Picks and Pans Review: Spider-Man 2

UPDATED 07/05/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/05/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris

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Spider-Man may be a superhero, but he doesn't know squat about doing laundry. Rule No. 1: Always separate your whites from your colors. Otherwise, as his alter ego Peter Parker learns the hard way after putting his bright red Spidey suit through the wash cycle at a Laundromat, your undershorts and crew socks turn pink.

This endearing scene and others like it, which emphasize the fallible human behind the mask, are the secret to the enormous appeal of this buoyant Spider-Man sequel, which tops the 2002 original. Spider-Man 2 picks up the webslinger's story two years later. Parker is now a college student behind on his sleep, classwork and rent because his crime-fighting duties keep getting in the way. He's conflicted about whether he even wants to continue as a superhero, mostly because being one prevents him from declaring his love for Mary Jane Watson (Dunst), the neighbor girl he has adored since childhood. Conflicted, that is, until Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina), a once-noble scientist turned evil, threatens to blow up much of New York City.

For summer popcorn fun, this movie has it all: special effects, romance, action and humor. Director Sam Raimi (who also did the first Spider-Man) deftly balances the elements. In sequences now light years beyond those in the original, Spidey swings through Manhattan's steel canyons with a trapeze artist's grace. Maguire, who just keeps getting better, has real chemistry with Dunst, while Molina, even with four giant metal arms protruding from his back, gives his villain oodles more humanity than is typical of comic book knaves. (PG-13)

ACTION

Fahrenheit 9/11

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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No one could ever accuse Michael Moore of being wishy-washy, not with the industrial-strength point of view his movies boast. In his latest, a blistering blitzkrieg against President George W. Bush, Bowling for Columbine's director attacks the current Administration for being lax on terrorism prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and then using the subsequent fight against evildoers as a pretext for invading Iraq.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is provocative, often funny, unapologetically one-sided and, yes, highly entertaining. This is accomplished agitprop. Moore (see page 69) savvily mixes archival and fresh news footage with interviews to spotlight what he considers to be the Bush Administration's failings. He makes merciless fun of Bush for his pre-9/11 fondness for vacations and stumble-bum speaking style and shows a spooked-looking President continuing to read to a grade-school class—for nearly seven minutes—after learning that the nation was under attack on that fateful morning. But Moore also questions why the offspring of the poor and working class make up the majority of soldiers fighting in Iraq and why only one member of Congress has a child on active duty there.

The film, which nabbed the top award at the Cannes Film Festival, is sure to infuriate audiences—some will direct their wrath at Bush, others at Moore. (R)

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