This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tentin Quarantino ☭’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Funny how the greatest superhero movie ever made is not even about the superhero, but the man behind the mask.
For all intents and purposes, this should really be called Peter Parker 1 instead of Spider-Man 2, because the film is about him as a person, not about Spider-Man as a hero. It's about a guy trying to live a life full of intrusions from his superhero alter-ego, rather than a story about a superhero trying to save the world while real life intrudes.
And that's really why this is such a great film. We're made to really care about Peter's life and how terrible it has become since he became Spider-Man. He can't work a simple pizza delivery job, can't study for school, can't make it to school, can't spend time with his friends, can't pay rent, can't help his Aunt with her financial troubles, can't get the girl of his dreams, can't make it to her play, can't get solid work at the newspaper, can't tell MJ he's Spider-Man...is there anything this guy *can* do?
But it's not like he's just a schmuck; his failures in his personal life are a direct effect of his escapades as Spider-Man. He's using his great power responsibly, which makes us feel for when his personal life is so poor. It's just failure after failure because he is living two lives. He can't catch a break and make the one that's important to him work for a change. It's a lose-lose situation. Hell, there are characters in A Song of Ice and Fire who have it better off than Peter Parker in this movie.
This cause-and-effect play is what holds the movie together. Every action and motivation makes sense. Every development and subplot feels natural. A lesser film would not do this. A lesser film would have characters and subplots coming out of the blue, motivations kept secret and never explored, and a general feeling of incoherence. Thankfully, this is not that type of film.
Even the villain is born through the plot. He's not a bad guy that just shows up one day; he's a person much like our hero. You can even say that Otto Octavius is the representation of Peter Parker's goal. They are both brilliant scientists trying to do good in the world. Otto is living a great life with a woman he loves - just what Peter is striving for.
But when Otto's experiment goes awry and he becomes Doctor Octopus, he transforms into the personification of Peter's fear. When the inhibitor chip fails, the tentacles start controlling Otto's brain and making decisions for him. This loss of control is what Peter Parker was struggling with for the entire first half hour of the movie. He is trying to control his alter ego and not let it dictate his actions so that he can live a normal life. With Otto's control completely gone, his normal life also disappears, and becomes something he can never return to.
After Peter has been neglecting his powers for too long, they begin to fail him. Much like how he was losing control of Peter Parker after spending too much time being Spider-Man, he slowly begins to lose control of Spider-Man when he starts dedicating his time toward being Peter Parker.
This pull between two worlds is constantly at play throughout the story, keeping the character's internal conflict jacked through the fucking roof. A lesser film would not show this pull. A lesser film would neglect to have scenes that help us understand the character's motivations and how living two lives is affecting him as a person and as a superhero. But since this is not that kind of film, we are treated to scene after scene that shows us exactly what is happening to our hero, and then we understand why he decides to put down the costume and decide to live a normal life.
The very next scene after putting down the costume, we see how Peter's life is better. He's studying for school, making it to class on time, making it to MJ's play, his whole general outlook on life has improved, and he has improved as a person. But at a cost. Crime is up, Doc Ock is still on the loose, and Peter's prior actions as Spider-Man have set in action a chain of events that even his complete return to normal life cannot change. He still can't get the girl of his dreams because he wasn't there before. His life as Spider-Man is still affecting his life as Peter Parker, whether he's wearing the costume or not. We see it. We understand.
It's not until Peter dedicates himself to being Spider-Man that he is able to harness his powers, stop the bad guy, and get the girl. He had to stop avoiding his power and responsibility, and embrace it. He becomes a different person in the end - one who is willing to live between both worlds.
One brilliant and ballsy move this film makes is how it insists on being a character story and not an action film. Too many action and superhero films try to cram in as much action as possible, and usually to a detrimental effect. Either the characters end up shallow, or the action ends up pointless. Or both.
Here, it's the opposite. There's only action when it's necessary for the story to move forward. And when Spider-Man grapples with Doc Ock, there's always something personal at stake. It's not just mindless slugging, like a lesser film would settle for. Either Aunt May is in jeopardy, Mary Jane is in jeopardy, or Peter's very identity is in jeopardy.
The way this story weaves the action into the events of the plot in a way that makes complete sense from both the hero and villain's perspective is absolutely masterful. There is no filler. No wasted moments. Just airtight screenwriting.
The script isn't the only highlight. Sam Raimi is simply on fire here. His unchained style is creative and unique. There's really no other movies that look or feel like this one, except for maybe Spider-Man 1. But even there, it's toned down considerably. Here? Not so. Check out the hospital scene with Doc Ock, Doc Ock visiting Harry, Doc Ock kidnapping Mark Jane, the single take following Otto's failed experiment...any number of scenes stand out not only from a story perspective, but are enhanced by fantastically creative visuals and camerawork. A lesser film would settle for a series of close-ups and perhaps a two-shot now and then instead of becoming one of the most visually creative and entertaining films I've ever seen.
The acting here ranges from awesome to James Franco. Yeah, he's rough around the edges, but everyone else is in fine form. Kirsten Dunst is perfect as Mary Jane and does very well with her conflicted role, Tobey Maguire is simply outstanding, J.K. Simmons is hilarious, Rosemary Harris steals the show, and Alfred Molina is the absolute best choice for Doctor Octopus. He completely becomes that character and avoids what could have been a campy or hammy role, turning it into something better than anticipated. I would never want anyone else to play that role. And who can forget the incomparable Bruce Campbell as the snooty usher? Also, keep an eye out for Lost's Daniel Dae Kim as Otto's lab assistant, Emily Deschanel from Bones as a receptionist who won't pay for late pizza, and Joel McHale of Community fame as the consultant in the bank.
Being that this movie is almost 10 years old by now, some of the visual effects are not so impressive. Mainly, the web-slinging. It's not as bad as it was in the first film, but it's obviously not up to today's standards. Thankfully, pretty much everything else is. Doc Ock looks great, and the use of many practical effects throughout is very welcomed.
In the end, this is not only a great action film, but a great drama. It's shot exceptionally well, Elfman's score fits perfectly, and the writing is second to none.
This is, without question, the greatest superhero movie ever made.