Plot: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) had his life turned upside down when he became Spider-Man, but now his divided focus from being a masked hero is taking a bigger toll than ever on his civilian life. His personal life suffers, he winds up fired from his part time job, and despite his impressive intellect, Peter is on the brink of failing out of his classes. But he plans to get his schoolwork back in line with a term paper on the work of scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who is engaged in some experimental research for Oscorp. He is even given the chance to pick Octavius’ brain a little thanks to his friend Harry (James Franco), who makes an introduction. But soon, Octavius’ experiment takes a horrific turn and his is controlled by his cybernetic enhancements, driven to grow his power, whatever the cost. Meanwhile, Peter is so stressed over his lack of balance in his lives that he finds himself powerless, as his spider-like abilities seem to have vanished, even as Octavius devastates New York.
Entertainment Value: I think Spider-Man 2 is the best of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, despite being similar in tone and narrative to the first installment, as it seems to be polished and hit more of the right notes. The origin story is clear, so this movie can focus on other elements and the inner conflicts Parker has to contend with, even though he is more settled into his hero than before. I can see how the similar narrative might displease some viewers, but Spider-Man 2 does progress Parker’s story, both in his personal life and his ongoing issues with Oscorp, so it isn’t like this is a stalled chapter in the series. I still dislike Maguire in the lead role, but this sequel is a lot of fun and does capture some of the comic book style fun of Spider-Man, with a nice balance of action and character development. The thread between Parker and Mary Jane is given a good amount of time to unfold, while the series’ focal point of Parker and Osborne also moves ahead here. I do think the movie runs overly long and Maguire is an albatross, but this is still one of the better comic book movies out there.
Although he is hilarious in Spider-Man 3, I just think Tobey Maguire is an odd choice to play Peter Parker and that belief continues into this sequel. He is a capable performer, but lacks the fun, mischievous element that I associate with Spider-Man, opting for a more stick in the mud, wooden approach. When he lets loose a little, the performance improves somewhat, but I just don’t think he has the right type of charisma to pull off Spider-Man. Kirsten Dunset is solid here, given a chance to be more than just a love interest this time around, though she loses some of her charm, given her less than ideal circumstances. The drama between Parker and Mary Jane is melodramatic, but not too over the top and I think it is fun to watch it all unfold. Alfred Molina is also quite good as Octavius and he is given some welcome depth, but he isn’t on the same level as Willem Dafoe in the previous movie. The cast here also includes J.K. Simmons, James Franco, and Dylan Baker in prominent roles.