Published July 23, 2004
Where the first Spider-Man works best is when Peter Parker is discovering his powers. Somehow, it manages to capture the thrill of being an ordinary teenager who can suddenly beat up bullies and swing from skyscrapers better than he has any right to. Where the first film goes wrong is when the plot kicks in. Willem Dafoe can do menacing like few others, but the giggling Green Goblin in full regalia looks like someone you´d rather laugh at as he tries to take over the world. And the action scenes are closer to the spirit of Charlie´s Angels than the comic books.
This time, they get the villain right. The usually affable Alfred Molina makes a mean Dr. Octopus, if a somewhat more sympathetic one than his comic book counterpart.
Again, insanity is the reason for the evil one´s actions. His debates with his mechanical arms verge on the ridiculous, but in the context you go can along with anything and just enjoy it.
The insanity of both Norman Osbourne and Otto Octavious continue a familiar theme in popular culture: beware the eggheads. Anyone who thinks too much is bound to be plotting something sinister and the hero is a muscleman who punches his way into the villain’s meticulously constructed lair and saves the day. Superman´s brawn vs. Luthor´s brains, The Hulk’s gamma-enhanced muscles vs. the Leader´s (to be played by Geoffrey Rush in the 2nd Hulk film) gamma-enhanced intellect. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why a lot of people seem to have more faith in a Bush than a Gore. Anyone who knows too much is not to be trusted.
But Spider-Man is no brainless hunk of muscle. He seems more like the top student taking on the professors, which in this film he more or less literally does.
Unlike most fairy tales, which tell us that if we do the right thing we will eventually be rewarded, the Spiderman stories have always taken a different and perhaps more realistic approach. Spiderman is constantly being punished for doing the right thing. In fact, the more good he does, the more people seem to hate him. Perhaps you want children to believe that doing the right thing will lead to a reward. But the challenge, as presented to Spiderman, is knowing you´ll be punished for doing the right thing but doing it anyway. That´s where the question of great responsibility kicks in.
Although the action sequences are better judged than in the first Spider-Man, for a superhero film they´re actually few and far between. Perhaps one of the film’s flaws is that the engaging Molina seems underused. Instead, we get to witness that rarest of things in a sequel: character development. Spiderman even deals with his own version of impotence, finding he can no longer crawl walls when he starts doubting himself.
His romantic and financial problems take centre stage, interspersed with the odd battle with a supervillain. Spiderman always was a soap opera for boys. Perhaps we boys aren´t as averse to matters of the heart as previously thought. We just need the odd explosion to keep our attention.