Spider-Man 2 is still one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It’s definitely one of the best sequels for any superhero franchise, Marvel or otherwise. Spider-Man 2 was in immediate development the second Spider-Man was released. Director Sam Raimi was eager to follow up its success. By 2004, I was a huge fan of Spider-Man and Marvel comics in general. My excitement for Spider-Man 2 only grew when I saw the poster for the first time. My brother and I immediately recognized the reflection in Spider-Man’s lense as his secondary archenemy Doctor Octopus. A supervillain that had been part of many failed Spider-Man scripts.
He became the primary antagonist after the Lizard, Black Cat, and New Goblin were left out for obvious reasons of overcrowding. Fortunately a terrible sounding script featuring a young Doc Ock was dropped as well. Instead, Spider-Man 2 draws inspiration from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s origin issue The Amazing Spider-Man #3. Along with the themes of Peter Parker questioning his role as a hero that are found in the famous storylines “If This Be My Destiny” and “Spider-Man No More!” My appreciation of Spidey only doubled after I saw Spider-Man 2 three separate times in theaters. At 9 years old, I continued to buy the LEGO, merchandise, play the equally spectacular video game tie-in, and obsess over Spider-Man all over again…
Spider-Man 2 comes out swinging with one of the coolest superhero movie openings ever. The gorgeous artwork from notable comic book illustrator Alex Ross recaps the events of the first movie. Followed by more narration from Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire was very nearly replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal after a back injury, but thankfully he recovered in time. Since Maguire is the only one who matches Peter’s meme-worthy dorkiness with Spidey’s grand super heroics. Just as Stan Lee intended, Peter has a ton of personal problems this time around. Rescuing New York civilians as Spider-Man cuts into “Pizza time” and gets him fired on his birthday no less. Even J. Jonah Jameson tries to fire him after he tries to stop taking pictures of Spider-Man. The Daily Bugle is the biggest comedic highlight of Spider-Man 2.
J. K. Simmons is absolutely hilarious this time around. From Jameson’s joke headlines to his out of nowhere fit of laughter. Ted Raimi’s Hoffman is just as fun playing off of Jameson. Specifically during the naming scene (that cheekily references Doctor Strange). Bill Nunn gets a chance to better show off Robbie’s belief in Spider-Man’s heroics. While Elizabeth Banks more noticeably shows off Betty Brant’s possible crush on Peter. Peter’s other problems include Harry Osborn’s growing resentment of his alter ego. James Franco is great at portraying both Harry’s frustration and his desire to carry on his father’s legacy at Oscorp. Then there’s Mary Jane Watson. Peter and MJ continue their love spiral until one too many Spider-Man related let downs force her to move on. Kirsten Dunst’s hair is more naturally red, but I kinda miss the dark red. Like the comics, MJ becomes a model and begins to act on stage. She becomes engaged to astronaut son of J. Jonah, John Jameson. Likely because they randomly chose a side character from the comics and wanted as much Jameson antics as possible.
Another problem is the comic accurate financial difficulties that Aunt May begins to face. I swear Rosemary Harris deserved an Oscar nod for her performance, because she flawlessly portrays the many sides of Aunt May. She’s both caring towards Peter, but struggling to get through the loss of her husband. She can be both no nonsense, brave, and inspirational. Peter also deals with his quirky landlord Mr. Ditkovich’s constant need for an overdue rent payment. Both him and his daughter Ursula (who has an innocent crush on Peter), are original characters. Dylan Baker does however make a quick cameo as a pre-Lizard Curt Connors. Peter’s college professor who fails him once again thanks to his life as Spider-Man. All of his life problems build up until another rescue causes him to miss MJ’s play. Thanks to another hilarious cameo by Bruce Campbell as an obnoxious usher.
Peter’s convenient connection to Otto Octavius is thanks to his association with Connors and Oscorp funding his research. Peter sees Octavius as a scientific idol who’s made a bit more sympathetic thanks to his wife Rosie. Alfred Molina was a brilliant choice to play Doctor Octopus thanks to his talent and fitting out of shape build. Similar to his goal in the comics, Octavius is a mad scientist planning to create a self-sustaining energy source like the power of the sun. Which of course requires the use of four mechanical arms. The tentacles couldn’t be more impressive. Each arm serves a purpose that was achieved with impressive animatronics and CGI. The experiment goes wrong and Octavius preventing Spider-Man from pulling the plug results in the death of his wife. What really drives Octavius towards villainy is the artificial intelligence built into the arms. Which is best seen in the Evil Dead inspired hospital horror show. Unlike the comics, goggles are replaced by sunglasses and green spandex by a green trench coat.
The first awesome fight scene takes place in the bank where Doc Ock robs the safe before Spidey gives him his change. The fight moves to the side of a building where Aunt May manages to get a hit in before being rescued. Look out for another heroic Stan Lee cameo. “Spider-Man No More!” is only recreated after Peter begins to psychologically lose his powers. Forcing him to comedically take the elevator and turn down the spirit of Uncle Ben for a normal life. Peter’s glasses return as he casually brushes off crime, passes his classes, and struts down the street to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Although things seem to be going well for him, MJ still rejects him and increased guilt leads to a powerful scene of Peter revealing the truth about Uncle Ben’s death to Aunt May.
The final straw is Peter’s heroic rescue in a burning building that saves a child, but fails to save someone else. Aunt May truly shines when she delivers a beautiful speech about what it means to be a hero. So Peter snaps out of it, but it’s not before a meeting with MJ that he truly regains his power. Although I’m not sure what Doc Ock’s intentions were by literally throwing a car at them. MJ is kidnapped and I cheer everytime Peter gets his suit back from Jameson. Spider-Man swings into action with what is still one of the greatest superhero fight scenes ever filmed. The train fight is an amazing spectacle that makes awesome use of Spidey’s webs and Doc Ock’s tentacles. Until he just decides to start throwing civilians at him. What is easily the best superhero rescue occurs when an unmasked Spider-Man uses his strength to stop the out of control train with his webs. Despite the reveal of his identity, the train passengers agree to keep his secret out of appreciation.
Doc Ock still takes him and honors a deal with Harry by giving him Spider-Man in exchange for a devastating amount of Tritium. I knew there was no other outcome, but it’s still shocking to see Harry discover the truth about his best friend. What really surprised me in the theater was the unexpected return of Norman Osborn. As he demands Harry avenge him by taking up his mantle as the new Green Goblin. The climax moves the action to Doc Ock’s abandoned hideout by the river where Spider-Man attempts to shutdown the machine which is now too big to contain. The only option is to reason with Octavius by unmasking himself. I’m not a big fan of supervillain redemptions, but Doc Ock’s tragic sacrifice is too well written not to accept. The final person to discover Peter’s identity is Mary Jane. Finally revealing the real reason they can’t be together. At least until she runs out of her wedding and chooses Peter at last. So Spider-Man swings into action, leaving an uncertain future ahead of them.
Spider-Man 2 is a vast improvement of everything that was great about the first movie. While at the same time, diving deeper into the inner struggle of being a hero like Spider-Man. Apart from some subtle changes, the costume remains unchanged. The special effects are so astounding that Spider-Man 2 won Sony an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. It didn’t take them long to perfect the web slinging, thwipping, and wall crawling. While at the same time increasing the acrobatics to create several cool shots. The equally good extended cut Spider-Man 2.1, shows off way more action, alternate scenes, and a particularly funny Spidey suit up for Jameson. But it’s the theatrical cut that I’ll always enjoy revisiting, because Spider-Man 2 shows us the true meaning of “With great power comes great responsibility.”