|Taglines such as "Sacrifice" set the tone for Spider-Man 2.|
The movie opens with a great title sequence that quickly and effectively retells the story from the first movie with some great Alex Ross art. This sets the stage for this sequel to be in very tight continuity with the first film. Even small details are attended to. For example, in one scene we can see Uncle Ben's car from the first movie in the garage of Aunt May.
The entire cast returns for the second film - even for two characters that died in the first movie! Of course, J. K. Simmons does a great job but its Alfred Molina playing Doctor Octopus who steals the show. Before the accident that turns him into a villain he is extremely likable. This gives Doc Ock, the villain, a deep sympathic quality especially when you consider that his mechanical arms are influencing him to do things he normally would never do. The best examples of his great acting ability in this film are the sequences in which he is talking to his metal arms. The audience understands both parts of the conversation even though we can't hear what the arms are saying. The Doc Ock character design really takes the concept and makes it a practical reality.
Like the first, this film has some very funny moments. A number of them come from showing Spider-Man in awkward real-life situations such as washing his superhero outfit at a laundromat, riding an elevator in costume, or changing clothes in a very full broom closet. Peter just can't win in this film as Bruce Campbell tortures him outside a theater, he just can't get any hors d'oeuvres at a party, and even his powers leave him, causing him to fall and hurt his back. I appreciated the nod to the 1967 cartoon when a woman (horribly) sings the theme song.
There is a dark thread in this movie as well. Sam Raimi really drew upon his horror roots for one scene in which Doc Ock's arms slaughter an entire operating room. Harry's growing obsession with Spider-Man causes Harry to slap Peter repeatedly in public (although this plotline seems oddly shoehorned into every scene Harry is in). Aunt May's house gets foreclosed on and she's evicted.
This movie comes across as being very full but it's not a bad thing. There are a bunch of characters all jostling around and time is given to all of them, not just Peter Parker. So we see the depths of Harry's obsession when he's alone. We see Mary Jane talking to a girlfriend about her upcoming nuptials. It's easy to forget that this is an action movie, especially since there's a large chunk in the middle in which Peter quits being Spider-Man.
But there are a few great action sequences in the film, in particular the brutal throwdown between Doc Ock and Spider-Man that starts at the clock and moves to the train. With the woman he loves threated, Spider-Man tears into Doc Ock without holding back. In the film's final sequence, Spider-Man's costume shows what he's gone through with the amount of damage it has suffered.
In many regards, the action of this second film very closely parallels the first movie. Peter is still in love with Mary Jane but can't tell her. There's a rescue of a child from a fire. Peter tests his powers by jumping off a roof, just like in the first movie, and ends up swinging into a wall again. New Yorkers stand up for Spider-Man again. Spider-Man must rescue Mary Jane again. The villain dies again. When I was watching the film these similarities stood out to me, taking me out of the film, and that's a bad thing.
The theme of sacrificing to do what's right is mirrored both in Doc Ock and Spider-Man's stories. Except, in the end, Doc Ock dies while Peter Parker ends up with Mary Jane after all. But the journey Peter goes on in being willing to sacrifice his own desires and dreams is a good one.
The film really sets up the villains for future films, perhaps more than any other superhero film. We witness Harry finding his father's Green Goblin lair and we know he's destined to take up his father's mantle. And, even though we won't ever get to see this Doctor Connors transform into the Lizard, we were certainly teased with him in Spider-Man 2.
Overall, Spider-Man 2 is a spectacular film but it falls just short of the first movie in the series.
1LR REVIEW - 18 out of 20! It's a Solid Hit!