Is this any way to manage a franchise film? You bet it is. Written primarily by Alvin Sargent (who the credits indicate had a lot of help) and directed by Sam Raimi with his heart on his sleeve and his tongue in his cheek, Spider-Man 2 is 1) a sequel that's much better than the original movie and 2) probably the best special-effects extravaganza since Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is because the effects, though handsomely managed, don't overwhelm the story and characters.
The latter include a soulful scientist (Alfred Molina) who, having fooled with Mother Nature, is somehow transformed into a great, clanking mechanical octopus; back from Spidey I, Peter's spunky, sweet-spirited aunt (the divine Rosemary Harris); and the meanest newspaper managing editor in movie history (J.K. Simmons). Occasionally, a street singer shows up to croak awful ballads about Spidey's exploits, and poor Auntie can't even get a toaster premium, much less a desperately needed loan, from her bank.
That's the thing about this movie. It takes the time all right, sometimes too much time to meander up paths that are not strictly germane to its main narrative. But mostly that pays off in funny tossed-off lines and quirky situations and a nice warm glow at the end. We're not dealing with Jamesian complexity here. But we do have something almost as rare to contemplate: a big Hollywood machine that's unexpectedly full of wit and dare we say it? intelligence.