Unlike the first movie, which unfolded more or less organically, Spider-Man 2
consistently feels schematic. One reason is dialogue that almost never
rings true to life. In some cases, the flat writing is intended to
grease the movie's narrative mechanics. Virtually every line spoken to
or by Peter's best friend Harry, for instance, includes the words
"father" or "Spider-Man" (sometimes both) to make sure no one forgets
that the former (last movie's scientist-turned-crazy-villain) died in
the course of a dispute with the latter, and Harry is still very unhappy
about it. Similarly, when a reporter asks Octavius, "If the artificial
intelligence in the arms is as advanced as you suggest, couldn't that
make you vulnerable to them?" one half expects him to respond, "Funny
you should ask. That's exactly what's going to happen in five minutes."
More often, however, the stilted dialogue is intended to convey moral
gravity. Characters don't talk, they declaim. The "With great power
comes great responsibility" speech uttered by Uncle Ben in the first
movie has spread like kudzu throughout the second one: Now, everyone is
speaking Homily. Octavius explains, "Intelligence is not a privilege,
it's a gift. You use it for the good of mankind." Mary Jane offers,
"It's wrong that we should be only half alive ... half of ourselves."
The doctor that Peter goes to when he's feeling less than super tells
him, "It's gotta make you mad not to know who you are. Your soul
disappears. There's nothing as bad as uncertainty." Not one but two
dead characters, Uncle Ben and Harry's father, reappear to lecture
their boys on the paths of good and evil, respectively. And then there's
Aunt May, who gets this movie's Big Speech: "Everybody loves a hero.
People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years
later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a
glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I
believe there's a hero in all of us." This is not how people talk in
real life--or, for that matter, in comics (you can't fit that many words
in the speech-bubble, for starters); it's how they talk in plays, and
not good ones.
The cast delivering these lines is also a bit uneven. Maguire is
excellent in the title role, again finding a precise balance between
courageous resolve and adolescent insecurity. It's hard to think of any
actor who could better embody the idea of the "hero in all of us," and
this awkward charisma carries the film over numerous rough patches.
(Though one has to wonder what will happen to his career if his voice
ever changes.) Alfred Molina is less well cast as Dr. Octopus. He never
really pulls off the Smeagol-Gollum bickering of good and evil selves,
in large part because he never really seems crazy. (This was not,
needless to say, a problem for Willem Dafoe in the first movie.)
Besides, playing archetypical Good and Evil isn't really Molina's bag.
He's better in roles that have a bombastic sleaziness to them, like his
Rahad Jackson in Boogie Nights and Jeremy Burtom in The Imposters.
Molina might have been able to show this side had the filmmakers
included the quasi-seduction by Doc Ock of Aunt May that took place in
the original comics. But they didn't. (It's a shame, too. While
finessing the age difference might have been tricky, that storyline
would have offered an opportunity for new tensions between Peter's
personal life and his superhero one, perhaps obviating the need to keep
repeating all the old ones.)