dunst when she gets to know his real identity.

Maguire who was in splendid shape as the passionate jockey in “Seabiscuit” is indeed fated to be Spiderman forever. A second sequel is also on the way, which is just as well for Maguire.

He’s so extraordinary, so vulnerable and yet such an instinctive survivor that Maguire takes Spiderman beyond the stereotypical super-saviour’s sphere to represent that moment in time when the victim and the protector come together in one compelling instant.

At one point of the narration when Peter Parker decides he no longer wants to be Spiderman (don’t ask why, it’s long story), his aunt May (Rosemary Harris, who features in one of the film’s most breathtaking flying stunts) reminds him that every generation needs people to look up to.

And there’s a lot in Spiderman to look up to — not just because he’s quite often cruising in the smoggy New York air, slithering down skyscrapers and up bridges at the speed of sound, but also because Maguire gives a stunning spin to the mythic figure, simultaneously making him superhero and everyman.

Bill Ope shoots the brilliantly bizarre happenings with a joyous blend of childlike curiosity and authoritative restraint.

Director Sam Raimi has a hard act to follow up. The first “Spider-Man” had crammed in so much of the perpendicular passion that you wondered what a second film could offer in the way of steep thrills.

But “Spider-Man 2” delivers! The redoubtable screenwriter Alvin Sargent doesn’t play a game of one-upmanship with the first “Spider-Man”. Instead, he creates an alternative world of primeval thrills, featuring the same characters though positioned in different permutations.

Every character, striven with self doubts and existential conflicts, is opened up and hurled into the flurried high-flying plot. The conflicts occur on numerous levels, most obviously between Spiderman and his T.S. Eliot-sprouting and then tentacle-spreading scientist turned flying monster Dr Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina).

At the same time, there’s an ongoing tussle between Peter Parker and his ‘other’ self. His efforts to lead a ‘normal’ (read love motivated) life leaves him feeling utterly bereft. Maguire expresses all these turbulent emotions with artless candour.

While telling a story that’s conceived as a convertible cliché, Raimi releases a roomy repertoire of visual and emotional ammunition which create a constant combat within the viewer on whether to lie back or sit up and enjoy the goings-on.

Very few comic book adaptations have the artless straight-from-the-heart simplicity of this film. When Spiderman flies, the narrative soars. When he’s down we suffer his existential pangs.

When at the startling start he’s thrown out of his pizza-delivery job by his Indian employer (Aasif Mandvi who played the title role in Ismail Merchant’s “The Mystic Masseur”) or when he’s (once again!) late for an appointment with his girl Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), we sense Peter Parker’s ability to come to grips with the exceptional demands of being Spiderman. Saving the world is all very fine, but who’s gonna save Peter Parker!

More than a comic book, Sam Raimi’s film is a cosmic look at life in the adventurous mode. The dizzying apprehensions of metropolitan lifestyles are here manifested in a series of heart-in-the-mouth excursions that take us into areas that are dark but funny.

When, for example, Peter Parker, after denouncing his Spiderman persona, flies off a skyscraper he reassures himself repeatedly with, “I’m back…” only to land on the ground groaning, “Oh, my back!”

Such equations between fantasy and ground-reality fill the energetic air that Spiderman breathes. Indeed, this is a film that seduces us into submitting to an infantile vision of life lived at the edges of the universe.

The dark overtones are introduced through the ongoing conflict between Peter/Spiderman and his best friend Harry (James Franco). Theirs is an extremely complex relationship that starts from juvenile rivalry and concludes with jealousy and patricide.

To that tussle, director Raimi brings a touch of Shakespearean darkness. And to Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane, the director introduces an element of the romantic comedy. When Mary Jane puts her fiancé (Daniel Gillies) then Peter through the ‘kissing’ test, you know Raimi is getting too cute for his own good.

The narrative always knows where to stop, when to draw a line between seriously cute and cutely serious, so that when we arrive at the screeching, hurling climax atop a speeding train we are putty in Spiderman’s hands.

Blessedly, the film isn’t lorded over by the special effects. While flying in the smoggy air, Spiderman constantly remains rooted to the ground. The fantasy element never overpowers the human-interest story. That, I think, is this film’s greatest achievement.

by Subhash K Jha
Source: sify.com