The trailer for the new Spider-Man movie Spider-Man: No Way Home is out and the talk of the town is the appearance of Alfred Molina as Doctor Otto Octavius (also known as Doctor Octopus), a character who originally appeared in the pre-MCU Spider-Man 2 opposite Tobey Maguire. While Molina’s appearance retroactively integrates `
the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies of the early 2000s into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most of the discussion I’ve seen online is less about the new film and more about appreciating the beauty and grace of Molina himself.
Superhero films now rule the cineplexes, but no one has ever really played a comic villain with as much magnetism and gravitas as Molina did for Doc Ock. Spider-Man 2 is perhaps the greatest comic book film ever made, in large part due to the way Raimi blends the fantastical elements in the trappings of coming-of-age films and romantic comedies. A good portion of the film’s drama comes from Peter Parker’s failure to maintain a work-life balance, and only Molina could so seamlessly carry Octavius’ metamorphosis from loving husband and brilliant scientist to crazy-robot-tentacle-man with bowl cut terrorizing New York City and make it feel grounded in the same story. He fully commits to the mad scientist role but makes it engaging and iconic, transforming the man’s former altruistic charms into a devious disregard for human life.
Doctor Octopus was the rare action role for Molina, and he brought to it all the gusto he’s so known for. My fellow MEL writer and Molina lover Miles Klee says of the performance that “you can see him throwing his real heft around in every fight.” “It’s so physical,” he continues. “And while Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man can’t really emote under the mask, Molina is doing all the acting — every grunt and grimace and sneer is pitch-perfect, and it’s what makes the grueling battles hit harder than any of that Avengers crap, where you just have a vortex of digital color and your eye can’t follow anything. Being able to ground a comic book blockbuster like that, to give it gravity, is quite a skill. “
But gravity isn’t all Molina brings to the role; he carries with him a stunning degree of raw sexual magnetism. As a larger man, Molina really carries his massive appendages, moves deliberately with a menacing cool and delivers one-liners in a sultry arch tone. The physicality of the role also plays into it with Octavius in an open trench coat with his titties out and with a bit of his paunch hanging over the metal tentacle corset around his waist, letting us really take in the beauty of his body.
Molina has always been a big guy and that, along with his expressive Mediterranean facial features, bountiful charm and gameness for any role is a big part of why he’s so sexy. “I’ll do anything. I’m a bit of slut that way,” the actor said in a 2014 interview for gay romcom Life is Strange. And true to that, since making his debut in 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark, his oeuvre has run the dramatic gamut.
He plays coked-up drug dealer Rahad Jackson in Boogie Nights with an unhinged fervor as he dabbles in Russian roulette and grins like a straight-up demon. When he appeared in the FX miniseries Feud as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane director Robert Aldritch, Molina brought pathos as the show’s one sympathetic (though morally complicit) man, beautifully portraying the desire for greatness of a filmmaker in decline. In Jim Jarmusch’s anthology film Coffee and Cigarettes, his portrayal of a delightfully earnest caricature of himself trying to connect with a disinterested Steve Coogan is a wonderfully subdued comedic performance.
Molina could easily occupy the same metaphysical plane of existence as a That Guy actor, but because of his sheer irrepressible charm and bountiful charisma, he’s unmistakable for anyone but one of our greatest living character actors. While talking with Klee about our shared adoration for Molina, he noted “you always get excited to see him because you know his energy will elevate whatever he’s in.” When cast as Diego Rivera in Frida, he gained a significant amount of weight, seeking to further embody the size and sex appeal of the late painter. And while Chocolat has always left me underwhelmed, Molina’s performance as a strict Catholic mayor full of repressed desire is by far the film’s highlight, making it all the more primal when he goes absolutely buckwild on some titular chocolat.
Though Molina’s always been a transformative actor, one of the only things he’s unwilling to do for a role is diet. “If someone says, ‘We’ve got a great part for you but you’ll need to lose 30 pounds,’ I say, ‘Well, get a thinner actor,’” said Molina in the same aforementioned interview. I do hope this is true of Spider-Man: No Way Home, though from the brief glimpse of him in the trailer it does appear they have de-aged the 68-year-old actor, making his face appear a bit thinner in the process. Though I’m not especially interested in the offerings of the Marvel movies, it’d be revelatory for Molina to return to the franchise in all his bodacious glory at a time in Hollywood where every star is thin and traditionally attractive but bereft of all sex appeal.
Here’s looking at you, you beautifully thick king.