Tobey Maguire returns to the massively popular Spider-Man franchise after a two-year hiatus. And in case you forgot what happened in the summer of 2002, director Sam Raimi is happy to synopsize it for us in the first 40 minutes of this sequel. Poor Peter Parker can't win: He didn't get the girl (Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane), his beloved uncle is dead, Aunt May is about to lose her house, and he's failing out of college because he doesn't have time to study - he's too busy chasing down street thugs in his spidey suit.
The plot slowly rumbles to life as another of Parker's scientist heroes (in the footsteps of Norman Osborn in the last movie) goes all evil on us. This time out it's Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who believes he can create fusion in the form of a small sun, right in the middle of New York City. It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to look at the artificially intelligent, anaconda-like tentacle arms he straps to his back and melds into his nervous system to deduce that things aren't going to go well here, and soon enough Octavius (now "Doc Ock") is on a rampage, his renewed experiments threatening to destroy the city, Spider-Man, and Mary Jane, all at various times during the film.
Thrown into the mix is Harry Osborn (James Franco), who returns as Norman's vengeful son, obsessed with Spider-Man, whom he blames for his father's death. What's our web slinger to do? Well, he decides to quit. Echoing another mediocre sequel, Superman II, Parker decides to give up his powers and let the cops take care of crime on his behalf.
Spider-Man 2 ultimately weaves a sturdy web, but it's a long time coming and spends too much time retreading the past. At 125 minutes long, Spider-Man 2 could easily have dropped half an hour of baggage, creating a more solid, tension-packed experience. As it stands, the sequel is hit and miss, but ultimately it pales in comparison to the original.
The problems here are myriad: Franco's Harry is a broken record, a borderline psychotic, petulant brat who moans over and over about wanting vengeance, even after Spider-Man saves his life. As the big villain, Doc Ock gets awfully underused - even though he's arguably the best bad guy in the Spider-Man pantheon.
That leaves the movie on the shoulders of the Peter-Mary Jane love story, and given the acting talents of Maguire and Dunst, that's not a bad place to be. Their romantic banter is even more fun in this installment than in the original. Director Sam Raimi's perverse sense of humor still shows through - though not to the degree in the first movie - most notably during a scene right after Parker gives up the suit, a montage of "daily life" set to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." It's a classic moment.
But those moments are relatively few and far between, as the magic of this franchise is already starting to wear off. The whole story feels like a remake of the first one, with the same character struggles and plot points we've come to expect. There's literally nothing surprising in Spider-Man 2, and it's ultimately more than a little boring to watch. And some of the key plot devices - how and why Parker loses his powers; the painfully obvious setup for Spider-Man 3 - are simply annoying.
Spidey freaks will eat it up (watch for the Bruce Campbell and Stan Lee cameos), but those expecting a repeat of #1 are going to be disappointed. Still, will I be there in 2007 for episode 3 of the series? My spidey sense is tingling that I will be...
Spidey: Sue your dry cleaner.
Run time: 127 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 30th June 2004
Box Office USA: $373.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $783.8M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Marvel Enterprises
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 237 Rotten: 16
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriter: Alvin Sargent
Starring: Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man / Peter Parker, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, James Franco as Harry Osborn, Alfred Molina as Doc Ock / Dr. Otto Octavius, Rosemary Harris as May Parker, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Donna Murphy as Rosalie Octavius, Daniel Gillies as John Jameson, Dylan Baker as Dr. Curt Connors, Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin / Norman Osborn, Ted Raimi as Hoffman, Vanessa Ferlito as Louise, Aasif Mandvi as Mr. Aziz, Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker, Elizabeth Banks as Miss Brant, Bruce Campbell as Snooty Usher, Gregg Edelman as Dr. Davis, Elya Baskin as Mr. Ditkovich, Mageina Tovah as Ursula, Bill Nunn as Joseph 'Robbie' Robertson, Emily Deschanel as Receptionist, Joel McHale as Mr. Jacks, Stan Lee as Man Dodging Debris