First off, let me say that, as a lifelong comics reader, I think the choice of Dr. Octopus for the villian, as opposed to The Green Goblin from the first film, is a much better choice. Doc Ock is a multi-faceted character. He is not a bad guy, but just a genius run amok. The Goblin is just plain crazy, and therefore one-dimensional, no matter what spin you try to put on it, and speaking strictly as a geeky fanboy - watching Doc Ock dance around using his monsterous mechanical arms that act as if they are giant slithering metallic pythons devouring the mind of a lost genius, is just fucking cool as hell! Okay, okay, now that all the comic-nerd is out of me, let's get on with the review of this film.
Spider-Man 2 is a much deeper and much more psychologically complex film than its predecessor, and it is much more visually striking than the first Spider-Man. This probably has to do with the success of number 1. Once Spider-Man became the fifth top-grossing film of all time, director Sam Raimi's harness was unhitched and the maverick director could play a lot harder and a lot freer at his craft of filmmaking, hence all the more avant-garde touches to part two, such as a silly Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head montage popping out of nowhere about midway through the film, or a tone deaf street musician warbling the words to the seventies Spider-Man theme song as Peter Parker/Spider-Man looks on.
There is one scene, just after Dr. Otto Octavius (played with a demonic glee by Alfred Molina) is rushed to the hospital after a freak experiment-gone-disastrously-wrong fuses four metal arms to his body. As the doctors are about to cut the arms off, he comes to life (or at least the arms do) and slaughters everyone in the operating room. The way this scene is filmed, with its camera angles and use of shadows and blood-curdling screams, Raimi has gone back to his Roger Corman-esque roots and given us a scene of pure B-slasher movie mentality, but accomplished in a most A-movie type way.
The great scenes just pile up, one on top of another, in a way that never happened in the original. Near the end, Spidey has to stop a runaway train full of rush hour commuters from careening off a dead end drop to the streets below. This one moment (along with the preceeding duel between Spidey and Doc Ock) is a breathtaking spectacle edge-of-your-seat kind of (literal) roller coaster ride. This is what a summer blockbuster should be made of. After Spider-Man stops the train (I'm sure I'm not spoiling anything for anyone - of course he stops the train) he passes out and the people on the train body-surf him to the end of the train car and gently lay him on the floor. His mask has been ripped off from the battle and everyone can see the face of Peter Parker. One passenger comments on him just being a kid, no older than his own son. When Doc Ock shows back up, it is these New Yorkers that attempt to protect Spider-Man from the villian, just as they had done against the Green Goblin in the first film. The indominable spirit of New York rises again to defend its own.
And as New York rises to protect its own, the film rises to the challenge that has been unmet so many times in comic book films of the past. This film is closer in tone to the comic than the first film - than almost any comic-turned-movie (with the possible exception of the visual style of the much maligned and under rated Hulk by Ang Lee). As the action heightens to an almost 3-D feel, so does the humour of it all - J.K. Simmons is hilarious as Daily Bugle Editor, J. Jonah Jameson. There are also other small moments of fun, such as Peter Parker looking dismayed at his Aunt May's news that she threw his comic books away, or a tired, emotionally-exhausted Spider-Man having to take the elevator down from the top of a skyscraper (where he tells the other passenger, played by Hal Sparks, that his costume itches and sometimes rides up in the crotch). But beyond the action and beyond the humour lies another level to this film. This is a level of psychological undertones that show severe feelings of loss and dread that pile up on Spider-Man's mind - something you don't get much of in a summer Hollywood blockbuster.
This film, just as in the Marvel comic book, is as much about the hero wearing the mask as it is about the hero beneath the mask, and Tobey Macguire shows this complexity with an unswerving eye toward humanity. As Mary Jane would say - go get 'em tiger. [06/30/04]