Spider-Man 2, by not having to deal with the obligatory “origin of” storytelling that saddled the original, is predictably better than its predecessor.

The surprise lies in how much better it is. It’s a rich story about responsibility, about the obligation a superhero (Tobey Maguire) has to a city he may or may not feel like saving (because, hey, he’s got problems too, you know?). It’s also a love story, amorously exploring a relationship between Peter Parker, Spidey and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) that’s grown far more complicated than the simple infatuation it was in the original.

And of course, it’s an action film, with set pieces, scenes and a villain (the wonderful Alfred Molina as Doc Ock) that far surpass the previous film’s offerings. Spidey fans really couldn’t ask for more, and if Spider-Man 2 isn’t the best superhero film ever made, then it’s tied at the top.

Best extra: A loaded second disc, with features about the Spider-Man universe and a 12-part documentary about the making of the film. Also: Additional backstage features, two commentary tracks (including one with Maguire and Director Sam Raimi), bloopers, trivia track, online Web-i-sodes (cute, huh?) and more.

Grade: A

© 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Spider-Man 2 is currently available.