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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spider-Man 2, the second in the Tobey Maguire-era Spider-Man trilogy, has lots of comic book-style violence. Cars (taxis, most often) are thrown into buildings, heroes and villains throw each other from high buildings, and, perhaps most disturbingly, the wife of a character is killed when glass in a building shatters and the shards fly straight for her face. There is some drinking -- a character is shown drinking whiskey at a bar and at home. Beyond this, the film raises important metaphorical questions about the importance of using your talents and gifts to their peak potential instead of casting them aside in order to be "normal."
What's the story?
As SPIDER-MAN 2 opens, things are not going well for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). Along with the constant need to come to the rescue, Aunt May may lose her home, his school work is suffering, his best friend Harry (James Franco) is still angry because Peter won't tell him what really happened the night Spider-Man killed his father, and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), the girl he loves, is giving up on him because he can't tell her who he really is or how he really feels. Harry introduces Peter to the brilliant scientist, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), whose devotion to his wife and his work are inspiring. Harry is financing the doctor's experiments with fusion energy, which are so complex and dangerous that they must be conducted with tentacle-like mechanical arms that are controlled by artificial intelligence. But the experiment goes terribly, tragically wrong and the doctor's wife is killed. The four artificial arms are fused to Octavius' spine. Devastated by the loss and overtaken by the arms, which move like serpents, he becomes a villain known as Doc Ock, stealing what he needs to resume his experiments. But Harry controls one of those ingredients, and he says he will give it to Doc Ock in exchange for Spider-Man.
Is it any good?
This is a dazzling story of love, loss, adventure, courage, heartbreak, tough choices, and tender feelings. Plus it has a rescue from a burning building, a runaway train, a world-class villain, and a really great kiss. It's why they invented movies. It's smart and funny and touching and exhilaratingly entertaining, a sumptuous treat that succeeds on many levels. Screenwriter Michael Chabon understands the mythic appeal of the comic book tradition, and his touch is evident in the story's depth, an example being Molina's brilliantly played Doc Ock. He's a villain for the ages, a man who shows us his real face so we can feel the struggle for his soul. The comic book elements are all here, with spectacular fight scenes and teen-friendly existential themes. Peter has to struggle with feelings of isolation and not being understood or appreciated. He is aware of the irony of his working for justice for others when his own life is filled with people who judge him unfairly.
Spider-Man 2 has sensational special effects integrated with a first-rate script and outstanding performances to illuminate the characters and tell the story -- and to show us something about ourselves. But most of all, this is why they invented movies, because director Sam Raimi knows how to make things move. Few movies have so mastered motion. Spider-Man swoops through the skyscrapers. A train hurtles across a track that just abruptly stops. A car flies through the air. Raimi is all but re-inventing cinematic storytelling before our delighted eyes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Spider-Man 2 compares with the first Spider-Man movie. Is it as exciting? Is it deeper?
Why does Peter feel that he can't share his real self with anyone?
Why would Peter Parker would want to stop being Spider-Man? How do we know when to give up our dreams for others?
- In theaters: June 4, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: November 30, 2004
- Cast: James Franco, Kirsten Dunst, Tobey Maguire
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes, Adventures, Book characters, Great boy role models, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature, Trains
- Character strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: stylized action violence
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