There are dozens of superhero movies, for the last twenty years comic book characters have come to life on-screen with varying results. Spider-Man 2 is a film that keeps itself in its fantastical world but grounds it in a reality from character emotion, a compelling villain and a personal struggle on what it mean be a hero. It’s a triumph of the genre and was one of the first films to really show the storytelling potential that a superhero could do with cinema.
Peter Parker continues to struggle to balance his life of being Spider-Man. He juggling two jobs, going to university, lives in a run down apartment and continues to fight crime as the neighbourhood’s favourite web slinger. What makes Spider-Man such a relatable hero for many audiences are his struggles, he has superpowers yet his life is so difficult. He risks his life for no reward, his heroic actions as Spider-Man damages the life of Peter Parker. In the opening sequence we see Peter swing through the skies in order to deliver a Pizza in thirty minutes or less but stops to save two children from being hit by a truck. Spider-Man saves the day but Peter Parker loses his job, the strain of the double life is the story of this film. Should Peter Parker be Spider-Man?
Personally I don’t like everything about Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker but he sells the characters internal conflict so well. There is no moment of victory for him: losing jobs, failing classes, giving up his dream girl to keep her safe. With great power comes great responsibility and the responsibilities Peter finds himself with are destroying him. It’s a great exploration of dual identity, he denies that a choice will have to be made on who he is. When Peter begins to lose his powers, it comes at a very dangerous time
Alfred Molina is Otto Octavius, a tragic villain who is a darker representation of who Peter may become. After a devastating accident, Ovations now dubbed “Doctor Octopus” by J.K Simmons’s scene stealing J. Jonah Jameson, begins an obsessive journey to recreate his experiment. Molina’s performance is incredible, a three-dimensional villain with powerful motivations and screen presence. He is one of Spider-Man’s greatest adversaries as this film gives their conflict justice. The most consistent scene partners for Molina are his mechanical tentacles, director Sam Rami insisted on practical puppets that Molina could interact with. The two beings have a symbiotic relationship, the tentacles are their own characters, emotion coming across with the small movements and it elevates Molina’s acting.
The rest of the supporting cast work into Peter’s story so well while maintaining their own individuality. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane returns as Peter’s love interest, but she’s not just there to pine over. Her journey is about her building her own life away from her past but struggling over her feelings for Peter. This film is guilty of using Mary Jane as a damsel in distress but how it’s used to bring resolution to Parker’s identity crisis and MJ’s feelings with Peter works so well. Harry Osborn is unknowing caught in a conflict with his best friend, he wants Spider-Man dead not knowing its Peter. The consequences of Peter’s crime fighting continually bleed into his real life as Harry consumed by rage and desperation makes a deal with Doc Ock that endangers Peter and MJ. Rami’s direction of all the subplots in this film have their own satisfying payoffs my favourite being between Peter and Aunt May.
Peter is driven by guilt over being responsible for his Uncle Ben being killed in a car jacking. He finally comes clean to his Aunt May over what he did, admitting to himself that his powers have been nothing but destructive to his life. This film shows a super hero give up, it’s a powerful moment to see your childhood hero turn his back on what he believes in. The shot of Spider-Man’s suit discarded in a trash cain during the pouring rain are the moments that make this film so much more than a superhero action movie.
The action of the film is fantastic, Rami heightens the Spider-Man action the second time around. The battles between the hero and villain are amazing, the train fight sequence is a expertly mixed moment of film. There’s excitement, danger, heroics and you see the true effect of Spider-Man on the people he saves. Rami’s horror background is used effectively here as well, Doc Ock’s awakening in the hospital is mind-blowing. How was a sequence like that approved for a film seen by kids? It works so well in establishing Ock as formidable, dangerous villain. The execution of this film creates such an emotionally satisfying film for every audience.
You don’t need to be a comic book fan, you can watch this movie with no knowledge of the character and still be moved by the film’s story. All pieces of the film fire on all cylinders to create a masterpiece of superhero cinema. Spider-Man has been rebooted twice since this film came out, the results disappointing or unknown. If this film will be the character’s finest hour in cinema then what a film. Spider-Man’s greatest challenge wasn’t Doctor Octopus, it was himself and in this film he shows the true meaning of heroism.