“I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble. And finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want most, even our dreams.
Giving one of the biggest superheroes in the world’s movie rights to a director who works primarily in the horror genre is arguably one of the most batshit ideas that film executives have had. However, giving Peter Parker’s origin story to The Evil Dead’s Sam Raimi has been a supported movement since creating 2002’s Spider-Man, which despite some middle of the road reviews and a technical financial loss, the cult masses have wrapped themselves around the film. Masses feel that Tobey Maguire is the best Spider-Man we’ve seen in film yet, and this is mostly thanks to this film, and its sequel, the aptly titled Spider-Man 2. Released in 2004, the film is technically speaking only slightly improved from its predecessor, but the film truly nails not being a great film in its own right, but by being one of the best sequels ever made. Let me explain.
Consider it this way- while a sequel can, of course, be a great film in its own right, its primary focus should be to expand on the world it developed beforehand and take the characters that had developed in the first film and develop them even further. The world should feel just as lively and equally changed by the results of the film, and such is the case with Spider-Man 2’s New York. It feels equally as lived in and dangerous as the first film, but it instantly feels more so as Parker gives up the Spider-Man mantle during the second act. Parker’s arc throughout the film takes him seamlessly through all of the leading plot points of the film- but primarily his relationship with Mary-Jane Watson.
The series’ first film follows Peter and MJ’s relationship closely as Peter grows from his drooling adoration of the girl totally out of his league, to rejecting her advances as she falls for him in an attempt to protect her from the collateral damage around Spider-Man. This development is furthered in the sequel as Peter ends up with MJ (now knowing his secret identity). Peter allows this to himself following the events of the film because he learns in his time having abandoned the mask that he deserves to be happy, as his entire life is dedicated to helping others. Peter’s life weighs down on him at the halfway point- everything crumbles around him and he feels that he can’t be anything other than the selfless web-slinger he’s become, and he has to entirely sacrifice himself for the greater good and the people that he loves. This is a stark difference to Peter from the first film, as the focus lies mostly on himself training to be a hero and do what he thinks is right. Spider-Man 2 is brave in showing the toll selflessness can take and is a lesson in admitting that everyone needs a break every once in a while.
A good villain is lost in the mixer for a lot of superhero films, but Raimi manages to hit the nail on the head with Otto Octavious – Doc Ock. He’s so effective because he draws large parallels with Norman Osbourne as the Green Goblin in the previous instalment- they are both brilliant minds dragged under by insanity and an insatiable hunger for greatness. The Green Goblin’s insanity is somewhat self-inflicted with his own performance-enhancing drugs leading his alter-ego to erupt alongside his mania, but Doc Ock loses himself progressively, beginning to believe his man-made tentacles are conversing with him. Raimi illustrates the tentacles adopting a mind of their own as they attack a series of surgeons attempting to remove them from Octavious’ back- the director’s horror chops are used best here, utilising the genuine terror on the faces of the surgeons to show how truly dangerous Octavious is, even as he lays unconscious on an operating table. Doc Ock is a step up from the Green Goblin as his maniacal intent is not rooted in an alter-ego that has the potential to disappear at any given moment- his motivation is strong and concise, along with his personal and scientific connections to Peter forcing the web-slinger to sympathise with him despite his actions.
Peter Parker’s changes and adversaries are a perfect example of how Spider-Man 2 stands as one of the best follow-ups in semi-recent memory, and one of the better cinematic representations of the nerdy bookworm-turned-superhero. While Into the Spider-Verse nails so many incarnations of Spider-Man and Homecoming represents Parker better than he’s ever been seen in Tom Holland’s performance, this film tells a wonderfully compelling tale of selflessness and its struggles, protecting those you love and abandoning them for the greater good. Until Spider-Man: Far From Home arrives in July we won’t know if the Spider-Man sequel has more to provide, but for now, we can enjoy the slightly aged, little bit cringey, all wonderful Sam Raimi romp.