There are stretches through these Spider-Man movies where the costumed antics and explosive mayhem almost become an after thought. You're feeling sorry for poor Peter Parker, who only wants to help others but can never get a break, and he has to keep running into the heartbreakingly lovely Mary-Jane Watson, knowing that their love can never be. He couldn't risk having another super freak hurt her to get to him like the Goblin did, hence he chooses to remain distant and lonely. This complicated relationship between MJ and Peter is truly the heart of "Spider-Man 2", even more so than in the original film. This ain't Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
, mind you, and there is still plenty of edge-of-your-seat action, but ultimately it's all about Tobey Maguire looking longingly into the pretty eyes of Kirsten Dunst.
That, and going mano a tentacle with the mad Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina)! Heroes and villains are still knit tightly together this time. After clashing with the father of his best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco, still brooding like there's no tomorrow), Parker now has to go after one of his scientific idols, Doctor Otto Octavius. This great mind also happens to be working for Harry and Oscorp, developing a form of fusion that could provide sustainable energy, like a man-made sun. To be able to manipulate it, Octavius creates a set of four mechanical arms unaffected by heat or magnetism that he can control mentally. But on the day his invention is made public, it goes wildly out of control and blows up the laboratory, leaving him with metal limbs fused into his spine and with his mind turned to evil!
This leads to a series of amazing confrontations between Dr. Octopus and Spider-Man, going through streets and up skyscrapers and down onto a speeding train and on and on. These fight sequences are really crazy and intense, you feel that director Sam Raimi is having the time of his life throwing Doc Ock and Spidey around New York. Everything seems cranked up a notch above Spider-Man
: the sound effects are louder, the pace is faster, the score is more epic, the camerawork is wilder... The special effects are awesome, too, but it's still distracting when you can tell that you're watching a CGI Spider-Man fighting a CGI Dr. Octopus across CGI backdrops – it gets to be more video game than comic book. Raimi is technically at the top of his game, but his low-budget early flicks were somehow more effective. There's a charm to shoestring effects, I guess, necessity is the mother of invention, etc.
In any case, as I mentioned before it's the great emotional moments that make these pictures special, between Peter and Mary-Jane but also with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who has a couple of well written inspirational speeches. "Spider-Man 2" also has a wonderful sense of humor – it's funnier than most comedies! J.K. Simmons is hilarious every time he shows up as newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson, Bruce Campbell has a great cameo as a snooty usher, Stan Lee saves another bystander and, of course, Spidey himself can be quite the joker. "It rides up in the crotch a little."
This is still not the perfect "Spider-Man" movie I've been imagining since I was a little tyke playing with action figures, but it is a spectacularly entertaining summer movie nonetheless.