"Bring me Spider-Man or I'll peel the flesh from her bones." - Doctor Octopus to Peter Parker, Spider-Man 2

You're about to be spoiled, true believers!

2002's Spider-Man raised the bar for superhero movies, putting average and dismal heroic action films such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman and Robin to shame. Spider-Man showed the world at large that superhero movies can be more than god-like moral paragons or dark, angsty, brainless shoot-em-ups. More to the point, it gave the cinema one of the first "real" superheroes. It's been said millions of times by now, but it's worth saying again: one of Spider-Man's key draws is that he's a real guy underneath the costume; fighting the forces of evil doesn't pay the bills or allow for much of a social life. While the first film taught us that with great power comes great responsibility, the sequel shows that great responsibility doesn't leave much room for happiness. Unlike other sequels, Spider-Man 2 takes the bold step of actually allowing the characters to grow as people. 2004's Spider-Man 2 picks up on this note, opening with Peter Parker working as a pizza delivery boy to scrape together enough money to pay the rent at his rundown, one room apartment. His insistence on keeping the would-be love-of-his-life Mary Jane Watson safe from his enemies has finally driven them apart (not that they were ever really together, but...); Mary Jane has forced herself to move on from her non-romance with Peter and is engaged to astronaut John Jameson, son of Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson. As for the late Norman Osborn/Green Goblin's son Harry Osborn, he has sunk into a pit of depression, alcohol, and anger over both his inability to kill Spider-Man and Peter Parker's "reluctance" to reveal the web slinger's real identity. And Spider-Man himself? His abilities are mysteriously fading, leaving him as plain 'ol Peter Parker again. In one of the film's most iconic images, Peter discards his costume in an alley dumpster, proclaiming himself Spider-Man no more.

Seeing as how nothing is ever easy for Peter Parker, it's only a matter of time before all of the people in his life wind up in conflict with each other, and eventually the catalyst that sparks life-changing events for everyone in his world comes along in the form of Dr. Otto Octavius. To the horror of Harry Osborn and OsCorp (who has invested heavily in the doctor's project), Dr. Octavius's life's work - a form of fusion that produces cheap, renewable energy - suffers a massive malfuction during the initial test, causing the good doctor's unique mechanical tentacles that are used to control the fusion process to fuse to his spine. Overcome by the artificial intelligence in the four massive mechanical arms, Dr. Octavius becomes the maniacal Doctor Octopus ("Doc Ock") and plots to successfully complete the experiment, all the while killing anyone who gets in his way. This eventually brings him into conflict with Spider-Man as he and New York's protector damage buildings, elevated trains, and a number of other structures in, as the Green Goblin once said, "selfish battle again and again and again."

Spider-Man 2 carries over every aspect of the first film that made it so utterly enjoyable and adds in plenty of new material to make it an amazing film in its own right. Danny Elfman's haunting score returns, played against the opening credit sequence that features artistic comic panels created by Alex Ross that depict the major plot points and memorable moments from the first film. Our hero even gets to fire off a few wisecracks, an aspect of the character that was underplayed in the 2002 feature. There are even a number of sly nods and in-jokes scattered around the movie, such as a street singer's off-key rendition of the 1960's Spider-man theme song, a brief appearance of Curt Connors (the man who would be Lizard), a mention of Doctor Strange, a brief cameo by Stan Lee (who is once again rescuing someone from falling debris), and a tongue-in-cheek nod to star Tobey Maguire's well-publicized back injury. The film even tosses in a few unexpected surprises, such as a brief appearance of Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn and his chilling Green Goblin laugh. Director Sam Raimi and his crew have outdone themselves.

The Spider-Man film franchise is clearly firing on all cylinders now as the final scenes of this sequel set up what appear to be the key conflicts of the inevitable Spider-Man 3; all in all the movie preps three would-be villains for possible use in future storylines (if the following films play out in accordance to the comic books) plus changes some of the key relationships and character dynamics that run throughout the series. It is rare in this day and age that a major Hollywood summer blockbuster popcorn movie actually contains a worthwhile storyline and engaging characters. Some film critics have called Spider-Man 2 the greatest superhero movie of all time, and quite frankly it's easy to see just how true that critique may be. Four tentacles up for Spider-Man 2.



Spoilers abound in this troubled city. Be warned.

I must be the only person in the world who was disappointed with this movie.

Well, not quite. Out of the the 167 reviews currently listed on the movie-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, only 10 are bad. Still, that's only 6% of the total. Besides, I don't really think it's a bad movie per se, I just don't think it was that great. Certainly not up to the level of the original.

First of all, I found a lot of the dialogue corny and stagnant, and worst of all, out of character. The most grievous example of this was Aunt May's speech about heroes. Not only did it pretty much come out of nowhere (the unsubtle pretext of the kid who missed Spidey notwithstanding), but it simply does not sound like the simple, beleaguered old woman who's ever-clueless about her nephew's secret identity. (Of course, it seems to have mostly been put in so he could repeat it to Doc Ock, thus bringing the movie to an unsatisfying anticlimax; I suppose she was just in a convenient place for it.)

