10 Years Later, Spider-Man 2 Is Still The Perfect Superhero Movie
We are living in the golden age of comic book movies. You don’t have to be a genius to notice the trend really; the news cycle is endlessly dominated by the likes of DC and Marvel, and the highest grossing film of the year at the time of this writing is Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is based on a, you guessed it, comic book. Yes Hollywood is dominated by the comic book movie but, honestly, that wasn’t always the case. The genre explosion of comic book movies (and specifically superhero stories) only really began in the early 2000’s when Marvel joined the Hollywood fray, and introduced a big budget superhero that wasn’t Batman or Superman to the masses — they, along with Columbia Pictures, brought the world Spider-Man. And from the very beginning, reactions to the web heads first live action adventure garnered widespread attention — it opened with a gigantic $114 million take which was, at the time, the highest opening weekend for a film ever. Yes, it was clear to Columbia immediately that they had something with this whole Spider-Man character, and they made the swift decision to bring back all the principal cast (and director Sam Raimi) to do another one, Spider-Man 2. And, believe it or not, that film came out exactly 10 years from today, on June 30, 2014. In the decade since we’ve seen a ton of comic book movies hit theaters, some good, some bad. But in my mind at least, none has been able to top Spider-Man 2. Because, when you get down to it, Spider-Man 2 is the perfect superhero movie and pretty much a staple of blockbuster filmmaking for this century.
And, also, one of my personal favorite movies of all time. That last one doesn’t sound nearly as snazzy and doesn’t have the words “best” or “century” in it, but is equally true — I love Spider-Man 2 to death and, when I was reminded early last week that today would be its tenth anniversary, I simply knew I had to write something to commemorate the event. Because, as that opening implied (in an almost needless, repetitive way I might add), we’ve seen so many superhero stories in the past decade that the incredible, almost definitive merits of Spider-Man 2 aren’t nearly discussed as often anymore. But since its the film’s first big anniversary, I figured now would be as good a time as any to discuss the impact this film had on the superhero genre, and its impeccable quality overall. But to do that, I knew one thing — I would have to watch the movie again.
And that’s kind of terrifying to me. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen Spider-Man 2 quite a bit, and for a time knew the whole thing beat for beat. But’s its been years since I’ve had the time to re-watch the sequel, and I was afraid that (as with all films that cross the decade old mark) the movie wouldn’t have aged as well as I would hope. After all, in a universe where we have close to a half a dozen superhero movies opening months apart from each other, and some of those superhero movies in question feature multiple heroes all teaming up in a grand franchise, would I still be as wowed with Spider-Man 2 as I was in a pre-The Avengers world? A pre-The Dark Knight world? Nothing would have broke my heart more than for this film to lose some of its magic over time…but thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that predicament. Because this film not only holds up extraordinarily well, but pretty much outshines its newer, sleeker competition in almost every way.
One thing the film does oh so well, and far better than other modern superhero movies do really, is its main villain. I’m so used to comic book movies now where its the norm to stuff in as many villains as possible, and its so damn refreshing that Spider-Man 2 only has ONE main villain for our costumed hero to deal with. It also helps when the villain is as good as Doctor Otto Octavius is here, played expertly by the great Alfred Molina. Compared to pretty much all the villains of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (a.k.a. the bastard stepchild of the Spider-Man series), he’s a god send: he’s well performed, has clearly defined motivations, and a killer design to boot. But best of all, he’s probably the most sympathetic comic book villain ever: Molina does an incredible job of making you feel for his character, and his story of redemption is far more interesting than your standard villain tale. That wasn’t always going to be the case even in the early production of the film, but it was really Sam Raimi (and writer Alvin Sargent) who decided to go in the more emotional direction with the character and sequel overall..
