This is more like it. One of the ultimate examples of a sequel being better than the original, Spider-Man 2 is leaps and bounds more enjoyable than its predecessor.
The central installment sees Peter Parker contemplating giving up being Spider-Man in order to live a normal life with Mary Jane and maybe reconnect with his best friend, Harry, who blames Spider-Man for the death of his father. But after Dr. Otto Octavius, a father figure of sorts for Peter, is transformed after a freak accident into Dr. Octopus and recklessly plans to recreate his dangerous experiment, the world may need Spider-Man more than ever.
Whereas Spider-Man came and went, Spider-Man 2 is the film a young adolescent version of myself revisited time and time again. It came so close to my ideal vision of Spider-Man and had a story that was so much more engaging, that for a long while it became comparable for me to what Star Wars is for others.
Most of Spider-Man 2‘s greatness comes from the story. Admittedly, it’s not the first superhero movie to tell the “hero gives up his powers” story; that would be Superman 2. But one could make a convincing argument that Supes borrowed that concept from the “Spider-Man No More” story-line, originally published in the comics in the ’60s, which this movie borrows directly from. It’s a quintessential part of the character’s journey and provides a good narrative focus that the first movie didn’t really have. Many comic book sequels that followed have focused on the main character wanting to give up his responsibility (The Incredible Hulk, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and even The Dark Knight, briefly) but I don’t think any of them reached the bar this one set.
The other element that set 2 above and beyond is its villain. Doctor Octopus was never really an uber-complex villain that drastically changed Peter Parker/ Spider-Man’s life like the Goblin did, but he is one of the earliest and most well known adversaries of the wall crawler. And without all the baggage that came with a character like the Green Goblin (and another later villain) they were able to take a few liberties and craft one of the best comic villains on screen. Alfred Molina delivers a subtly menacing, yet sympathetic performance. Watching him go from an enthusiastic physicist giving advice involving poetry to a deranged freak, snarling threats of mutilation is what I like to see in my bad guys. The practical work with the tentacles is impressive and makes for some fascinating choreography and brutally intense action scenes.
The melodrama that occasionally seeps into the series seems the most at home in this movie. Sequels are supposed to be either darker &/or more emotionally charged than their predecessors and I never felt any big emotional moment here that was overdone or unearned. The material this time naturally lends itself to more of a sentimental slant.
The CGI is still not up to snuff, but at least some progress was shown. Web swinging scenes make the character feel too weightless and parts of the action scenes on the clock tower and train are reminiscent of the rubber-people of the last movie.
However, some select shots look great, case in point, the ending where Octavius and his reactor are sinking into the water. That’s another thing that is done so right this time; the movie is chalked full of images that are practically iconic like Peter walking away after leaving his costume in the trash, Harry talking to Norman in the mirror and discovering his secret room, Peter and Mary Jane in the giant web, and the previously listed scene, to name a few.
Some of the few gripes I have with the movie are small things that carry over from last time: a few too many campy scenes that it feels like the movie stops entirely for, Kirsten Dunst is still flat, James Franco … whatever, the already mentioned CGI, and now a few weird plot gaffes (what part of “don’t hurt Peter” translates to “launch a fucking car at him”?).
My feelings about the entire trilogy have rusted away some of the high enthusiasm I used to have for this one, but I still hold it high regard as the best of the Raimi movies. Adding a well crafted villain and telling a story that made the character legendary makes for a thoroughly entertaining movie and a great reminder of why Spider-Man resonates with audiences.
And, yes, he stole that guy’s pizza.