I remember Doctor Octopus as a kid. He has always been one of Spidey’s most tenacious villains, whether you’re talking about the comics, the animated TV shows, or, as in this case, the films. His first appearance was in the third issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1963, so he’s been around for a while. So after Sam Raimi’s success with the first movie, he decided to tackle the infamous villain.
Of course, it takes half the movie before we actually see a fully-fledged Doc Ock. Plot development and st—what was I saying? I don’t remember. I got too bored.
Contrary to popular belief, I think the casting was done pretty well for these Spider-Man movies. James Franco is practically flawless as Harry, J.K. Simmons is an amazing J. Jonah Jamison, and Kirsten Dunst is a good Gw—err, Mary Jane. Tobey Maguire makes a good Peter Parker, although there is quite a disconnect between nerdy Peter and snarky Spider-Man. Casting isn’t the problem. The problem is that it takes too long for the action to get started. The film opens up with corny narration (as usual) and spends about 45 minutes showing us how difficult Peter’s life is before we actually get into the hero vs. villain action.
That said, the looks into Peter’s life really do provide a great strength to the franchise. Spider-Man, through the difficult life of Peter Parker, provides one of the most realistic views into what it would be like to be a student and superhero. You can buy it, because these are real problems. Spider-Man, in real life, would have trouble holding down a job. He would find it hard to make it to class on time. These are good things to show us as the audience, because as Spidey fans, we should be interested in his life.
But we don’t need a half hour of it.
I’ve written before about the worldview of Spider-Man. He’s one of the truest heroes in the genre, taking a truly thankless job while being ridiculed by the media while making daily sacrifices on other fronts. Once the Doc’s inhibitor chip is destroyed, allowing the “smart arms” to control him, we see the opposite from Doctor Octavius: a mad scientist obsessed with his progress and willing to destroy anyone and do anything that stands in his way.
Oh yeah. I knew I was forgetting something. The omnipotent and omniscient arms.
You see, the doc never was the bad guy. His mechanical arms made him do it. It’s a perfect alibi. It’s also corny, ridiculous, a bit over-the-top. Granted, the scene when he kills everyone in the operating room is one of the freakiest and scariest things in superhero movies to date. It’s not that you can’t take Ock seriously in this movie; Alfred Molina makes sure of that. But let’s be honest. The arms having artificial intelligence is a bit ridiculous. There’s enough reason between his catastrophic failure and dead wife to push him over the edge of insanity, especially if he was written to be a bit more egotistical in the first place.
But even with that flaw, Alfred Molina does a fantastic job with the character. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies may have flaws, but they sure do know how to cast their villains.
While we’re addressing flaws, let’s talk about Peter’s powers. Before we even get to Doc Ock, his powers start slipping. His webbing runs out (remember that in this incarnation, his webbing was part of his powers, not manufactured), he can’t climb on walls as well, and his vision starts slipping.
The picture we get is that it’s all about Peter’s mental state. Octavius (before he goes all homicidal) says that if Peter keeps something as complicated as love inside, it’ll make him sick. That leads us into “Spider-Man No More”
This is actually based fairly closely to The Amazing Spider-Man #50, when Peter attempted to give up being Spider-Man because of problems like those depicted in the film: problems in his personal life, with work, school, and other “real life” issues. The “mental block” idea was an addition, but I’m not so sure it’s a bad one. Exploring the “Spider-Man No More” story was gutsy on the studio’s part, but I think it paid off. That said, it wasn’t really clear why Peter’s powers came back. Presumably it was because he was no longer conflicted about being Spider-Man, but that wasn’t terribly clear.
So was it a flaw? I don’t think so. It addressed some very interesting conflicts that Peter is bound to have a further took advantage of the franchise’s biggest strength—the tangible nature of Peter Parker. By extension, that makes Spider-Man as tangible as any superhero will ever be.
Is the movie corny? Definitely. Cheesy? You bet. But the film’s humanity despite those things is impressive. It’s still solid, and I will still love it.
But I still don’t miss the narrating.