Spider-Man 2’s emotional and calculated story stands above modern summer flicks.
It’s Debate Week. This article is one of sixteen arguments competing for the prize of being named ‘Best Summer Movie Ever.’ Read the rest throughout the week here.
The summer blockbuster has greatly evolved since the premiere of Jaws in 1975. Today, summer blockbusters still follow the same basic story formula that Jaws presented, but they are also bolstered by incredible digital effects and exciting action sequences that keep audiences flocking to theaters every summer. As the action blockbuster rules the summer, superhero films have recently become a summer staple, breaking box office records and reigning in the hearts of fans. Films like The Avengers and The Dark Knight remain two of the most impressive summer superhero movies that have captivated fans, critics and box offices alike. They do not, however, stand without a precedent. The release of Spider-Man 2 in 2004 stands as the first great summer superhero film that strikes the perfect balance between a strong, emotional story and wondrous summer bliss. Spider-Man 2’s critical and financial success paved the way for summer superhero films, standing among the best with emotional gravitas never seen before.
Spider-Man 2 united audiences and critics as our favorite wall-crawler returned to the big screen in high fashion. After defeating the Green Goblin, Peter Parker fully accepts his role as Spider-Man but finds it difficult to balance hero life with his relationships, work, and school. After getting fired from his job, failing his classes, and struggling to accept Mary Jane’s impending marriage, he experiences an emotional crisis and ultimately retires from crime-fighting. Immediately, he finds freedom living only one life, but he also grows increasingly aware of the evil that surrounds him. Meanwhile, Doctor Octopus teams up with Harry Osborn to complete his fusion reactor, a dangerous machine threatening to consume the city. As Doc Ock’s plan comes to fruition, Peter accepts his responsibility as a hero and saves New York.
Under the direction of Sam Raimi, Spider-Man 2 brilliantly marries story, action, and even glimpses of horror. Raimi tells an incredible story that highlights what true responsibility is. At the start of the film, life is tough for Peter, and he makes the choice to give up heroism for an easier life. After a tear-jerking moment where he admits to Aunt May that he caused Uncle Ben’s death, he faces a challenge only a hero could conquer and faces it head-on. Through a movie about a superhero, Raimi tells a beautiful story about commitment to responsibilities.
Raimi does this while enthralling with great action, including the iconic train scene between Spidey and Doc Ock. Although the special effects feel a little dated, they hardly distract from the brilliant hand-to-hand combat and choreography that hold up fourteen years later. Raimi further establishes himself as a master director as he finds a way to sneak in a nod to his famous Evil Dead franchise in a way that feels natural and original. These genre shifts showcase Raimi’s directorial proficiency, which is bolstered by strong performances from Tobey Maguire (yes, he is a good actor), Alfred Molina, and Rosemary Harris. Spider-Man 2 synthesizes technical brilliance and a compelling story, launching it to the top of the superhero totem pole.
Spider-Man 2 also boasts an incredible villain in Doctor Octopus. Doc Ock is not just an evil carbon copy of Spider-Man, but a character with his own agency and volition. Though he initially wants to create sustainable energy, he soon plunges deep into darkness and corruption after being corrupted by AI. Eventually, he realizes that he has to be accountable for his actions and sacrifices himself to destroy his fusion reactor. This theme of responsibility is not only found in the hero’s story but in the villain’s as well, breaking the standard of villains that only exist in order for the hero to grow. This creates depth and development unseen in traditional action blockbusters.
Although there were good superhero films before Spider-Man 2, like 1989’s Batman and 2000’s X-Men, they lacked the real emotion and story that Spider-Man 2 has. The superhero films that precede Spider-Man 2 are not terrible by any means, but they always venture more towards telling cheesy, campy comic book stories. While Spider-Man 2 holds its own amount of cheesiness, it does so in a way that fits the style and feel of the film.
Even films that have followed Spider-Man 2 feature less compelling stories. While action and effects might have improved in films like The Avengers or Spider-Man: Homecoming, both of them lack the true message that Spider-Man 2 so proudly boasts. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker learns substantially less from his journey in Homecoming, compared to Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2, who learns the cost of responsibility through his perilous journey.
As superhero films have come to dominate the summer, it is hard not to include them when considering the best summer movies. Although Spider-Man 2 may have been forgotten by most, it expertly blends great summer fun with a compelling story. I want a summer film that is entertaining but also forces me to think — Spider-Man 2 does this brilliantly. Current summer superhero films may ride off the success of Spider-Man 2, but they have not come close to bearing the same emotional weight that this film presents.