The plot twists brought on by Spidey's fading superpowers were also a source of annoyance for me. Granted, we get a bunch of sadistically humorous falls on Parker's part ("I'm back! I'm back!" *fweeeee-CRASH* "My back! My back!"), but the whole thing doesn't go anywhere. I haven't read enough of the comics to know if this plotline was explored in them, but there was a similar event in the 90's cartoon (the good one, not Spider-Man Unlimited) - it was a season-spanning storyline called "Neogenic Nightmare". Spidey learns that the spider bite that gave him his powers had only begun its changes, and his mutation was continuing to eventually transform him into a non-sentient, anthropomorphic spider (the "Man-Spider"). His search for a cure brings him into conflict with the X-Men, the Vulture, Blade, and a host of others, and his failing powers nearly lead to his death at the hands of the "Insidious Six".

Nothing remotely like that happens in the movie. We just see him losing his powers and then mysteriously getting them back, with no explanation of how it happened or what it has to do with anything. The only thing that makes any sense to me at all is that scenes like the doctor's office one were meant to make us believe it was all in his head - which is pretty weak.

Next, we have Doctor Octopus. First of all, Alfred Molina was simply a bad choice for this role. I'm not saying he's a bad actor, he just doesn't have the right look or the right sound for the Doc. Octavius is a reasonably well-built German. Molina is an overweight Brit who seems to be trying to emulate American speech, and that's what he sounds like. There are other problems with the movie's rendition of the character, but they can't be attributed to the actor: For one, the origin given him in the movie is simply preposterous. Granted, the original story wasn't very scientifically sound either, but at least it made some sense in the "logical but not probable" manner. There is no reason why those robot arms would need artificial intelligence of the Strong AI, Human variety, and even if it did, why would it be given a direct interface with Octavius' brain? It just needs to receive signals from it and guide the arms accordingly. Not to mention that his one-liners were campy and stupid, something out of the 60's cartoon (you know, the one where Spidey's catchphrase was "Wallopin' websnappers!")... or the live action Batman. (Everyone do the Batusi!) The sad part is that Doc Ock really is a much better villain than the Green Goblin, but in the movies the latter was a much better antagonist.

Lastly, we have the foreshadowing with Harry Osborn at the end. It's not that it wasn't well-executed; I can't deny that Raimi did a good job there. It's just... all the villains Spidey's fought, and for the next movie they're going to give us Green Goblin II? I hope they're at least planning to have him *in addition* to Mysterio or Electro or someone. (Also, I realize Harry's not exactly in the most sane state of mind, what with him hallucinating and all, but wouldn't the revelation that his father was the Green Goblin kinda make him understand why Spidey might have killed him?)

Other things that irked me:

  • Junk science galore. I realize complaining about junk science in anything comic-related is like complaining about fat in fast food, but this got ridiculous at points. "The fusion reaction is self-sustaining... it can't be stopped... unless... the river!" Hey, I just hope no whacko ever sends some water into the sun, or else we're all doomed. DOOOOOMED!
  • Okay, so Doc Ock's tentacles are nearly invincible; but he's basically just a normal man. So why is it that Spider-Man - by all accounts strong enough to lift several tons - is unable to knock out the guy, despite numerous blows to the head?
  • The goddamned screaming women. All concerns about it being sexist aside, it's just annoying as hell that in every scene with Doc Ock, there's some woman screaming hysterically. In fact, I think Aunt May may have been the only woman in the whole movie who didn't do so. I mean, Jebus; if I wanted to hear a bunch of people screaming like little girls, I would listen in on a N'Sync concert, or whatever boy band is the flavor of the month.
  • Spidey sure does show his face to an awful lot of people. I find it hard to believe not one would rat him out. (Even on that train - I know plenty of people who are opportunistic enough to have taken his picture or something, even though he nearly killed himself saving their lives.)
  • I'm sorry, but I can't believe ol' J. Jonah Jameson would ever admit that he was wrong, or that Spider-Man was really a hero. Hell, "admit" isn't even the proper word; he seems to believe his headlines well enough, in which case he honestly believes Spidey's a crook.
  • What the hell was that scene with the landlord's daughter giving Peter some cake? What possible relevance did that have to anything?
  • Some goofs: The cake mentioned above was supposed to be chocolate, but was clearly yellow; and the "webbing" that Spidey and MJ are hanging on at the end is clearly some metal wire (a fence?) with white string or something around it. And if that fusion ball is so incredibly magnetic that it's pulling cars into it from several blocks away, how are those metal "generator" thingies not affected? And did anybody else notice that after all Ock went through after the bank robbery, he didn't come away with any money?

    On the other hand, there are some things I *did* like a lot about it:

  • On the whole, the action scenes were a lot better than in the first movie.
  • Aunt May bashing Ock on the head (and thus saving Peter) was just classic. Although you have to wonder why she didn't think to act until right then... I guess she thought it was a fair game until Octavius produced the blade.
  • Stan Lee's cameo. I'm 99% sure that was him pulling the woman out of the way of rock debris during the last part of Spidey and Ock's first fight.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest was a very good choice for MJ's play. Very topical.
  • I know it's a cliche, but I liked the end scene where MJ ran out on her fiance and convinced Peter that they should get together. At least Spider-Man 3 won't have all this teen/young adult angst crap in it. Or at least, not as much...
  • With the exception of that one scene I already mentioned (and it wasn't his fault anyhow), J.K. Simmons is a great Jameson. I'm glad he got more screen time this time around.

    Anyway, like I said, it's not a horrible movie, but I certainly wouldn't say it's better than the first. I'm definitely getting it when it comes out on DVD, so that... pretty much sums it up. Yeah.
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