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‘I believe there’s a hero in all of us’: ‘Spider-Man 2’ - 20 Years Later


Spider-Man.
Ben Hurney / THE GATEPOST

By Jack McLaughlin

Arts & Features Editor


It’s hard to think of a time when movies based on comics were few and far between. But in 2002, all of that changed when Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” became the first film to gross $100 million on its opening weekend. 


So, logically, it only makes sense for a hit like this to get a sequel. 


It wasn’t as straightforward as you’d think, though - between a tight deadline and a potential recasting of Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of the titular web-slinger, it’s a miracle that “Spider-Man 2” released so soon after the first one, 20 years ago as of this June. 


Did it hold up to the first film? 


Yes, absolutely.


Unsurprisingly, “Spider-Man 2” was a massive success. The film earned a worldwide gross of $788 million, and became the first film based on a comic book to win an Academy Award for its visual effects. 


After this, a film based on a Marvel comic did not win another Oscar until “Black Panther” 14 years later. 


It’s not a hot take to say that this film far exceeds the first one - it’s generally the consensus amongst the fans of these films. It is, however, important to really understand why this is the most fondly remembered of Sam Raimi’s trilogy.


What makes “Spider-Man 2” so much better than its predecessor is the impeccable balancing act between the cheesy moments and humor and the incredibly grounded and emotional sequences presented. 


There’s still plenty of moments throughout that keep the fun energy - Peter’s pizza delivery scene is the obvious example - but the emotions feel much higher as the film delves into the relationships built in the first film.


“Spider-Man 2” also takes a slower approach to the story. There’s no need to set up as many characters here, so instead of the snappy pace of the first film, viewers are delivered a slow build up that ends up having an incredible payoff. 


This film focuses on the theme of being torn down and having to come back from that, and it’s personified through Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his internal conflict throughout. 


To put it lightly, his life sucks at the time of this story. 


He’s constantly torn between his short lived delivery job at Joe’s Pizza, his photography gig at The Daily Bugle, being a college student, and being the sole hero and protector of New York City. 


Upon rewatching this recently, this aspect hit home for me a lot as a college student. The balancing act of trying to do everything you want to do and giving each thing your full energy makes my head spin sometimes, and it’s slightly comforting to see that type of struggle represented so authentically here. 


Peter’s personal life suffers tremendously at the hand of his responsibility. His grades are steadily dropping, he gets fired from his job, and his friends and family are both concerned and grow increasingly annoyed with his inability to be present for them. 


And, of course, there’s a love triangle among him, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and her boyfriend-turned-fiancé John Jameson (Daniel Gillies). 


At a point, it really does feel like being Spider-Man is not worth it for Peter. His life is literally falling apart, so he takes matters into his own hands and simply gives up. 


The choice he makes to give up is not done without deep thought - and it gives the late Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) a fantastic opportunity to return in a scene with Peter to bring such a devastating moment in the series - Spider-Man no more. 


This part of the film explores Peter’s life without the weight of being a superhero constantly looming over him - and while the montage of his new life over the song “Raindrops Falling on My Head” might be the funniest part of the movie, it makes sure to remind you that this isn’t an ideal solution to his problems. 


Peter constantly has to watch crimes take place and while that wave of guilt doesn’t initially hit him in the montage, it definitely does later on. 


Along with this section comes what is probably the most emotional part of the film. Peter reveals to his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that he was indirectly responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. Maguire’s performance of fighting through his emotions to reveal this, combined with May’s deafening silence and devastated response, leaves the viewer stunned. 


The scene that has no score or action taking place is a testament to how this film works hard to make sure Spider-Man is not the main focus in the film - Peter Parker is. 


Now there’s no one looking after the city like Peter did, letting crime and evil schemes to be acted out with no one strong enough to stop them all. This allows for the villain of this film, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), to bring his dangerous plan to fruition. 


Compared to the last villain, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), Otto is a much more tragic villain in the sense that he is a good spirited person that is being corrupted by the sentient robot arms that take total control of him.


A relationship between Peter and Otto is established early on to make their eventual conflict that much more emotionally impactful. They tried something similar to this in the first movie between Peter and Norman, and while that works in that movie, I think that it’s done much better here. 


Their first true fight in the bank gives the opportunity for the film to flex its immaculate visual effects. For a film that is nearly two decades old, there are very few shots that I would consider to look “dated,” which is impressive given the first one already has many awkward-looking visual effects, and it came out two years before. 


The cinematography is undeniably the best of the trilogy as well. The film has a notably darker look than the first one, and its slow progression to brightness that leads into probably the happiest ending for any “Spider-Man” movie is shown excellently visually. 


Peter’s return to being Spider-Man might just be the best example of everything good about this movie firing off on all cylinders. It’s shot excellently, has great humor courtesy of J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), Danny Elfman’s score is sweeping, and most notably - it hits so hard for any viewer. 


Even after 20 years, the audience in the sold-out showing I saw this in for its re-release went into an uproar at this very moment and I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional about it. 


I’ve seen this movie an unspeakable number of times, and never have I had the chance to see it in an environment like this. It was the exact moment it really clicked with me that this is a perfectly concocted scene. 


After over half of the runtime dedicated to quite literally beating Peter physically and emotionally into retirement, his triumphant return was the ultimate payoff and the finale that followed was simply the icing on the cake. It rewards the audience’s patience and, in terms of live-action “Spider-Man” films, has yet to be topped. 


“Spider-Man 2” is the gold standard of comic book films - it’s what every good movie in this genre is compared to when talking about “the best one.” There are so many contenders for that spot, but for me this stands high above basically everything else it gets put up against. 

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