According to the Total Film Readers' Award-winning Sam Raimi, this time around he was really nervous. Safe in the knowledge that he had somehow managed to convince the comic-book crowd of his credentials first time out, come Part 2 he had unwittingly spawned a further legion of rabid fanboys with needs all their own. He had not only the Marvel freaks to satisfy, but a whole $116-million opening weekend's worth of cinemagoers on his case too. "Early on," he says, "it felt like I'd shifted a burden and replaced it with a noose."
All credit to the condemned fella for never once letting it show, his sequel being on pretty much every level its predecessor's superior. When it temporarily loses its powers - - through an overdose of whiny Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), usually - - it goes on to pull off an action sequence of such bravado you're instantly sucked back in. Just like its titular hero, Spider-Man 2 works its way through franchise adolescence with style to spare.
The original's interminably dwelled-upon CG - far too often the dreary preoccupation of a demographic who should try paying some attention to the damn story for a change - has been spruced, polished and preened into a near-flawless display of bar-raising that could put a sock in even Joel Silver's cakehole. Raimi, Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have similarly grown into their respective roles, going about business with a confidence that never (are you listening, Messrs Wachowski?) crosses the line into cocky. And while we're loathe to jump on the ludicrous Goblin-bashing bandwagon, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) is nevertheless a far more impressive adversary than Willem Dafoe in a big, green hat.
Taken out of context as a rare slice of value in a summer of far too little - Troy, King Arthur, Van flippin' Helsing - a star undoubtedly gets lost from the theatrical five. But while it never quite scales the comparative heights of, say, The Empire Strikes Back to Star Wars, even though the similarities (father figures gone bad, foreboding, open-ended climaxes) are clear, the Spideysequel's ratio of improvement is very much in the same ballpark. Here's hoping that Raimi, with that noose now loosened, doesn't go and do an Ewok on us when the time comes for him to make the inevitable Part Three. Judging him on current form, it's looking increasingly unlikely.