While the first Spider-Man film was about Peter Parker learning what it means to be Spider-Man, the second seems to be about Spider-Man learning that he still has to be Peter Parker. That may sound a little tautological, but the differences between the hero and the ordinary man developed so well in 2002 are still the main driving force in 2004, and director Sam Rami knows how to use emotional turmoil to power a great film! The movie's tagline 'Sacrifices' really does sum up the story, with both the hero, villains and love interest all having to make life-changing decisions which see friends, foes and lives left in their wake. Tobey Maguire does a decent job as our hero, and manages to spend a surprisingly large amount of time out of his Spider-Man mask (even while wearing the rest of the costume). Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson and James Franco as Harry Osborn both make welcome returns and build more depth to their already well-established characters.
The most significant addition to the cast is Alfred Molina as Doctor Otto Octavius (Doc Ock); Molina is brilliant and brings human complexity to a lead villain in a way over-acting Willem Dafoe never could. Indeed, Octavius initially echoes Norman Osborne (Dafoe) as a brilliant, driven scientist whose premature testing of new technologies cause a catastrophic accident which sees the scientist changed forever. Octavius, however, is not trying to design a weapon, but rather is seeking to develop an unlimited power source for the good of all. He has to use four technological manipulator arms which are imbued with their own artificial intelligence, and interface with Octavius' spine directly. Of course, during the accident, the manipulator arms fuse onto Octavius' body and the artificiality drives him to become the criminal Doc Ock. Molina, however, manages to maintain the complexity of his character and always seem a likely candidate for redemption if Spider-Man can make that crucial connection.