Which is something that the film does a mighty fine job with — the emotional core of the Spider-Man story and, hell, the superhero story in general. This is a film that takes its time with its character moments, and isn’t just about seeding future storylines for the next films in the “Universe” or having a 45 minute scene of destruction porn. In fact, I would argue my favorite moments of Spider-Man 2 are the smaller ones: scenes like Peter’s tearful confession to Aunt May about what really happened to Uncle Ben on the night of his murder, or the subway car full of pedestrians catching the unconscious Spider-Man shortly after he saved all of their lives. I don’t cry at movies because I don’t have a heart, but to this day, scenes like those make the circuits in my chest that control the pumping of my blood swell with emotion. The feelings I get watching this movie are emotions I feel watching no other superhero movie, or summer blockbuster in general really.
Not to say that Spider-Man 2 is a tearjerker, Fault in Our Stars-esque experience of course: it has its fair share of superhero action moments, and scenes that I personally would put as some of the all time greats in terms of action — I mean, have we had a more dynamic and fun to watch fight scene in a blockbuster than the Doc Ock/Spidey fight on the train? I would argue no, and the fact that its followed by the aforementioned emotional scene just shows how delicately Spider-Man 2 balances its character moments and superhero action beats.
Not to continue and harp on modern superhero films again, but I feel like in this day and age, no other comic book movie takes its time to have a five minute monologue scene about a big character confession, or sequences in which we see the main hero struggle with having to pay his rent, or just live a satisfactory life. The struggles of Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2 only make the rest of the superhero experience all the better, and I really wish more films now a days would take the time to explore the human element of superhero stories, rather than just what place it will have in the films leading up to the next big team up. Look, I love Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And I love The Avengers. But I still wish more films would do the thing that Spider-Man 2 does — tell a compelling story not just about both a man in mask fighting crime, but also about a man overall dealing with the dramas of his life. For me at least, it makes for a legendary combination.
Before I end this I want to leave things off on a bit of a personal note. I’ve blabbered on about this film being a touch stone in the superhero genre and being an amazing piece of filmmaking, and I honestly have no idea how you reading this might feel about that. All I can speak to (as always) is my personal experience, and to be quite honest, I think Spider-Man 2 might be the most important film I ever watched in my life. Before I saw Spider-Man 2 I was a casual movie goer, a young kid who saw movies for nothing more than a little goofy fun to have with some friends. But after my viewing of Spider-Man 2, something changed within me — my love of filmmaking came to life. I wanted to know how a scene like the Doc Ock surgery sequence or the aforementioned train fight was created, how the magic of movies could present to me this image of a man flying through New York on webs and make me buy into it completely. I wanted to know everything about the film and, ultimately, that made me want to know everthing about film in general. I watched all the special features on the DVD’s, listened to the commentaries even (I’m pretty sure the Spider-Man 2 commentary is the first film commentary I ever watched). The sense of pure joy and wonder that I felt watching Spider-Man 2 made me interested in filmmaking as an art, one that ultimately blossomed into a love of the medium overall, and a desire to work in it in any capacity I could. I would go so far as to say that, without my love of Spider-Man 2, I would have never become infatuated with film as I have, never would have gone on to create Geek Binge later on in life. All over the internet, you hear people talking about the first time they saw Star Wars, and how the experience shaped them into a lover of film. For me, and I’m sure many others of my generation, Spider-Man 2 is that film.
We’ve seen a ton of great superhero movies in the decade. The Incredibles was a beyond entertaining and stylistic adventure. The Avengers was a genre risk that somehow turned out to be one of the best blockbusters of the past few years. And The Dark Knight was a superhero film that simply transcends the genre, to the point that calling it a straight up “superhero movie” seems almost inaccurate. But for me at least, Spider-Man 2 is the PERFECT superhero movie, and one that represents everything I love about the genre as a whole. Happy 10th, Spider-Man 2. There’s nothing else out there like you…and I seriously doubt there ever will be.
I leave you now with this track from the film’s score entitled “At Long Last, Love,” which closes Spider-Man 2 out. It’s probably one of my favorite pieces of film music ever, for what it’s worth. Danny Elfman used to be so good, guys. SO GOOD.