Spider-Man Returns

The long lines are set to form outside theaters as Sony’s eagerly awaited Spider-Man 2 opens today. Buoyed by rave reviews and plenty of positive buzz, the big-budget, CG-intensive superhero follow-up is on track to surpass the first movie’s record-setting $114 million opening. It may even end up slinging past DreamWork’s Shrek 2, which is currently the highest-grossing film of the year with $400 million in domestic receipts.

Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead trilogy, Darkman) is back at the helm, turning in a decidedly more personal film than the first Spider-Man. His roots in horror also peek out from time to time as he unleashes the fury of Doc Ock, a classic Spidey villain played brilliantly by Alfred Molina. Tobey Maguire is back in the red-and-blue leotards as your friendly neighborhood web slinger and Kirsten Dunst returns as his love interest, Mary Jane. Also returning are James Franco as Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborne, and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. J.K. Simmons also takes another scene-stealing turn as the crusty, fast-talking J. Jonah Jameson, editor-in-chief of The Daily Bugle.

Those less than thrilled with the quality of the computer animation in the first film will find the effects in the sequel much more convincing. Sony Pictures Imageworks handled the lion’s share of the work, with Edge FX, Zoic Studios, Entity FX, Pixel Magic, Ring of Fire and Radium all contributing under visual effects supervisors John Dykstra (Spider-Man, Star Wars) and Scott Stokdyk (Spider-Man, Hollow Man). Scenes involving a digital Spidey stand-in blend more seamlessly with live-action elements this time, but the real showpieces are Doc Ock’s tentacles, which were brought to the screen with a combination of CG and puppetry.

Casting its web over more than 4,000 theaters nationwide, Spider-Man 2 will have no trouble dethroning current box office champ Fahrenheit 9/ll, the politically-charged documentary by controversial filmmaker Michael Moore (Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine). Still, that film’s better-than-expected performance last weekend should generate good second week business, especially since Lions Gate is releasing it wider on Friday.

Spider-Man 2 runs 127 minutes and is rated PG-13 for stylized action violence. Look for our cover story on the film’s visual effects in the upcoming September issue of Animation Magazine.