I doubt i need to harp any more about how we’re currently living in the age of superheroes. With the MCU dominating the big screen since 2008 and informing, if not imposing, trends for every other franchise while giving them astronomical heights to live up to, it’s hard to imagine a cinematic landscape that was any different. Sam Raimi’s 2002 film Spider-Man broke a heck of a lot of ground, both in terms of scope and drawing the blueprint for how to craft an origins story. However, it would be his 2004 follow up SpiderMan 2 that would invent the style of the modern superhero film, with a direct line drawn to the MCU. Masterfully balancing the elements of action, humor, and heart, Raimi created something that anyone in their right mind would want to replicate, and the best superhero movies since, MCU or otherwise, have done just that. Of course, the genre has evolved a bit in two decades, but the blueprint is still very much on the table, and with very few edits.
As far as its role as a sequel, the film is a direct next chapter to the first—something that’s a far cry from the modern sequel, which tends to abandon any precepts of a serialized story that a movie about comic books would be expected to have. Here, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has been living a double life the past two years, never telling anyone that he’s Spider-Man, which by the way, doesn’t pay the bills. Overdue on his rent and unable to keep a job due to his nightmarish extracurriculars, Peter is beginning to lose some of his powers. As it turns out, he just needs to learn how to balance his life better, reconciling with the fact that in order to be a true hero, he must put his own wants and needs aside.
As we see, this is understandably difficult. His love interest, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), is engaged to be married and his best friend, Harry (James Franco), is still itching to get his revenge on the man who killed his father: Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, genius scientist Doctor Octavius (Alfred Molina) is readying to unveil his latest invention funded by the company that Harry inherited—that allows his brain to control a set of robotic tentacles with his mind. But after things go terribly wrong, the device goes haywire, killing several people during the demonstration, including his own wife, and severing the chip that allows his brain to dominate over that of the artificial intelligence of the tentacles. Naturally, he’s now a villain called Doctor Octopus.
It’s obvious that the success of the first film granted Raimi much more creative control this time around. Once again tapping into his early roots, the director shoots much of the action and suspense like a horror film, enabling him to summon his knack for dark humor in those instances. Even the villain, Doctor Octopus, is better suited for where those tendencies lean almost as though he’s the unfortunate protagonist in an entirely different movie altogether.
Yet believe it or not, comparing the two films becomes a moot point when you consider that one is a teen drama with a superhero twist, unrecognizable to the superhero fare that we have now, and its sequel is essentially the FATHER of the modern-day superhero movie.
The scene where he wreaks havoc in a hospital is reminiscent of a horror massacre, but without the blood.
Where the first movie is all about the what-ifs of a nerdy teenager suddenly obtaining superpowers, this one deals with how he balances those powers and responsibilities and how maybe he’s even getting a little tired of them. Yet believe it or not, comparing the two films becomes a moot point when you consider that one is a teen drama with a superhero twist, unrecognizable to the superhero fare that we have now, and its sequel is essentially the father of the modern day superhero movie (1978’s Superman would be considered the grandfatherit’s all very confusing). There’s no doubt that when Tom Holland was preparing for his role in Spider-Man: Homecoming that he was specifically told to study Tobey Maguire, not in Raimi’s original Spider-Man, but in Spider-Man 2.
The first film leans heavily on the relationship dynamics between its characters, and therefore doesn’t rely on the actors as much as it does the interweaving story underneath them.
In fact, the performances are probably the weakest aspect of the 2002 movie. But when trying to accomplish something as lofty as the tonal blends of Spider-Man 2, you need an actor who can take on all those tasks and tie them together while excelling at each one individually as well.
For the sequel, Maguire has more freedom in using his natural comedic instincts, but then also shows his range during the emotional scenes he has with either Aunt May, Mary Jane, or Harry. Even for the action, Raimi makes a point to have several sequences where the actor is not wearing his mask so that the audience can feel the character’s— and the actor’s—intensity. If Maguire weren’t nailing every single one of these facets, the film would simply not have worked.
For a movie released in 2004, it does show its age in places. Made at a time when CGI usually looked pretty bad, the film’s seams tend to show through. But still, you can tell Raimi is having fun with the new technology. And then there’s the batch of plot holes that crop up ones that would never fly today but again, they’re a product of their time and don’t ever affect the tone or betray the characters’ objectives.
As a master of economic action, Raimi reins in this massively ambitious endeavor so that even its flaws hardly ever matter—something only a few select movies have the rare privilege of benefitting from. Bigger and badder than anything that came before it, Spider-Man 2 ups the stakes to fit its hero’s dilemma, scales back the Kirsten Dunst, and goes full carte blanche with its madness to become perfectly entertaining and entirely innovative.