"Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Does whatever a spider can/Spins a web, any size/Catches thieves just like flies/Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man!" Just about everybody remembers the theme song from the old TV series, but no one's ever seen it performed with the kind of self-effacing, twinkle-in-your-eye humor that fills Spider-Man 2. It quickly becomes something of a symbol for why this sequel works so well—even better than its predecessor (Spider-Man), which was already something of a tour de force.
Not having to spend any time setting up the story, Spidey 2 jumps right into the action with the bumbling and always-late Peter Parker trying to keep his job as a pizza delivery boy. With a 29-minute delivery guarantee ticking down, Peter finds himself facing the daunting—impossible—task of traversing 42 giant Manhattan blocks in only eight minutes. Peter, of course, can't do it, but Spider-Man can, so the next thing you know the red-and-blue human-arachnid is swinging from building to building dragging a stack of pies behind him. He would have made it, too, if a couple of doggone kids about to be run down by a truck hadn't distracted him along the way!
That's just who Peter Parker is, though. He can't turn away from citizens in need. And it's not pizza delivery crises that ultimately prove that here. The plot of this second-in-a-series movie rotates around Peter Parker's calling, and what it'll take for him to finally settle his mind about the state of his high-swinging alter ego.
To serve as his adversary and arch-villain this time around is Doc Ock, a gentle, intelligent scientist overcome by a manically sentient, multi-tentacled machine determined to invent the most powerful—dangerous—fusion reactor the world has ever seen.
All of the positive themes from the first movie jump fluidly to this one, and there's a few new ones added besides. Peter consistently stands up for what's right and just, both in costume and out. He's brave and chivalrous, and rescues scores of innocents from death and injury. Even when his Spidey powers fail him, he puts his life on the line to save others, leaving us with a potent reminder that we don't have to have superpowers to do good and help those around us. Aunt May reinforces the idea when she says, "I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble and finally allows us to die with pride."
Mary Jane demonstrates the potential we have to make the lives of those we love better. And Peter continues to put Mary Jane's well-being above his passion for her. When he finally gathers the courage to tell his Aunt May that a moment of wrong thinking (he wanted revenge instead of justice) caused the chain of events leading up to Uncle Ben's death, he expresses genuine sorrow for what he did, and it's easy to see a resolve building inside of him never to do it again. "Uncle Ben was killed that night for being the only one who did the right thing," he laments. Flashback scenes recall Uncle Ben's wise words, "Remember, with great power comes great responsibility."
An added dimension here is the battle of wills exhibited in Dr. Octavius' struggle against his ill-tempered tentacles. Instead of an evil-through-and-through villain, we are given a man who desperately wants to do good, but is overcome by a non-human foe. [Spoiler Warning] Even better, Octavius triumphs in the end, and instead of Spider-Man saving the day by forcibly eradicating the city's tormentor, the scientist sacrifices himself to destroy both his fusion reactor and his tentacles.
A poignant scene finds Spider-Man rendered unconscious after stretching himself to his outer limits to save a group of helpless people. To prevent him from falling down, grateful hands reach out to him and gently carry him to safety. Then, when Doc Ock reappears to finish Spider-Man off, the people courageously stand up for their hero, placing themselves between the monster and their savior.
Suddenly safe after dangling off the side of a building, Aunt May looks at a statue of the Virgin Mary and whispers, "Thank you."
A couple of kisses (one of them passionate), a midriff-baring outfit and a few low-cut/high-slit dresses. Mary Jane's dress gets wet and torn while being captured by Doc Ock.
Incrementally more violent than its predecessor, Spider-Man 2 offers up hefty doses of bloodless-yet-intense, highly stylized combat mainly between Spider-Man and Doc Ock. There's lots of head-banging, body-slamming and appendage-crushing.
A fusion reactor experiment goes awry resulting in a massive explosion. Bodies slam into walls and are pummeled by flying debris. Some people, terrified and screaming, are killed. A few minutes later, in a sequence that feels more like a horror film than a comic book one, Doc Ock smashes up an ER, maiming and killing the doctors and nurses attempting to help him. A man is thrown through a plate glass window. Others are impaled, crushed and beaten by the flailing octopus arms. An especially cringe-worthy sequence has a woman digging her fingernails in to slow her path toward death.
Doc Ock kidnaps two women, forcing Spider-Man to fight with him to save them. (Taunting Spider-Man, Doc Ock threatens to "peel the flesh off [one of his victim's] bones.") He robs a bank, killing all those who oppose him. (Peter just so happens to be conducting a financial transaction at the bank when he bursts in, and the two commence hurling large bags of coins at each other.) Doc Ock also uses "civilians" as human decoys, flinging them high into the air, knowing Spider-Man will go after them. He smashes the controls of an elevated train, sending it racing to its doom. ("Looks like you've got a train to catch," he smirks to Spider-Man.)
A man slaps another man across the face. An SUV gets hurled into a diner, flying directly over Peter's and Mary Jane's heads. Cabs and other vehicles are tossed around and mangled. Intent on killing Peter, a man pulls a dagger. A building burns down. Another is pulled down by the strong magnetic force generated by the fusion reactor. Police cars race to catch bad guys, crash and are shot up. Officers dodge bullets. A man is beaten up by thugs in an alleyway. Many innocent bystanders are hurt.
Crude or Profane Language
You can count the mild profanities ("h---," "a--") on one hand. "For god's sake" is used as an interjection. Most notable in the restraint department is the choice not to have the belligerent, fast-talking newspaper editor, J. Jonah Jameson, gush foul language. (Most scriptwriters would have colored his words a vivid shade of blue.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
Peter tries to down what appears to be a fruity mixed drink at a high society party, but the glass is already empty. J. Jonah Jameson chomps on cigars. Peter’s friend, Harry, drinks hard liquor, and appears to be drunk in one scene.
Other Negative Elements
Attempting to get his powers back, Peter jumps off the roof of a multistory building hoping they return mid-leap. They don't. But after crash-landing on a parked car, Peter's only injury is an aching back. Parents of risk-inclined kids would do well to point out that anyone who tries that kind of a stunt at home won't be walking away from it with just a stiff spine. Elsewhere, Peter complains that his suit "rides up in the crotch." His landlord is seen with his pants around his ankles. (He’s wearing boxers.)
The first Spider-Man became an instant hit with fans and critics alike. Spider-Man 2 will be an even bigger one. "I knew it was a step up from the first movie," star Tobey Maguire told USA Today. "The script is better. The story is better. And [director] Sam [Raimi] is just in the zone. Not only is the movie better than the first movie, this is Sam's best film. I appreciate him as a filmmaker, so that's saying a lot." For once, these aren't just the inflated compliments of an actor desperate to sell a new project!
Boys (and girls) of all ages have made Spider-Man their hero for decades, and never has he been more deserving of admiration. Maguire does a magnificent job of putting flesh and bones on the usually paper-thin Peter Parker, but that's only half the story. Few superheroes can go head-to-head with Spider-Man's morality, his humility, his sensitivity, his ability to self-analyze, his selflessness and his granite grip on justice and rightness. When Spidey spins his webs, it seems like all the good stuff sticks and the bad stuff slides right off. Comic-book violence is an issue. Heads bonk. Bodies bounce. And damsels get distressed. But the moral tent pole planted in Vol. 1 stands firm.