While box-office numbers are certainly indicative of a movie’s success with the masses, they were never one to judge a movie’s imaginative appeal- until now. What could easily be this year’s biggest summer spectacle is far more than what we normally equate with the sunny days of cinema. And with director Sam Raimi at the helm once again (surrounded by a familiar writing/production team), Spider-Man 2 has set new precedence in comic book adaptations; bursting free from the camp that others of its kind often languish in while scaling heights no forerunner (including its own) has ever scaled before.

What immediately sets the sequel apart from the 2002 release are the lush physical and emotional environments Raimi explores to great success. With much of the rudimentary characters and interactions established in the first, Spider-Man 2 delves into much deeper territory- most involving our seemingly reluctant, introspective superhero Peter Parker (Maguire). A few years after his first evolution into your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Parker wrestles more than ever with the complexities of his responsibilities. As wisely conveyed by Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibilities” – some of which heavily burden Parker’s everyday life. He can’t keep a decent job, he struggles greatly with his studies, and worst of all, his love for Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) remains deeply hidden from her.

The constant struggle between his superhero duties and his attempts to lead a somewhat ordinary life becomes a telling quality; one of the reasons why Raimi’s two adaptations have far exceeded those before them. Unlike many previous superhero incarnations that are often excruciatingly infallible, Raimi’s Spider-Man is as human as the struggling Peter Parker. In displaying the common weaknesses, a certain gap is bridged between the screen and the audience- we are convinced that there is a great deal of humanity behind the mask, and perhaps through these weaknesses we find a common bond. A kind of realism that became the staple of many Marvel comic characters – while they are blessed (or cursed) with superhuman ability, their human side never seems to wane, and much of the conflict arises not between hero and villain, but between the hero and the person within.

And thankfully Raimi spends the time to explore the struggles of both Parker and Spider-Man; because much of the movie’s conflict, like many instances in the comic books, stems from Parker’s own struggle to justify his cause as superhero. Is it worth scarifying a life to be a hero? How much can he take from those who constantly chastise Spider-Man as a villain? (This of course, comes from Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson) And with the constant to-and-fro between these issues, Parker has to decide just how important this responsibility is. It’s all very riveting, and we haven’t even begun exploring the many intricacies of the villains.

Like those who fight for the cause of good, those out for evil in the Marvel universe are not all too dissimilar to their counterparts. In the case of Spider-Man’s latest adversary, this is very much the case; the corruption of the human spirit will undoubtedly change the person, but deep down somewhere there still harbors certain good. Well-natured scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina) is irreversibly altered when attempting to harness fusion energy, resulting into his transformation into Doctor Octopus (or in this case, simply “Doc Ock”) and the apparent destruction of his long-labored project. He in turn rampages through the streets of New York causing havoc. And in his quest to rebuild the venture, he runs into the one person determined to identify the man behind Spider-Man: Harry Osborn (Franco). Still bitter about the loss of his father, Osborn’s unyielding desire to unmask the hero is where much of the true physical conflict begins.

Thanks to a hefty amount of CGI, the battles smash their way from skyscraper to skyscraper, on top of speeding trains, through the walls of buildings and the skies in between- all rich with the energy and excitement of thundering booms and the swift swaying of the wind. It all seamlessly transpires, making for some of the most exhilarating (and wholly comprehensible) coming together of good and evil.

It is important to note that the computer generated portions have been improved for the most part. My biggest complaint about the first was that Spider-Man looked and felt a little hokey plunking from building to building in rather awkward, gangly motions. And while it still isn’t quite perfect, the movements of flight and fight transitions much better with the live action this time around.

Nonetheless, the most important qualities of the movie are close to flawless. A compelling storyline is bolstered by characters that are given room to flourish with individuality and interesting dialogue. From a seemingly small role in Aunt May (who is an important aspect to Parker’s inner struggles), to J. Jonah Jameson, they are all important to the central characters and how they ultimately end the day. Then there is of course, Mary Jane herself- who perhaps is the principal reason for Spider-Man’s good and bad days. Dunst’s character is a certain veil of life, an unknowing beacon of hope for an entire population who depend greatly on one superhero. Watson goes through the movie with the same struggles as Parker- lost in love she does not quite understand while fighting for answers she cannot obtain. And it is easy to lose one’s self in this tangled web between her life and Parker’s. Raimi does ever so well to juggle this heartache throughout the movie; cresting perhaps in a scene where Watson shares an inverted kiss with her current boyfriend- hoping to recapture that one long lost kiss.

With such depth in all the characters and a thoroughly enriching tale to wrap them around, Spider-Man 2 is the great example of how the words and colors of comic books can become on-screen reality. It is as entertaining as it is smart, engaging as it is affecting, and enjoyable as it is successful; bringing to life the kind of imagination that spellbinds entire generations, and for that quality alone, we cannot ask for more.

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina
Distributed by: Sony Pictures