Spider-Man 2 (2004) Director: Sam Raimi
In another entertaining installment for the classic comic book hero, Spider-Man 2 is a surprisingly terrific sequel. Whereas in the first film we traced the origin/backstory of Peter Parker as Spider-Man, in Spider-Man 2, our hero sinks to his lowest point only to rise above it all and prove himself worthy. Spider-Man 2 was surprisingly praised by critics upon release, Roger Ebert called it the best superhero movie since Super Man II (1980). While staying true to the source material, Spider-Man 2 actually takes many of its script cues from the classic Super Man films.
Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst return with their on-screen (and off-screen) budding romance, as well as James Franco whose character resents Spider-Man for his father’s death. But the villain in this film is surprisingly compelling –Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto, later “Dr. Octopus,” whose scientific experiment goes horribly awry and leaves him with gigantic mechanical octopus tentacles –powered by artificial intelligence, the tentacles soon delude his mind. Meanwhile, Peter Parker seems to continually fail at every turn in his life –he is late to everything, angers his friends and family, and starts losing his spider powers for some reason. Like Super Man in Super Man II, Peter takes a somber hiatus from being a superhero, a respite in order to discover his purpose, only to return in order to prevent Dr. Octopus from restarting his experiment and destroying half the city of New York (including MJ). Once again, the somewhat conservative tone is pursued here –Dr. Otto is portrayed as a noble genius who intends to aid humanity with his inventions, but he is soon corrupted by his own discovery. His character arc is rife with hubris. The story engenders a certain degree of skepticism toward expert scientists as optimism quickly gives way to pessimism. However, the true crescendo of the film comes when Spider-Man’s identity is revealed to MJ and she flees her planned wedding ceremony to be with Peter. Despite being a campy action flick for teenagers, this film has a lot of heart to it. The central issue of Peter Parker’s true identity is explored in greater detail with greater nuance.
The villains in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series are all fundamentally good people, pursuing noble endeavors, but they are corrupted by their own creations. In the first film, Norman Osborn merely wants to see the success of his company, however he is ousted and then becomes corrupted by his own technology as the “Green Goblin.” In the sequel, Dr. Otto Octavius is a good-natured scientist who makes an honest mistake which leads to his personal downfall, however his experiment poisons his mind and he becomes “Dr. Octopus.” In the third film there are several villains but this trend holds.
Interestingly enough, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon contributed to the screenplay for Spider-Man 2. No doubt, his comic book expertise came in handy. In my view, Spider-Man 2 is a terrific sequel filled with new character development as well as opportunities to root for our downtrodden hero, who despite being a powerful figure, still manages to be an underdog in this movie.