Wow. It hurts me to say that since I'm such a snob of the mainstream, but the biggest Hollywood blockbuster this summer is well written, well directed, and well acted. I found the first movie to be uneven; interesting moral quandaries for Spiderman but Dafoe's Green Goblin was overplayed and unsatisfying. My hope for the sequel came from Peter Parker's closing monologue about the struggle to choose to do good.
The second movie dives right into these issues with Peter Parker struggling to maintain his personal and financial life while performing the endless tasks required of a superhero. The conflict hinted to at the end of the first movie erupts to a climax, making for a gripping internal struggle. The super-villains in Spiderman movies are nearly footnotes; they are physical threat that forces Spiderman to make the decisions that make the movie emotionally fulfilling. Everyone knows Spiderman will win the day and die only when the movies fail to be profitable, but the choices he makes in his life are not too far removed from our everyday lives and don't have the simple black and white answers the superhero conflicts typically involve.
Thankfully Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus makes for an exceptional footnote. He underplays the part to great effect. He's a good man gone wrong, and his stoic delivery is refreshing after Dafoe's over the top giggling Goblin.
The superhero clashes are thrilling, among the best I've seen in a superhero movie. Raimi makes good work out of Doc Oct's wall walking ability, pitting the two characters in some inspired set pieces. Watching the two just pummelling each other is a thrilling experience with Doc Oct throwing, grabbing, and crushing with his giant tentacles while Spiderman hops, leaps, and dashes in to try to stay alive. These scenes will be worth the price of the DVD alone.
Spiderman 2 concludes with a surprising amount of closure of major conflicts. Possibly too much. It is as if Raimi hasn't signed on for the third flick and he wanted to get all the good bits in while he's in charge. Where the first movie's denouncement bridged well into the sequel, there's far less momentum going into the third.
Well, for those that haven't seen the movie yet, I'll try not to spoil everything. But for those who have and are interested to read more rambling prose, highlight the text below.
A large number of great sources of conflict seemed to be resolved at the end of the flick. Mary Jane realizing Peter Parker was Spiderman, her commitment to him, Aunt Bea's acceptance of Spiderman and implicit declaration that her nephew was Spiderman removed much of the series emotional baggage. I also can't say I'm looking forward to a second Green Goblin villain. I was hoping for Venom, but at least Spiderman fighting his friend maintains some of the emotional conflicts that are the hallmark of the series. It could be good, but it'll be tough to top the emotional punch of the second movie.