The old is new again when Alfred Molina returns as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the actor’s first time playing the character since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. 17 years and one cinematic universe later, the tentacled threat who grapples with the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) of his world is transported into the Marvel Cinematic Universe when an unmasked Peter Parker (Tom Holland) asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make the world forget his secret identity. But the spell backfires, bringing multiversal villains who know Peter Parker is Spider-Man into his universe — including the armed and dangerous Doc Ock, who drowns in a heroic u-turn ending director Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man sequel.
In a behind-the-scenes interview from Sony Pictures, Molina recounts playing the same but different Doctor Octopus in his MCU debut:
“What I thought was so wonderful about [Spider-Man 2], the first time, was they gave Doc Ock this wonderful redemptive moment. And like all great villains, like a lot of villains in the Marvel universe, he’s become a villain kind of reluctantly — or almost by accident,” Molina said of Otto Octavius, bonded to his mechanical tentacles after a self-sustaining fusion experiment gone wrong. “I knew that when Jon [Watts, director] described what’s going to be Doc Ock’s first appearance in this film, he just knows it’s going to be a moment of [jaw-dropping awe].”
The moment happens when Peter, trying to get himself and friends MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) admitted into MIT despite his Spider-Man controversy, has a run-in with a destructive Doc Ock on a bridge. Molina’s mad doctor has just been magically transported from just before his death in Spider-Man 2, blaming the armored Spider-Man for the loss of his machine in a case of mistaken identity.
“I wanted to make sure that I was in the right place in terms of the performance, so it was useful to go back and look at [Spider-Man 2],” Molina said. “But at the same time, it’s a different director, it’s a different movie, there’s a freshness to it, so I didn’t want to just come back and replicate what we’d done before. It was important to me to arrive as if this were the first time.”
For Marvel Studios chief and Spider-Man producer Kevin Feige, an executive producer of the 2004 film, revisiting old villains meant bringing back their respective actors for a multiversal mashup in the finale to Marvel and Sony’s Homecoming trilogy.
“It did not occur to us to do a new Goblin story, or to do an Oscorp story, or to do Doc Ock, or anyone that had been done before, which is why Vulture and Mysterio were really the key characters [in the MCU],” Feige said in a behind-the-scenes interview with Sony. “Even as we were doing that — and I had been saying for years, even before anybody asked me what I thought — that you can’t get better than Alfred Molina as Doc Ock.”
He added: “[I said] stepping into those shoes would be very, very difficult. And wouldn’t it be fun to find a way, if you were ever going to bring Doc Ock back, it would have to be Alfred Molina. And in early development on this third Homecoming movie, we realized that thanks to the MCU, there was a way to do that.”
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing exclusively in theaters.