Spider-Man 2 ★★★★★

96/100

Cinema as unabashed heroism. A spirited expansion of Raimi's first installment but contained in feeling. If Spider-Man was a hokey (but beautifully earnest) origin story, Spider-Man 2 is a tightly plotted comic-book masterpiece, utilizing duality as a basis for the film's tender romance versus its unhinged, euphoric action set-pieces. With a brilliant villain in Doc Ock (wonderfully played by Alfred Molina/Rahad Jackson), this remarkable sequel builds conflict out of Peter Parker's personal relationships, allowing seeds from the original film to grow and blossom yet never restricting itself as a "sequel" that can't be viewed on its own.

Sam Raimi is the star of the show here even with the Grade-A cast of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons and the aforementioned Alfred Molina. Every scene has its own particular life and genre to it, whizzing past Horror, Romance, Action, and Drama so that the best aspects are carefully picked and placed in the right moment at the right time. It *feels* like a comic-book - like panels manifesting on the screen - and multiple sequences evoke that same kind of tactility and essence. Whether it's a villain introduction with enough discordant screams and jarring clangs of metal and flesh to give children nightmares or a train fight scene of immaculate power and excitement, Raimi effortlessly crafts it all.

But it isn't excessively dour or "dark" (see: Jared Leto sending used condoms to his costars) in spite of tackling mature issues. It knows the core of the Spider-Man character, his importance and grace, his weaknesses and flaws. The exaggerated, geeky world that Sam Raimi created is full of peril, but the viewer trusts the hero of the story, who after saving a train full of people, to get right back up and fight for his city. It's why "he's just a kid, no older than my son." or "don't worry, we won't tell nobody." melts my heart into a gigantic puddle, for I feel for the bystanders just as much as the hero; a triumphant savior swinging against the sky.

However, I'd say that my heart collapses even more with each viewing because of the romance between Tobey and Kirsten; a classic story forged out of longing for a connection felt ever since the late-night trash trips in the backyard. When Mary Jane asks for a kiss, it's not only hopefully for a recognition of love, but for a recognition of a hero. That upside down kiss in the darkened alleyway as rain fell down their bodies meant more for both of them than you'd think, and when that satisfaction is cut short through Doc Ock (again, personal influences can't stay out of both sides of Peter's life), the audience experiences the same fearlessness, the same passion, the same goddamn HEROISM as Peter as he bursts out of the coffee shop rubble (Raimi's usage of heightened cinema is unstoppable) with his vision clear and his mind opened.

And when it's all over, the infatuation is limitless, with doves taking flight and piercing white and orange hues signaling a yearning hope for a better day. A world where subway passengers protect their hero without hesitation. "Go get em, Tiger." she says as he dives into the crisp summer air, unaware if he's coming back but understanding that fact. Mary Jane's face says it all. As he merges with the sunset, we're thinking the same thing. Spider-Man 2 feels like a literal end to a certain kind of Superhero film, one with the freedom for montages, exaggerated lightning and thunder claps, and above all, a close-up with two lovers suspended in midair against a web.

Might as well end the Comic-Book genre now. Nothing will surpass this.