The Spectacular Spider-Man
Spider-Man 2 has notoriously been regarded as one of the greatest superhero/comic book films of all time. It’s been almost 17 years since its initial release in 2004, since then the dominance of the MCU and other comic book films have elevated the genre, presented inspired takes, and perfected a formula that audiences eat up every day. But there’s something to be said about the sequel to Raimi’s film that makes it wittingly charming, alarmingly tense, wickedly funny, and gut-wrenchingly emotional that other superhero films haven’t been able to capture today. It keeps things simple and does every aspect of those things fantastic, to the point where it makes you long for the simple tried and true superhero films. Spider-Man 2 is a masterpiece and has remained a gold standard for superhero films to come.
The theme of responsibility continues and is even amplified in this film as Peter Parker continues his journey as Spider-Man. Balancing Spider-Man with his personal life is no easy task and the film understands just how hard it can be to live two different lives. Peter’s struggle to maintain a steady income job, grow his relationship with Mary Jane, improve his grades in school, mend his friendship with Harry Osborn, and ultimately protect the city from the criminals and danger that lurks in the streets Is certainly compelling, mainly because he’s so relatable. Everyone wants to do multiple things really well but realistically its hard to balance all of those responsibilities while keeping secrets. That internal struggle is what mines a lot of the great character insight in what makes Peter Parker such a rich and more three dimensional character in this film. You understand his struggle and are rooting for him to have it all, you are heartbroken when he nearly gets the things he wants and misses it, and that’s what makes his final victories in the end feel well worth it. It’s the classic hero’s journey, and as much as the tangible villains destroying New York City haunts Peter, the demons inside of himself are the ones that elevate this film beyond its predecessor.
In fact, Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius is one of the most compelling and rich villains in the Spider-Man film history. What makes him so rich is that he is the antithesis to Peter’s current struggles. While Peter is trying to do many things really well, Doc Ock is focused on one singular goal and fueling his heart, soul, and mind towards that. It shows what happens when brilliance and genius go wrong but keeps it compelling due to the bond the two share in the beginning of the film. The practical effects with his tentacles also add a sense of realism to the movie that forgoes a lot of the CGI for more of an authentic experience. Doc Ock is a tragic character, one that is brought to his villainy through sheer pride and focus but wants to do good for the world. His emotion is raw which makes him easier to connect with his backstory. He feels more grounded allowing you to feel more invested when Peter and Dr. Ock do clash because you can see where he each person in their own respective journey is building towards.
This allows the action to feel great and more visceral than the first film. The first scene where Doc Ock awakens feels like something out of a horror film, as the tentacles come alive and murder an entire room of doctors. This extends into the first showdown between Spider-Man and Doc Ock at the bank where the action feels tight and realistic, again with minimal practical effects. But the gold standard of action, the crowning achievement of tension will undoubtedly go to the train scene. This scene is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Seeing Spider-Man navigate fighting Doc Ock, while also trying to stop a train from crashing is pure genius and shows the extent of Peter’s will and power to save his city. The action feels a lot more real and focused in this film, allowing to feel more in one the conflicts that happen both within and externally.
The film does slow down in the middle but its all in service of the greater conflict Peter is fighting within. himself. Its character building moments that makes us feel the weight of what Peter is going through. The hero inside the suit is just as important as the cool action sequences, and this film shines brilliantly to bring us these moments. The quieter moments are some of the more emotional and powerful in the film, especially when Peter must confront Aunt May on the truth about Uncle Ben or Peter trying one last time to win Mary Jane over before she marries someone else. Seeing Peter give up his responsibilities and face even greater problems feels honest, especially with him being so young. These moments serve to bolster and round out a compelling hero’s journey that forgoes big action set pieces a majority of the time for more depth and personality. It makes the film memorable to this day and is what solidified to many that Tobey Maguire is an amazing Spider-Man.
I can’t go without mentioning J.K. Simmons role as JJ Jameson who is without a doubt the perfect casting of any comic book character ever. He steals every scene he is in and provides amazing moments of humor that made me audibly laugh out loud so many years later. His timing and execution are impeccable and bring great levity to film. Speaking of humor, the comedy is much more subtle and nuanced as opposed to comedy in modern superhero films. Spider-Man 2 opts for the smart jokes and comedic timing as opposed to running gags and witty humor. Its a smart play and makes me long for the more serious and well balanced films such as this one.
All these years later, Spider-Man 2 remains a masterpiece. It delves deeper into its characters and not only develops Spider-Man and his villain, but the people behind those masks as well. It’s a tighter, fast paced film that is superior to the first and remains a joy to watch again and again. It’s superhero films like this that make me long for simple stories instead of the big world annihilating events. I’m so glad that we will see the return of Doc Ock in No Way Home and hopefully with it comes the return of Tobey Maguire.