‘Spider-Man 2 (2004)’- Throwback Review: A Superhero Sequel That’s Brillant, Not Lazy

What’s the Story: After two years of dedicating his life to being Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is having a hard time managing his life as New York’s web-slinging hero and keeping up with his personal life. In the midst of not keeping up with his classes and keeping a steady job for his less than nice apartment, he still can’t be with the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), to protect her from his enemies. Unfortunately, things take manners for the worst when scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is involved in a freak accident with his fusion base energy source with deadly metal tentacles attached to him that have a mind of their own. With everything not going so well as he hoped, Peter wonders if he should stop being Spider-Man for good.

When they were making the original Spider-Man, they didn’t think it would be a massive superhero movie based on the popular Marvel character. But it was, as the 2002 origin story was an enormous success with fans and the box office numbers. Every kid who grew up in the early 2000s must’ve had that as their favorite movie. So, it was no surprise director Sam Raimi and his crew decided to make one of the most anticipated sequels ever and of that summer. Believe it or not, Spider-Man 2 was the first comic book movie I ever saw in theaters, and it was the start of seeing everything in relation ever since. I didn’t see it right away, but my family and I caught it at a dollar theater, despite wanting to see it in IMAX downtown. But as someone who loves the first movie, I think the sequel is even better. And around that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the film since it was incredibly awesome. For Christmas that same year, we owned the DVD as a gift, and I believe I also got the “Triple Action Web Blaster” that really made me love the character more as a kid.

Now that we watched the origin of how this nerdy teenager turned into a superhero from a radioactive spider, we’re now seeing what Peter has to go through with this dual life, which shows how much he has always been a relatable fictional person to care about for ages. Watching this now, it would be hard balancing everything while stopping crime and everything that makes a hero who they are. But this sequel puts it forward in letting you know Peter can’t reach the mountain of greatness when he keeps getting beat down at every chance. He gets fired from his pizza delivery position at Joe’s Pizza (“Pizza Time”); he’s constantly running late to class and can’t keep up with his assignments, and the urge to tell MJ how he’s been feeling for years. Finally, we’re shown the reality of how to be in that possession. Basically, Raimi tells us life is difficult, especially when being a real-life hero. The off chance of ever becoming someone like Spider-Man will be the most stressful thing in the world.

Even when I watched it again four years since the last time, that worrying factor of thinking those rose-tinted glasses would accompany me, but I still have to defend it against those who have the slightest audacity to say it isn’t all that good. On the other hand, we’ve gotten over a dozen of these films that won’t have me complaining too much. What makes Spider-Man 2 stand out amongst everything else recently is knowing we’re watching a person figuring out what he wants to do with his life instead of saving the entire world. Remember how the first film stays on the theme of responsibility? Here, it’s all about choices.

At this point, everybody understands who these people are where they feel pretty comfortable enough to play these characters again. Once again, Tobey Maguire proves why he’s always been a great Peter Parker/ Spider-Man in these first two films, and it’s fair to say it’s a significant improvement with his growth in this. With him going through these responsibilities placed against him, the urgency of caring for him more was crucial than before. The commitment Maguire brought from the trouble of making him stay (Rumored back problems with Jake Gyllenhaal almost replacing him) is definitely here when he’s involved with the drama and action. And I know some still criticize Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane and the romance between her and Peter. Still, I don’t really seem to mind it, unlike everyone else when it’s heartbreaking knowing she’s engaged to another man, just wanting to know her pal’s true feelings.

And out of all the classic baddies we’ve seen thus far on the big screen, I’ve always loved Dr. Octavious, played to perfection by Molina. Though he probably wasn’t my first choice to portray him, he does a great job of playing this brilliant scientist who lost the love of his life and is on a mission to finish his fusion reactor. This is also one of my favorite Spidey villains because of his mechanical arms that are linked to his mind. Those things present themselves well in the classic hospital attack that felt like Raimi harkening back to his Evil Dead days. By the way, it’s so impressive that the arms were brought to life through both practical and visual effects. It’s the determination Otto goes through to rebuild his reactor without letting anyone get in his way in ever so genius when I first so it, even if it means destroying the city and being blind to his wild ambitions.

Variety on Twitter: "Alfred Molina confirms he'll return as Doc Ock in ' Spider-Man: No Way Home.' His story takes place right where it left off  after the 2004 'Spider-Man 2' https://t.co/k3iqTCsNTb  https://t.co/gHqdsW27BA" /

When there’s time spaced out when Spider-Man isn’t in costume, I love how it takes time to focus on the characters, especially Peter. The comedic beats are probably the strongest out of all the Spider-Man movies. Anything involving J. Jonah Jameson (a flawless J. K. Simmons) never fails, or with Peter’s landlord asking him for his rent is too good. And this doesn’t shy away from moments where it had to be dramatic. Those moments where Peter tells Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) he feels responsible for Uncle Ben’s death or how May tells him that people, even little kids, look up to Spider-Man (which made me think she knows) weren’t played out for laughs and gave the film a mature approach in takings things in stride. And the cheesy aspect still makes me laugh as we get this montage of Peter going through his everyday life with “Raindrops Keeps Fallin’ on My Head” playing, ending with the freeze-frame never fails to put up a smile.

But it succeeds the most in the action department, and it’s even better than before; from any moment, Spidey is swinging around New York to the climax, which is strange considering this has less action than before. But Spider-Man 2 has one of the most astonishing sequences in any superhero movie in the train sequence as Spidey and Doc Ock is fighting through every part of this runaway train that still amazes me to this day. It starts with a battle on top of a bell tower to dogging hits on top of a subway that still holds up today. The one flaw I can think of when watching is when Peter goes inside the burning apartment to save a little girl without his powers. Something tells me this felt like a reshoot added in since a lot of action wasn’t going on. I get why since it’s in his heart to do it, but it wouldn’t make any difference if they left it out.  

Nothing is more important for a sequel to be on par or better than what came before. Luckily, Raimi gets the job done since his adaptation of The Amazing Spider-Man #50 with a few changes in between makes this a film that’s appreciated more as I grew older. Just how this series always gets compared to Superman, it’s no secret this feels so much like this universe’s answer to Superman II. Almost everybody I know thinks it’s great too. Not only did it become the second highest-grossing film/ sequel of 2004 (behind Shrek 2), it also won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, in addition to nominations for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. And do I believe the soundtrack is an improvement? Well, this was the first time I listened to Dashboard Confessional with my favorite song of their’s “Vindicated, so yes.

When it comes to talking about Spider-Man 2, I think this stands out as one of the best sequels and comic book movies ever made without hesitation. A coming-of-age tale around a great story, action, and characters to help this keep moving forward. Everything about this is endlessly entertaining that won’t be written off anytime soon. 

Grade: A

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