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In Spider-Man 2 (2004), Alfred Molina plays Doctor Otto Octavius, the antagonist. He wants to create sustainable energy, and creates a set of four extra arms that are hooked up to his back. He is able to control the arms, it seems. Are the arms controlled by an AI attuned to Otto's mind? Are they just an extension of his own will? If there is an AI, did it end up controlling him instead?

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    I always thought that they were controlled by an AI, which was restrained by the chip. When the chip got destroyed they could do as they wanted, but the chip also controlled their interface with Octavius - he became influenced by their "thoughts".
    – user25730
    Dec 14, 2021 at 1:46
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    Are you sure the [legacy-marvel] tag is relevant? I mean, there will be movies which aren't related to the MCU without being related to each others.
    – Clockwork
    Dec 14, 2021 at 8:20

2 Answers 2

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The arms were controlled by an AI, linked directly to Ock's cerebellum. It was noted that the arms had the potential to control him via this neural link, but that this was prevented by the inhibitor chip on the back of his neck. Unfortunately, the chip shorted out during the experiment with the fusion reactor.

OCTAVIUS: And now let me introduce my assistants. These four actuators were developed and programmed for the sole purpose of creating successful fusion. They are impervious to heat and magnetism. These smart arms are controlled by my brain through a neural link. Nanowires feed directly into my cerebellum, allowing me to use these arms to control fusion reaction in an environment no human hand could enter.

WOMAN: Doctor, if the artificial intelligence in the arms is as advanced as you suggest, couldn't that make you vulnerable to them?

OCTAVIUS: How right you are. Which is why I developed this inhibitor chip to protect my higher brain function. It means I maintain control of these arms, instead of them controlling me.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

After that, the arms began to exert an influence on Ock's thought process, acting a bit like a devil on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. It was primarily the arms that convinced him to rebuild the fusion reactor, and to resort to theft to acquire the necessary funds.

OCTAVIUS: My Rosie's dead. My dream is dead. And these monstrous things should be at the bottom of the river... along with me. Something... in my head. Something talking. The inhibitor chip! Gone. Rebuild. No. Peter was right. I miscalculated. I couldn't have miscalculated. It was working, wasn't it? Yes. We could rebuild. Enlarge the containment field. Make it bigger and stronger than ever. But we need money. Steal it? No, no, no, I'm not a criminal. That's right. The real crime would be not to finish what we started. We'll do it here. The power of the sun in the palm of my hand. Nothing will stand in our way. Nothing!

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Ock only regained control of the arms near the end, when Peter reminded him of the sort of man he used to be; a good man, who'd never have done most of the things he did in this movie, if not for the influence of the arms.

PARKER: Dr. Octavius. We have to shut it down. Please tell me how.

OCTAVIUS: Peter Parker? "Brilliant but lazy."

PARKER: Look at what's happening. We must destroy it.

OCTAVIUS: I can't destroy it. I won't.

PARKER: You once spoke to me about intelligence. That it was a gift to be used for the good of mankind.

OCTAVIUS: A privilege.

PARKER: These things have turned you into something you're not. Don't listen to them.

OCTAVIUS: It was my dream.

PARKER: Sometimes, to do what's right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.

OCTAVIUS: You're right. He's right. Listen. Listen to me now. Listen to me now!

Spider-Man 2 (2004)


On the cast & crew commentary track, during the hospital scene, Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi both allude to the idea that the arms effectively had a mind of their own, enabling them to defend themselves without Ock willing them to do so.

TOBEY MAGUIRE: It's fun, it's scary, this scene... and also, you're really establishing the characters of these arms. I mean, they're really coming to life here.

SAM RAIMI: Yeah, it was important to show that there was something to be feared, those arms. And also -- and I don't know if the audience understood this or not -- but the idea was that they were out to protect themselves, and he had no knowledge of it. I don't know if I made that clear enough, that he was awakening now to see what they had done, and was horrified at it, and was now kind of trapped with these things. I thought Fred [Molina] did a very nice progression.

TOBEY MAGUIRE: I think it's clear. I think it definitely is clear with this scene, and the next scene, and the next scene. I mean, as we see them with the car, when it comes at them, and the arms grab the car, you can see that's kind of without Fred's will. He's not making the arms protect him.

