Rating: 4.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Peter Parker’s double-life as Spider-Man is taking its toll. He can’t keep a job, pay his rent, or keep up his grades at college. He’s estranged from his friends and his Aunt May’s house is entering foreclosure. All the stress and pressure and challenges have worn him down to the point that his powers begin to fail, eventually leaving him entirely. He tosses his Spider-Man costume in the trash, determined to make a fresh start. Meanwhile, Dr. Otto Octavius hosts a fusion experiment that goes awry, almost blowing up the building, and leaving Octavius fused with his mechanical helper arms. Soon he’s robbing banks as Dr. Octopus to fund a new, even bigger fusion experiment that could potentially destroy the entire city. Will Spider-Man return from his exile in time to stop him?
Spider-Man 2 has some of the best superhero action scenes ever. The sequence starting with Spider-Man and Doc Ock fighting on a tower, ending up on a train, and then culminating in Spider-Man desperately trying to keep the train for crashing, is possibly the single best superhero scene ever. When the train passengers gently bring Spider-Man inside and lay him out, then stand in front of him to defend him from Doc Ock’s return, is incredibly emotional and moving.
That scene alone could make this film a classic, but there’s more. Spider-Man fighting Doc Ock at the bank is terrifically choreographed and very exciting, and the scene where a powerless Peter Parker saves a toddler from a burning building is very effective. I got a little choked up when Peter is barely hanging on to a burning floorboard, and the toddler is trying to grab his hands and pull him up.
Alfred Molina is fantastic as Doctor Octopus. He brings such gravity and presence to the role that even when he’s talking to his sentient tentacles, you go along with it. J.K. Simmons and Tobey Maguire also continue to give great performances. I’d watch an entire movie set in the Daily Bugle bullpen.
Frankly it’s hard to break down why, but, for the most part, the movie just works. It feels good, and it feels like Spider-Man. And it feels like Peter Parker, who spends the first 30-minutes of the movie living such a dire existence that it’s actually quite depressing.
A lot the elements surrounding the central romance between Peter and Mary Jane don’t really work for me. Dunst’s performance in this movie is a big step down from the first, and many of her most passionate lines are delivered with these dead eyes. Peter’s constant moaning that his many enemies will go after Mary Jane if they start dating seems absurd because A) he doesn’t have any enemies until Doc Ock shows up, since Green Goblin died in the first movie, and B) every enemy he gets ends up kidnapping Mary Jane regardless. At the end M.J. finally calls Peter out on taking this decision out of her hands, but it’s not really enough. By 2004 the comic series Ultimate Spider-Man had already demonstrated how much better their relationship works when he’s honest with her from the start, so there’s really no excuse for taking two full movies to tell her he’s really Spider-Man.
It is a bit repetitive that both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 center around the villain first attacking Aunt May and then kidnapping Mary Jane.
Spider-Man loses his super powers because he resents them, and then gets them back not when he gets a rousing speech from Aunt May and realizes he wants to be a hero again, but only when Mary Jane is attacked. The core of Spider-Man is his selflessness, so the moment when he recovers his powers would have worked better if it was totally selfless and not just to save the woman he loves.
Doc Ock’s arms have such advanced A.I. that if this inhibitor chip is damaged they will literally take over Otto Octavius’s mind. What? What does that even mean? Why couldn’t Ock just go crazy for normal supervillain reasons? And did he build that first fusion device in his loft?