Remember when the only big-screen Spider-Man was Tobey Maguire? Over the weekend, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 turned 15 years old. The 2004 blockbuster was one of the biggest movies of the year at the dawn of the age of superhero films.
Over the past year, we’ve been seeing a ton from Marvel’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and his universe of iconic characters. Between the critically-acclaimed Into the Spider-Verse, box office smash Venom and Tom Holland’s second outing as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home, it’s a good day to be a webslinger. As Sony now has its third go at a second Spider-Man movie, let’s swing back to the one that started it all! What works and what doesn’t?
Works: Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius (Doc Ock)
The most memorable and highly-praised element of Spider-Man 2 that still works just as well today is Alfred Molina’s take on Doc Ock. He brought this unique combination of emotion and terror to this Spider-Man villain that contends with the rogues gallery of Marvel Comics adapted to screen.
The movie places a great focus on his origin, as his character’s experiment on A.I. tentacle arms is miscalculated at a presentation in front of his investor (such as James Franco’s Harry Osborn), killing his loving wife and blasting the inhibitor chip connected to his nervous system.
Sam Raimi’s horror touch comes in handy in many of his sequences (and also works). The director makes robotic arms look menacing, especially in the scene when they attack the doctors attempting to remove them from Dr. Otto's body. When Otto comes to his senses at the end to stop his havoc on the city Spider-Man is trying to stop, its brings a rare touching moment for a comic book villain.
Doesn't Work: Does Peter Parker Need To Be Spider-Man?
The main plotline in Spider-Man 2 revolves around Peter Parker’s struggle with balancing being Spider-Man and the other aspects of his life, including his love for Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane, attending his college classes, and keeping his job as a freelance photographer at the Daily Bugle… oh, and delivering pizzas.
As his struggles pile up, he “loses his powers," even going to a doctor to ask him about a friend’s dream about being Spider-Man and not being able to climb walls anymore to get some sort of cure. The doctor has a heart-to-heart with him, saying maybe he doesn’t need to be Spider-Man.
Now even Far From Home deals with Parker’s desires to be normal, but Spider-Man 2’s approach is just far-fetched for the character. We sympathize with his balancing act, but the way the script decides to handle him giving up his suit is pure nonsense. Superpowered body functions don’t just up and shut down when Spidey’s a little overwhelmed.
Kinda Works: When It’s A Rom-Com
Spider-Man 2 is also a rom-com - it checks just about all the boxes. An awkward lead is in love with his best friend and wants to be with her, but obstacles just keep getting in the way! In true rom-com fashion, she naturally is with someone else who is much more intimidating. He even learns she’s getting married to him, and so on and so forth.
As an audience we’re invested in this romance to bloom as established in the first film -- a classic will-they-won’t-they story. The end even has a fairytale ending that has MJ running in a wedding dress and saying: “So here I am - standing in your doorway.” For the romance junkie it sells and does inject attention to MJ as a love interest. The only reason it doesn't work is MJ isn't really expanded beyond being the love interest.
Could Have Worked Better: The New York “Diversity”
Watching Spider-Man 2 in 2019 has a drawback in the many dumb comedic sequences it has at the expense as a few racial stereotypes. New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world, so it makes sense for Peter Parker to have Russian neighbors, an Asian lady playing the cello on the street or an Indian pizza place owner.
Now, however, they don't hold up as well, given the cast is primarily white and the minorities included are offset by jokes about them on-screen. All of these characters are projected as annoying elements of Peter Parker’s daily life. There’s not a likable non-white character in the film, unless you want to count the Russian daughter’s creepy play at Peter by offering him milk and cookies?
It's the opposite of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man and the MCU’s focus on diversity. Tom Holland’s Peter is the minority amongst the many people of color in his class, which more realistically makes up what Brooklyn looks like.
Definitely Works: The Big Action Sequences
Although Doc Ock rocks, the highest high in Spider-Man 2 is its massive action sequences. For its time, they were cutting-edge and they still hold up today as some of the most breathtaking moments we've seen from Marvel on the big screen. Spider-Man’s fight with Otto, starting with his bank heist, is a high-swinging ride through New York (and includes a cute Stan Lee cameo).
If there’s one scene that’s stuck with all of us, it’s the train scene! Spidey must try and stop the fast-moving vehicle full of people with his strength and webbing before it hits a dead end into the cement. Yes, Maguire looks constipated as he brings the train to a stop, but the scene has a nice and rare mix of comedy, suspense and emotion.
When the group of civilians help a passed out Peter from falling off the train, carry him and take a gaze at his face, it still plays well. The original Spider-Man movies always had a way with showcasing Spidey swinging through the New York City streets, as Danny Elfman’s incredible score plays. Fifteen years later, those sequences remain iconic.
Overall, Spider-Man 2 has its memorable moments that still work great and some choices that just don’t hold up 15 years later. Spidey has since evolved on-screen for the better, in my opinion. What do you think about Spider-Man 2 today?
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.
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