Face front, true believer, for the best Spider-Man film so far!
Spider-Man 2 takes place two years after the first film and follows Peter Parker as he struggles to balance his personal life and fighting crime as Spider-Man while facing the sinister Doctor Octopus.
Out of the five Spider-Man films we have now, none of them do as much justice to both Peter Parker and Spider-Man when it comes to how the two of them coexist. This interpretation may not be perfect, but nothing ever has been when it comes to superhero movies. Peter was a normal kid when he got his powers, and he still tries to have such a life as much as he can. With his commitment to fight crime interfering with his personal life, Peter’s relationships and work becomes a hundred times more difficult. Someone who hasn’t had superpowers for very long will make a lot of mistakes every day. As a result, you have to keep kicking him down. It makes him a more compelling character when he’s always in the dirt, yet he keeps trying. Within the first ten minutes, Peter loses one of his jobs, Jonah talks down to him, he continues to miss his college classes, and Harry angrily asks him about Spider-Man. This opening sequence sets the tone for a movie that relentlessly makes Peter melancholy. However, as many times as he’s down on his luck, he gets back up. A hero is supposed to keep going no matter how tough life gets, and everyone involved nailed this part of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
The subplot of Peter losing his powers is one of this film’s greatest strengths. The shot of him walking away and the camera resting on his suit hanging out of the trash is great on its own. Yes, the following montage of Peter going about his life like a normal college student drips with cheese, but it makes up for it with dramatic storytelling, especially when he comes across a man getting mugged, and he walks away, horrified. You can tell he wants to help, but his expression shows that he regrets that it isn’t his responsibility. Deep down, Peter may not have wanted to be Spider-Man because of how much grief it causes him and severs his relationships with Harry and Mary Jane, but the loss of his powers makes him realize how much he needs that part of his life. Without directly saying it, Peter’s line “Am I not supposed to have what I want? What I need?” tells the audience that he wants to stay committed to what Spider-Man is all about, that with great power comes great responsibility. That is the very essence of the character, and it is what every Spider-Man film should contain.
It is an odd thing to give Peter some kind of personal connection with all of his villains, but it can make the conflict between them that much stronger. Making Doctor Otto Octavius something of a mentor to Peter is done so well here because they both learn from each other, and it influences how their struggle ends in an impactful way. Otto teaches Peter that “intelligence is a gift to be used for the good of mankind,” and Peter uses Aunt May’s words of wisdom (“to do what’s right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most, even our dreams”) to help him do the right thing. This ending creates an emotional moment, which tends to work better than the hero and villain simply beating the crap out of each other. Making the good guy personally know his enemy may not always work, but it did so wondrously in this film.
Alfred Molina’s acting as Doctor Octopus makes him one of the best comic book movie villains ever as he flawlessly portrays a broken man who turns to crime after he loses everything. Nobody could have conveyed the menace, power, and charisma of Doc Ock better than him. He has always been a great villain because he is the opposite of Spider-Man’s character; he is granted an amazing power, but he was never taught that you should use it responsibly. Sam Raimi and the writers weaved that aspect of the character in the best way possible, and Molina’s acting reflects it.
The visual effects are a major step up from the last film. Doctor Octopus’s arms still look fantastic thanks to the computer and puppeteering work. Possibly the best example of the digital work in this film is the hospital scene in which the mechanical arms massacre a room full of doctors. Each of the appendages get a close-up as they move about the scene, highlighting their detail and perfection. The scene itself is something to see because it is possibly the closest a Spider-Man movie will ever get to horror. What’s even more impressive for the time this movie was being made in, that being late 2003 to early 2004, when Ock’s arms interact with anything or anyone in each scene, you can’t pick out any flaws in how they or the actors look. Thanks largely to the artistic build of Doctor Octopus’s arms, this movie wholly deserved its Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Hospital scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUfHZNnWt2s
After nearly two decades of superhero movies, Spider-Man 2 still stands among them as one of the best, and it’s not looking as if it will be knocked off its pedestal anytime soon.
Spider-Man 2 gets an A+
“I might have some character traits that some might see as innocence or naive. That’s because I discovered peace and happiness in my soul. And with this knowledge, I also see the beauty of human life.”-Tobey Maguire
If you haven’t already, you can check out my review of the first Spider-Man here.
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