The second film in Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy was more Peter Parker's story than Spider-Man. It also had a fantastic, realistic portrayal of Doctor Octopus that influenced the comics as much as it was influenced by them.
Peter Parker is having trouble balancing his real-world identity with that of his superhero identity as Spider-Man. He has trouble making appointments, such as classes at his university and his new job as a pizza delivery man. He loses the latter and is close to being expelled from the former.
On top of this, his best friend Harry Osborne is convinced that Spider-Man killed his father. Also, Peter and Mary Jane are still infatuated with each other, but Peter doesn't want to tell her that out of fear that she would be attacked by Spider-Man's enemies if they discovered his secret identity, as had happened to his Aunt May via the Green Goblin.
Peter tries to remain friends with MJ, but his time as Spider-Man is making that difficult as well. She is following her dream by acting in plays, however, Peter can't manage to make it on time due to his web-slinging alter ego. This isn't helped by the fact that an usher, played by Raimi's friend Bruce Campbell in his second cameo in the trilogy, won't let him in due to his tardiness.
All of this stress causes Peter to have, as he put it in No Way Home, a web block. This causes him to lose the ability to properly control his powers. This leads to a humorous scene where he has to use the elevator in costume since he can't swing through the city.
One of Peter's scientific idols, Otto Octavius, invented a device that gives him four extra metallic arms so that he can work in environments that human hands can't touch. He can control the device by thinking as he has a neural link to the device that is wired through his spine to his brain. The arms have sophisticated artificial intelligence, so he equipped a neural inhibitor to keep the AI from influencing him.
Unfortunately, his inhibitor chip is burned out during a failed press exhibition. Octavius tried to control a ball of energy composed of an abundance of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen named hydrogen-3, or as Osborne put it, the power of the sun in the palm of his hand. Spider-Man manages to turn off the device holding the tritium, however, before he managed to pull the plug, Rosalie Octavius, the wife of Doctor Octavius is killed.
Doctor Octavius, himself, is injured during the aborted demonstration. He is taken to a hospital where the doctors try to cut his metal arms off of him. However, the AI resists and attacks the hospital staff. This scene is made in the style of a horror movie, with which director Sam Raimi is well acquainted having directed the original Evil Dead films.
After this, the arms gain control of Otto's mind. The AI takes Otto's pain of losing Rosalie as well as his life's work and magnifies the hatred he feels. He then becomes a villain which the Daily Bugle names Doctor Octopus.
The AI convinces Doc Ock to continue his experiment, even though the rational side of his mind thinks that the experiment as well as his mechanical arms should be away from humanity at the bottom of the ocean. Doctor Octopus uses his mechanical arms to break into a vault at a bank to gain money for his experiment. However, he is stopped by Spider-Man. Unfortunately, because Peter's Aunt May was screaming, Doc Ock chose her to hold captive in order to get the police to hold off on attacking him.
Peter eventually becomes frustrated with his double life, ditches his spider suit, and stops being Spider-Man. This has positive effects by allowing him to get to his university classes on time. He also makes it to Mary Jane's play. However, Mary Jane is betrothed so she isn't receptive to his attempts to get her to date him.
As for the visual effects, Doc Ock's AI-controlled mechanical arms look fantastic clawing up the side of buildings. It's amazing this was done with practical effects. In the versions that are 4K, or 3840 x 2160 pixels, even the computer-generated imagery in this film looks fantastic. My favorite scenes are the fire-damaged building where Peter, as himself, rescues a young girl, the scene where Doc Ock threw a car through the window of a cafe, as well as the final battle with Doctor Octopus.
The actors put in a fantastic performance. Tobey Maguire delivers a great performance as the struggling Peter Parker. Kirsten Dunst is also fantastic as Peter's love interest Mary Jane Watson, who is tired of him standing her up all the time.
James Franco is also much better than he is credited for as Harry Osborn. He believes Spider-Man killed his father, so he is angry at Peter for taking pictures of, and defending the man he considers his enemy. His anger at Peter builds up throughout the film, as more of Harry's life falls apart, and I think Franco handled it well. He began with a friendly demeanor, then as he lost his family's money by funding Osborne's experiment he got angrier, then he bubbled over when he thought he was losing his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson to Peter. Like his performance as a grieving son in the first film, I found Franco's acting much better than I had originally thought before a rewatch.
Another that I originally disliked was how Aunt May, portrayed by Rosemary Harris, became cold to Peter after he told his aunt the truth about him letting the man who killed his Uncle Ben. However, like James Franco's performance at the end of the first film, I see this much differently now that I have suffered loss myself. Now I actually like that aspect, and I feel that Rosemary Harris once again put in a fantastic performance as a grieving widow who was dealing with a nephew that she felt was heading down a dark path.
J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius are both standouts in this film. J.K. Simmons provides some much-needed comic relief in this otherwise serious story. His Jameson is so pitch-perfect that it feels just like the character so much that it is like J. Jonah Jameson himself jumped out of the comic books. In contrast, Molina delivers a fantastic performance, both as the friendly Otto Octavius and as the villainous Doctor Octopus. His performance was so good that his portrayal of Doc Ock is one for whom you feel sorry because he is a tragic villain with two personalities due to an invention he created to help humanity. Like the Green Goblin in the first film, I feel that Doctor Octopus was squandered in the trilogy as he was one of the characters who only appeared in one film. Also like the Green Goblin, however, this was thankfully rectified when Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home in 2019.
This film is often considered not just the best Spider-Man film, but one of the best superhero films. I think I'd personally place this second to Spider-Man: No Way Home as the best Spider-Man film, but it definitely deserves its praise as one of the best superhero films ever. The actors are great, and the effects mix practical and computer-generated imagery really well. In particular, the scene where Spider-Man saves a subway train and the New Yorkers help the injured, maskless Spider-Man, is an iconic moment in film history. It advanced the philosophy of the first film, "when you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us". The film influenced Spider-Man films, and superhero films in general, and still does to this day. This is definitely a must-watch. Like the first film, I recommend the remastered and upscaled 4K Blu-ray and digital releases for both people who have never seen it before as well as those who see it as a rewatch.
5 out of 5
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