As the countdown continues for Spider-Man: No Way Home and we wait anxiously for the second trailer to drop (which will supposedly feature the return of Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man), it is time to take a look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. The second Spider-Man film is well loved for many reasons but one of the standouts was its villain Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), who will return in Spider-Man: No Way Home,
When Spider-Man 2 begins, we see that Peter Parker (Maguire) is still a lovable loser who is struggling desperately to balance his civilian life with his superhero antics as Spider-Man. Being the costumed adventurer is clearly interfering with his private life to the point that it gets him fired from a delivery person job, threatens his academic career in college and even late for his own birthday party. Peter is constantly broke and unhappy over how his responsibilities keep him from getting romantically involved with his friend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She is now a successful model and Broadway actress and has feelings for Peter but his inability to admit their mutual feelings for one another keeps her away. Eventually she gets engaged even though she still loves Peter, which crushes him.
The dilemma of leading a double life eventually gets to Peter. He begins to lose his powers for pscyhosomatic reasons and he decides to give up his Spider-Man identity. While this decision brings him momentary happiness, the love of his life is still engaged to someone else, he is still struggling to make ends meet, crime and other mishaps in New York City continue, and a new supervillain soon enters his life.
Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina) is a brilliant nuclear scientist working for Oscorp, the company that Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), runs. Harry took over the company after his father, who was secretly the villainous Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man film, was killed in battle with Spider-Man. Dr. Octavius is working on a way to create fusion to supply a cheap energy source. During a live demonstration attended by Peter, Harry and Octavius’ wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy), the scientist unveils these robotic arms that he invented to help him handle hazardous materials in his fusion reactor project. He cybernetically attaches the arms to his spinal column to control them mentally. Dr. Octavius informs his audience that the arms have a form of artificial intelligence to help him but he maintains control with an inhibitor chip implanted on the arms.
Not long after the scientist begins his fusion demonstration, the experiment gets out of control because of an energy spike. The fusion reactor threatens everyone but Peter switches to his Spider-Man identity and shuts down the reactor. However, before he does this Rosalie is killed and Dr. Octavius is caught in an explosion that permamently fuses the arms to his spine and destroys the inhibitor chip. Later in a hospital, the AI took control of his robotic arms killed the doctors who attempted to remove them from Dr. Octravius. After he escaped from the hospital, it is clear that the AI took control of the scientist and goad him to rebuild the fusion reactor regardless of the danger. This leads “Doctor Octopus”, as the press dubbed him, to go on a criminal spree to get the funds and materials to complete his work, and in direct conflict with Spider-Man.
As soon as Spider-Man 2 premiered on June 22, 2004, it was instantly hailed as one of the best , if not the best superhero films of all time and for good reason. Sam Raimi and other returning cast and crew upped their ante and presented the definitive version of Spider-Man and his colorful world. It was full of action, laughs, thrills, adventure and most of all, heart. The film is one of the most faithful interpreations of the Marvel Coomics done by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita. The result is a unique and vibrant world that is more rooted in the fanciful pages of a Marvel comic than our world. The best example of this is the film’s iconic train fight between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. As they’re fighting in and around a fast-moving train that is above ground, it becomes clear that the geography of New York City does not mesh with ours. The skylines indicated they were in Manhattan but the island does not have an above-ground train system. Still, the sequence was spectucular and one of the very best superhuman fights ever filmed. Other scenes were literally taken from comic book pages or inspired by them. The best example is the scene were Peter gives up his Spider-Man identity and throws out his costume. This moment was a near-perfect recreation of the famous panel in The Amazing Spider-Man #50 that shows Peter walking away in an alley with the garbage can stuffed with his costume in the foreground.
Tobey Maguire by now personified Peter Parker and made him such a beloved and quirky nerd as it seemed the entire world was against him. Of course, some of his sad sack situations and mopish mood were a bit over-the-top because seriously how can anyone’s luck be that bad, but they were humorous and endeared him to audiences. Raimi and the scriptwriter Alvin Sargent kept the humor about Parker’s bad luck at the right level without getting out of hand. There is one amusing meta joke in the film where Peter falls from a building after trying to use his powers. As he got up he complained about his back. Tobey Maguire had a bad back condition and the producers considered recasting the role with Jake Gyllenhaal as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Fortunately, Maguire recovered and was able to reprise his role. Still, given Gylllenhaal’s talent, one has to wonder how his version of the superhero would have been like and if the film would have been as well received.
But the best laughs in the fillm go to any scene with J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), the publisher of the Daily Bugle, where Peter sells his photographs of Spider-Man. J.K. Simmons gives his best and most hilarious performance as the muck-raking Jameson. His quick one-liners and cranky personality perfectly capture the essence of Jameson. His performance is so great that when it came time to featuring Jameson in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the filmmakers wisely chose not to recast the part and allowed Simmons to reprise the role. For more of his antics, check out Spider-Man 2.1, an extended cut of the film. The funniest scene featured in that cut has Jameson wearing the Spider-Man suit and jumping around his office trying to cosplay. Talk about irony! Here he is printing the most outlandish, negative accusations against Spider-Man, and yet it turns out he secretly was jealous of him and wanted to be the superhero.
It has been said that what makes a superhero film rise or fall has to do with the villain. A well-conceived and performed foe will elevate a superhero film and Doctor Octopus in this one splendidly supports that notion. Thanks to Alfred Molina, Doctor Octopus projects a mixture of imposing menace, arrogance and pathos. Molina’s Octavius dispenses with the cackling mad scientist trope and gives us a tortured man who is solely devoted to completing his experiment. Everything else from Spider-Man to ethics to the loss of his wife are just mere obstacles he has to plow through to reach his goal. The special effects showcasing his robotic arms were topnotch and believable, they helped the film earn an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. The way they flailed about seemed fluid, threatening and it was almost like the arms had a life of their own. Sam Raimi channeled his horror roots in the hospital scene where the arms killed the medical staff. It seemed like Raimi was trying to recreat a moment from his Evil Dead films with the heavy use of shadows, exaggerated screaming, ominous POV shots, and intense kinetic cuts. Still, Molina’s performance was never over the top and just the right pitch. His Octavius even displayed a quiet sense of nobility in the end of the film when he regained control over the AI and sacrificed himself to destroy his rebuilt reactor. It’s no wonder many of us were excited to see Molina returning as Doctor Octopus in the first trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home. His brief appearance was one of the best parts from the trailer. Cannot wait to see those mechanical tentacles and Molina’s imposing stares once again.
There have been many superhero films since Spider-Man 2 that have claimed the honor of being the best superhero film Still, Spider-Man 2 deservedly is considered one of the best ones. To this day it is acclaimed as the the best live-action Spider-Man film ever made. It may be a bit too mawkish at times and too engrained with its comic book roots. However, Spider-Man 2 makes up for its minor faults by being exciting, humorous and full of heart, and a well-rounded classic.