The Spider-Man character has been adapted multiple times for the big screen. We have Sam Raimi’s iconic trilogy, Sony’s “Amazing“ series, and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe iteration. But the one film that stands above the others is 2004’s Spider-Man 2, the middle installment of the Raimi trilogy. It’s not just consistently considered the best Spider-Man to date, but still one of the best of the genre. And in my personal opinion, it’s still the best movie based on a Marvel property.
Spider-Man 2 has all of the elements people love about superhero movies and executes them all perfectly. The protagonist’s conflict between pursuing an ordinary life and leading a career as a superhero. A villain who has multiple layers and is not “evil” solely for the sake of being evil. Exhilarating action sequences that are equally entertaining and heartfelt. A compelling storyline that shows the director’s passion for the characters and that inspires the viewer. The list goes on, but basically, Spider-Man 2 is the perfect superhero movie.
Spider-Man 2 was created in an time before the superhero genre was dominated by cinematic universes. As such, it completely places its focus on telling an emotionally complex story wrapped in dazzling special effects. It takes the best elements of the first movie and cranks them all up to 11. Sam Raimi’s directing is phenomenal, as he perfectly captures the epic scope of the action, the compelling development of the characters, and the awe of Spider-Man’s powers.
The heart of Spider-Man 2 is Peter Parker’s internal struggle between living a normal life and protecting the city as Spider-Man. It’s a conflict of identities that have been portrayed many times in superhero films, but the execution in this movie is on point. In this movie, Peter’s grades are declining, he’s fired from a job, and his aunt is facing eviction. His attempts to lead a regular life comes into conflict with his role as a superhero, and the stress even suppresses his powers for a while. But by the film’s end, Peter learns that, yes, he can balance this double life.
Another classic element that fuels Spider-Man 2 is its embracing of heroism. Peter is always trying to do the right thing, even when he isn’t sure which life to pursue. Even when he loses his powers and “retires” as Spider-Man, he goes out of his way to save a child in a burning building. If that doesn’t inspire viewers, I don’t know what would. “I believe there’s a hero in all of us….”
The acting in Spider-Man 2 is also on point. I know a lot of fans weren’t big on Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Spidey, but I’ll always love it. In this movie, Maguire wonderfully portrays the struggles of Peter Parker, his love for Mary Jane, and his determination to do the right thing. Speaking of MJ, Kirsten Dunst’s best performance as the character is indisputably in this movie. James Franco and Rosemary Harris are still perfect as Harry Osborn and Aunt May, respectively. And who could ever get tired of J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson?
But arguably the best performance in the movie comes from Alfred Molina, who plays Otto Octavius. He fits the character like a glove, as we see his descent into insanity in his attempts to create a self-sustaining fusion reaction. Again, the character isn’t a generic “I’m evil and I want to destroy the city and take over the world!” villain; he’s only trying to fulfilling his biggest dream as a scientist, and he is manipulated by his inventions to disregard everything else. But his last conversation with Peter reminded him that the greater good should always come before achieving your dreams.
Spider-Man 2 accomplishes everything else masterfully. Danny Elfman’s score is incredible. The cinematography is beautiful. The storyline is full of heart and engaging plot. And let’s not forget that fantastic train sequence.
So, does the movie have any major flaws? No, not really.
All in all, Spider-Man 2 is still one of the greatest installments of the comic book movie genre. It sets the standard for how to approach its characters, story, action, and heroism vs. villainy. It still holds the title as the best Spider-Man film to date, especially in light of three underwhelming movies that followed it. But could Homecoming reach this level? It’s not impossible, but it’s not gonna be easy. Thank you, Sam Raimi and company, for crafting the perfect superhero movie.