Spider-Man never wanted to be a superhero. He just wanted to go to school and learn about science and marry the girl next door and have a nice life...and then there was this spider, see? And now he's living in a rathole apartment with a communal bathroom, he keeps getting fired and he's failing his classes, his dream girl is marrying an astronaut, and his best friend wants to kill him. What the hell happened?
That's the question the second installment of the Spider-Man saga asks. And, while not exactly answered, it's very thoroughly explored by Tobey Maguire. I have always thought he was the perfect person to play Peter Parker and Spidey; he's a thoughtful bookish sort (as he often seems to be: Pleasantville, Cider House Rules, and Seabiscuit to name a few), the kind of guy who uses both straps to carry his backpack.
This time, he faces Doctor Octopus, wonderfully played by Alfred Molina. Doc Ock is more like Spidey than most arch nemeses...he, too, is a sensitive, thoughtful bookish type whose brain gets overridden by four mechanical semi-sentient tentacles (imagine a cross between the alien in Alien and Audrey II). Scientists don't kill people, huge intelligent metal arms do. And of course he decides to wreak havoc on New York at the same time Peter is having issues with the whole Spiderman gig. Oh, and even though there are 8 million people in the naked city, somehow old Otto manages to, at different times, hold the only two women in the city Peter loves. With luck like that, Ock should play Powerball.
But still, this is fun. The opening credits very cleverly remind us of the first film's story, there's enough comedy and romance to keep the anti-actioners happy, and there's just enough introspection and soul-searching to make the protagonist interesting...but it never gets as morbid and fatalistic as Batman or as angsty and Freudian as The Hulk. And Kirsten Dunst as MJ! The final scenes are exactly what all of us have been saying all along. Give the girl some credit, Pete!
But...I do have one major problem with this movie. It just bothered me from the moment it appeared onscreen, and I couldn't concentrate after it was over. There are no elevated trains in midtown/downtown Manhattan! They still have them out in the Boroughs, but not in amongst skyscrapers. There was one at 3rd Ave as late as 1973, but Spidey seems to be modern-day. And, in fact, those scenes were shot in Chicago, which predominately has El trains, especially downtown. And, in fact, if you look closely, you will see Chicago landmarks in the background of the shot.
Apart from that one huge goof, however, it's wonderful. There's so many little tiny charming bits: a Chinese woman in Chinatown playing the classic cartoon "Spider-Man" song on the street, a flyer for the Ataris on an alley wall (and they even have a song on the soundtrack), Aunt May having an absolutely stunning Danish Modern dining room table and chairs...I'm certain there are more tiny details like that that I've missed, but hey, that's what DVDs are for.
Stay for the credits; nothing really happens, but some of the best music in the movie is played over them.