Spider-Man 2 (2004) - cast & crew commentary track

On the cast & crew commentary track, during the waterfront scene, co-producer, Grant Curtis, confirms that the arms did start talking to Ock, convincing him that the accident with the fusion reactor wasn't his fault, and that the concerns Peter expressed about the stability of the containment field before the experiment were unfounded.

AVI ARAD: And this is like the birth. This is incredible. Freddy Molina, all of a sudden you realise... you always have to hire a good actor. The rest will come with it.

GRANT CURTIS: Because what he does take, seamlessly, us through in this scene emotionally is, at the very beginning he is looking over the water all downtrodden, and almost wanting to end his life. And then these tentacles do start talking to him, and convince him that, you know, it wasn't all his fault, and he is a genius, and Peter Parker was wrong, and just to -- it wasn't his fault. Alfred does take us through to that point at the very end here, where he has been convinced, and now he is the evil mastermind that we're going to see throughout the rest of the film, and to go from that emotional arc, it's really a joy to watch.

Spider-Man 2 (2004) - cast & crew commentary track

And finally, on the cast & crew commentary track, during Ock and Peter's final scene together, producer, Avi Arad, and Tobey Maguire both allude to Peter reminding Ock of who he really was, motivating him to take control of the arms, rather than letting them control him.

AVI ARAD: Spider-Man taking off the mask is really, in a way, the essence of why we pick villains that are connected to the hero. We felt this was time for Peter -- who admires this man, in spite of all that's going on -- if he takes off the mask, he can say: "Dr. Octavius, let me remind you who you are. Don't let these tentacles make you into something that you don't wanna be."

Spider-Man 2 (2004) - cast & crew commentary track

SAM RAIMI: And I'm glad that you and me took the highroad here. I think there was some opposition to this idea, but I like very much that Peter 1) doesn't slay the villain. I don't think that's the answer to anything, is violence, really. And 2) I like that you are a hero because you awaken the goodness in others. And that's the effect I think your performance in the movie has on people, when it's working. They feel empowered to do the right thing.

TOBEY MAGUIRE: Well, I think as well, even though, you know, I know that some people wanted to see Spider-Man save the day or solve the problem himself... be the superhero. I think the unique thing about Spider-Man as a superhero is he's the thinking man's superhero, and he uses his intellect a lot of times. And in this case, to reach Doc Ock, and for Doc Ock to be a hero himself in this moment, and remember who he is, you know, deep down, and take control of these arms, and right his wrongs. And it also gives Alfred a more interesting villain to play, I think.

Spider-Man 2 (2004) - cast & crew commentary track

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    An interesting tell seems to be Octavius’ use of “I/me” when he’s in control, and “we/us” when the arms are. Dec 14, 2021 at 14:31
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    Including the classic trope of having a component vital to the safe operation of an apparatus dangerously exposed with no redundancy or failsafe. Dec 14, 2021 at 16:10
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    @Crazymoomin You remind me of how Formula 1 drivers had been driving for years without the halo to protect them, until a deadly accident happened, or the story of Karen Wetterhahn and the safeties that weren't good enough.
    – Clockwork
    Dec 14, 2021 at 17:56
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    Or the old joke that "The first testicular guard (“box”) was used in cricket in 1874. And the first helmet was used in 1974. So, it took 100 years for men to realize that their brains were also worth protecting…"
    – FuzzyBoots
    Dec 14, 2021 at 21:12
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    @Clockwork Not so much. For F1, deadly accidents were considered normal; the change of mindset in the 2000s was simply to stop considering it normal and do something about it. For Wetterhahn, this was literally new science. A better example would be the Therac-25, which is one of the reasons you don't do that these days unless you're legitimately insane before you connect the electrodes. It's a trope in the same way as "rogue detective given 48 hours to crack the case" - leads to interesting plot with cool explosions but doesn't represent reality. :)
    – Graham
    Dec 15, 2021 at 9:49
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Perhaps it's a bit of both. It could be the case of the AIs were to be used as a metaphor a blank canvas when first initially activated for the experiment. Whenever activated, the inhibitor chip kept his brain waves and control of the arms almost like a joystick to a video game character. When the inhibitor chip broke, there was no limit from the brain to the arms. I don't believe the arms' AI had a personality whatsoever. I think they feed it off of Octavius's own desires' negative and positive effects and just naturally chose to go the most logical route rather than the most human route, thus taking over.

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