What Raimi (and writers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Michael Chabon) understand is that the real story of Spider-Man is Peter Parker, not superpowers and spinning webs. Peter has much more screen time in this movie than his masked alter-ego, and the film is that much better because of it. Don't worry, "True Believers", the action you crave is still there – but its Tobey Maguire's portrayal as Peter than makes Spider-Man 2 soar.
Two years after his Uncle Ben was killed and Peter was bitten by the radioactive spider, Spider-Man 2 beings with Peter still having torn feelings about his one true love, Mary Jane. But that's the least of Peter's problems. He's been fired from his job, his Aunt May is about to be thrown out on the street, and his friend Harry Osborn is still obsessed with finding and killing Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, the conflict inside himself between being the man he wants to be – Peter – and the hero everyone else wants him to be – Spidey – is starting to have a physical manifestation on his super powers. Suddenly, he can't spin webs, climb walls or use his super strength. Yes, it seems that Peter is having some major performance problems!
After one more emergency prevents Peter from keeping a date with Mary Jane, he comes to a decision in his life: he will be Spider-Man no more. Of course, this is just at the time when a new threat has come to the city. A brilliant scientist named Octavius has just perfected a method for fusion which will enable him to harness the power of the sun. He has created mechanical arms that attach to his body so he can handle the dangerous process and…naturally…things go horribly wrong.
Alfred Molina plays Octavius, and what I enjoyed about his performance that I didn't enjoy about Dafoe's performance in the original film is that Molina grounds his change from a sane man into a madman in reality. Dafoe played his character over-the-top (as far too many villains in the movies do), but Molina strikes a nice balance and never seems to be hamming it up for the camera.
Without giving away too much of the plot for the readers out there, one of the great things about Spider-Man 2 is that it isn't afraid to shake up the mythos. There are some genuine surprises in the story, and ones that the viewers won't be cheated out of by any superspeed trips around the planet or magic kisses (see Superman I & II). This isn't so much a sequel to the first film as it is a continuation of it – and it was great to see a movie that ties in so nicely with the original, but doesn't repeat itself.
Movies like Spider-Man 2 don't get much attention when it comes to awards, but the film is far and away the best thing we've seen on the silver screen in 2004…heck, it may be the best thing we've seen this decade. Fun for both the grown-ups and the kids, Spider-Man 2 is everything I go to the movies for. It's a wonderful, magical, and emotionally powerful film, and I can't recommend it highly enough.