Spider-Man 2

The best American movie so far this year and the best comic book adaptation ever.

"I'll peel the skin off your face!"

Spidey nemesis Doc Ock informs one of his victims how he feels. Here's how I feel about director Sam Raimi's ("Spider-Man," "A Simple Plan") "Spider-Man 2": It's the best American movie so far this year and the best comic book adaptation ever filmed.

Not hard to figure because the writers are a Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay") and Oscar winner Alvin Sargent ("Ordinary People"). This is the kind of movie American filmmakers excel at with outrageous action, weepy relationships, and glorious endings, all spiced with unparalleled special effects and actors such as Tobey Maguire destined to play their roles.

Peter Parker (Maguire) is still rejecting Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) because of the danger his Spider-Man persona would bring her if people knew who he was. The interesting twist in this second installment is that Spidey briefly loses his powers in conjunction with several other losses in his life, love and job included. That maxim, "With great power comes great responsibility," still eludes him because he disavows heroic responsibility and hurls himself into an existential funk questioning his purpose in life.

Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) makes it difficult for Parker to quit the web-based business because Ock's experiments with fusion threaten all of New York City (A popular target this year: Remember it frozen in "Day After Tomorrow"?), and Spidey is the only one who can defeat him. Molina's octopus-like tentacles achieve character-status, and his climbing Manhattan buildings with various female victims in his grasp evokes the great King Kong. Like him, Ock has a soft side that makes him less a monster and more a human.

Among several themes is the importance of responsibility, a lesson for all the major characters, including slimy newspaper editor J. Jonah Jamison (J.K Simmons), who steals the show with his over-the-top selfishness and brief moment of remorse.

Stan Lee, who created the complex hero for Marvel comics in 1962, has a cameo, but his understanding of human frailty pervades the film. He achieved that heroic ambivalence only hinted at in the Superman comic book series.

Tobey Maguire ("Cider House Rules," "Seabiscuit") has the youthful idealism and stunned-by-reality look to make the complicated change of life credible. He reminds me of another struggling, lonely, and poor hero, Thomas Hardy's Tess, who likened herself to a lonely spider, "which had been mistakenly placed in a corner where no flies ever came, and shivered in the slight draft through the casement."

Maguire's gift as an actor is to relay the American dream and the American drama of self-discovery in his eyes. No other actor can better demand our respect for his journey from innocence to experience. He is America.

So the neocons should love the responsibility theme considering the sacrifices the War in Iraq has asked. The other themes of sacrificing for love and discovering one's self may be too subtle for anyone but Democrats. Either way, this is a movie to draw you firmly and forever into its warm web, even more than the original did.

Stay put because Spidey 3 is spinning another web.