As always when I write a movie review, this entry could and probably will give away some plot points, so proceed at your own risk. If you haven't seen the movie but plan to, I suggest you skip this one. Oh, but come back and read it after you've seen the film.
I follow similar advice myself. I almost never read reviews of movies I haven't seen yet, because I feel like they give away too much. I'll often go back after I've seen a film, though, and check out some reviews, just to see how my opinion differs and to sharpen my own perception of the film. I think it's a good system. Still, even without reading reviews, you can still get a feel for the general consensus about a film just by catching headlines and listening to people talk. I had heard that Spider-Man 2 was pretty good, and I liked the first one a lot, so I went in with pretty high expectations.
I was not disappointed at all. This movie is incredible.
First off, it's everything you would want a superhero movie to be. It's got a fast pace, it's funny when it should be, and the action sequences are awesome. There's a scene with a runaway train that will leave you on the edge of your seat, and that isn't the only one like that. It's very intense and fun.
It's also more than that, though. The film does a great job of showing Peter Parker as a real person, and of exploring the dichotomy between him and his Spider-Man alter-ego. He feels a need to fight crime as Spider-Man, but doing so is interfering with his own personal goals, not to mention his ability to pay his rent. This all comes to a head when he decides to give up being Spider-Man and get his own life in order, including his pursuit of Mary Jane Watson (the proverbial girl next door), who is inconveniently engaged to the son of Peter's boss.
Obviously, there comes a point where Peter is forced to take up his role of Spider-Man once again, and this point comes when Mary Jane is captured by the nefarious mad scientist Dr. Octopus. This leads, eventually, to MJ discovering his secret identity, which in turn leads to the way the movie ends (hint: she doesn't marry the astronaut), which should provide some interesting plot points for Spider-Man 3 (due in theaters in 2007).
Anytime I'm presented with a mythic hero like Spider-Man, I automatically make comparisons to Luke Skywalker. It's an automatic reaction. At any rate, I noticed one interesting thing that I thought was worth noting. When Skywalker casts away his lightsaber toward the end of Return of the Jedi, he's denouncing his dark side (the path his father took) and putting himself firmly on the noble path of the Jedi. However, when Peter discards his Spider-Man outfit, he relinquishes his noble side (the path encouraged by his uncle) and returns to the murk of being a mere mortal. He's not turning toward the "dark side" (to use Star Wars terminology), but he does become more inner-directed and selfish. Eventually (probably in the third film) he'll have to integrate these two sides of his personality, now that he knows he can't simply stop being one or the other.
Since I mentioned Star Wars, I may as well go on a bit of a semi-related tangent. One thing you'll notice about both Spider-Man films is that the computer generated graphics are a little weak. They're fairly decent, but if you pause to consider for a moment, you're never going to be fooled into thinking that Tobey Maguire is actually web-hopping above the streets of New York. It looks like digital imagery. That's perhaps because the filmmakers knew that the story was strong enough that they didn't have to focus on impeccable visuals. The two most recent Star Wars films, on the other hand...the computer graphics were awesome, but the story could have been told a lot better. I'm still holding out hopes that the yet-to-be-titled Episode III can be as good as Spider-Man 2 when it comes to showing emotional depth and despair. The fall of Anakin Skywalker should be full of anguish, and so far George Lucas hasn't shown himself to be capable of working with that type of emotion.
Of course, part of the reason the Spider-Man films have done so well on the emotional side is because the casting director has done a superb job of selecting actors to fill the roles. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have great chemistry as Peter and Mary Jane, and Alfred Molina did a great job as Dr. Octopus. Also, James Franco, who looks to be the next villain as the Green Goblin reincarnated, did a nice job as Peter's friend Harry.
Any problems I had with the film were due to certain plot points being underdeveloped, which I'm sure was something they had to do to keep the movie's run time at a reasonable length. Harry Osborn seemed to go crazy a little too quickly. Not enough time was spent on the madness of Dr. Octopus. Also, there was a little thing with Peter and his landlord's daughter, and then she disappeared...what happened there?
All in all, though, the movie is very good, and worth the $9.25 to see it on a big screen with awesome sound. I wouldn't mind seeing it again at some point before it leaves the theater, and I'll definitely pick it up when it comes out on DVD.