Here's how not to screw up ''Spider-Man 2.'' With the sequel to the summer's biggest box office hit on its way, offers some unsolicited advice for the filmmakers

Here’s how not to screw up ”Spider-Man 2”

It took 40 years for Spider-Man to jump from Marvel Comics to the big screen, but spider-fans won’t face a similar wait for a sequel. ”The Amazing Spider-Man” will swing into theaters May 7, 2004 (get ready, that’s just over 560 days away). Promisingly, Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer-winning author of the comics-themed ”The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” is the latest screenwriter toiling on the project (”Spider-Man” writer David Koepp and ”Smallville”’s team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar wrote previous drafts).

But a lot needs to happen before the Sam Raimi-helmed film begins production — and eradicating star Tobey Maguire’s prodigious vacation beer gut is the least of it. Here are our unsolicited tips for the sequel.

Pick two great villains The filmmakers’ rumored strategy of pitting Spidey against a pair of foes — Dr. Octopus and the Lizard — is only half right. The sublimely silly, visually compelling Dr. Octopus (a scientist named Otto Octavius who affixes giant steel tentacles to himself) is a perfect choice. But Raimi and Chabon should flush the one-dimensional Lizard (a human turned hostile, bipedal amphibian), and replace him with the Sandman: a soft-hearted common criminal who, after a nuclear accident, becomes a living pile of sand.

In the ’80s, Sandman became Marvel’s most poignant bad guy when he decided to go straight — but found that his criminal pals and even the heroes he fought were unwilling to let him. Eventually, he became neither hero nor villain, but just a regular dude with weird powers who wanted to be left alone. Picking up on that aspect of the character, ”Amazing Spider-Man” could use Sandman as a reluctant villain; Dr. Octopus could even force him to use his powers against Spidey. Ultimately, Sandman would turn against Doc Ock and die a noble death — or at least retire to Brian Wilson’s living room.

Keep it real”Amazing Spider-Man” needs to avoid its predecessor’s habit of veering uncomfortably from the world as we know it. The Green Goblin’s constant cackling, the preposterous ”World Unity Festival,” the over-the-top wrestling sequence, the Manhattan jewel thieves operating in broad daylight — all of these seemed to take place in a campy cartoon world divorced from the rest of the movie.

This approach went against Marvel’s innovation of placing its improbably gifted heroes in a world like our own. They live and work in New York City, not Gotham or Metropolis, and have real people’s problems — from paying rent and washing their costumes to balancing school, work, and a obsessive hobby (okay, crimefighting). Peter should as worried about his Aunt May’s health as he is about ripping Doc Ock’s arms off. (By the way, Aunt May once dated Otto Octavius in the comics; that could work again).

More Jameson, please ”The Amazing Spider-Man” should expand the role of a Peter’s boss at the Bugle — J.K. Simmons, in his scene-grabbing turn as grumpy, Spidey-muckraking J. Jonah Jameson. One possible plot line would see Jameson promoting Dr. Octopus with puff pieces that tout him as a valiant genius who’s working to rid New York of the pernicious Spider-Man. Only after Jameson becomes inextricably entangled with Ock would he realize his true nature — and then he would have to balance his Spider-loathing with his commitment to the truth (even though he works for a New York tabloid). Alternatively, Spidey could simply hire a pitbull Hollywood publicist to improve his image.

Embrace the love story In the sequel, Peter Parker’s tragic loner pose needs to crack — let the poor guy get some action, already. Despite his everyone-I-love-gets-hurt concerns, how long could he really resist the ample charms of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson? These two need to hook up, if only for one night. Recriminations, apologies, and upside-down snogging could follow.

Or Peter could change his mind about dating Mary Jane, only to find that she’d lost patience and found another boy toy. He, in turn, could spark MJ’s jealousy by pairing with someone else — like Daily Bugle employee Betty Brant, a girlfriend from the early comics who is briefly mentioned in the first movie. She’s a brunette, so we humbly suggest some casting: ”Smallville”’s Kristin Kreuk. After all, she knows a little something about cute boys with big secrets.

What do you want to see in ”The Amazing Spider-Man”?

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