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Retro Review: Spiderman 2, a superhero film for people who hate superhero films

Roshan Shukla discusses how Spiderman 2 remains a league above its counterparts and why it remains more significant than any current release from this 'superhero film era'.

Photo Credit: Columbia TriStar Film

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris & J. K. Simmons

Length: 127 minutes

Rating: 12 A

How come Spiderman 2 is still regarded by many as the greatest superhero film of all time 15 years on from its release? Well, it might be down to possibly being, the only superhero film where you could throw out all the action scenes have an interesting movie left behind. The film spends most of its running length building up Peter Parker, and not the costumed hero; however, it is centring on a hero nonetheless. We see how Peter Parker struggles to be a student, keep a job and sustain his love life due to pressures of being Spiderman. We see how a real person like ourselves could barely handle being a superhero if handle it at all!  What should compel people with no interest in seeing superhero films, to give it a chance, is reassurance they aren’t going
to see a superhero film. They can rest assured, they are not about to watch a generic action-packed blockbuster. They are in fact going to see, a film disguised as a comic book story, but which in reality is a character arc story.

From the onset, audiences have a chance to see what makes it so uniquely brilliant. The first scene does not contain a battle with a potential villain; however, it chooses to focus on Peter Parker trying to manage his life. Prioritising saving endangered people, comes at his own expense, with him losing his job at a pizza delivery firm by doing so. This is the message at the heart of the film, to do what is right, even when it involves self-sacrifice and comes at a cost to ourselves.

This film contains an unparalleled number of scenes to any other, in terms of leaving audiences with goosebumps on the back of their neck, and tears in their eyes. There is a scene highlighting this, which deserve an honourable mention. It is a dream sequence containing a conversation between Peter Parker and his Uncle Ben. Peter Parker tries to explain to his uncle that he can’t go on as Spiderman, as he wants a life of his own in which he could settle down with Mary Jane. His Uncle Ben tries convincing him in vain, that he can’t as he needs to use his gift to carry out a service to the world. This scene is followed with Peter Parker stating, “I am Spiderman no more”, before discarding the suit and giving up being a hero.

The film from here on in becomes a Peter Parker film, not a Superhero or Spiderman film.  We now begin a story of a man attempting to juggle his everyday life.  This involves his dream girl getting engaged to an astronaut (who is also his boss’s son), hanging around his best friend who has become infused with killing Spider-Man, and the person with whom he was supposed to have an interview turning into a six-armed supervillain. Sure enough, Director Rami can be held guilty of constructing this half of the film with a camp tone.

Photo Credit: Columbia TriStar Film

However, if anything, this makes it more similar to the comic book, than darker downbeat Amazing Spiderman films. There are great acting performances all round, which help to keep up the entertainment, despite there being little action. From J.K. Simmons portrayal as J. Jonah Jameson to James Franco’s Harry Osborne, everyone’s acting was first class.  Special recognition should be given to Molina's Doc Ock for being one of the most compelling villains in history. Molina created a character with layers of depth to him. We have the opportunity to see him before he’s disfigured and corrupted by the artificially intelligent limbs attached to his body, as an innovator, and father figure to Peter Parker telling him that “intelligence is not a privilege; it’s a gift. You use it for the good of mankind’’. Even after descending a path of villainy, we don’t see him just become a flat caricature.

As we near the final chapter of the film, we see the end of an easy going and stress-free Peter Parker, as he is put back on track. Aunt May reminds him that sometimes being a hero means giving up what we want most, including our dreams, which propels him to don the suit once again. This is where the most iconic scene of this whole film is to stem from. Despite having said earlier that this film stands even without action, the intention was not to imply that this film lacks action, as that would be doing it a disservice. The now renowned ‘’train scene’’, is unbelievably well choreographed. We see multiple passengers flung off a train simultaneously, by eight electronic tentacles pelting them in all directions, with Spiderman having to catch each and every one of them. The fight ends with him shooting webs onto buildings on either side of him and use every last part of his strength to push the train against his back, as a last resort to prevent it falling off the track.

However, as with everything in this film, it’s the humanity which takes centre stage. We see our hero collapse, and only just prevented from falling to his death, by passengers pulling him onto the train and carrying him on his back in a Christ-like manner. Now leftover from the defeat, with his mask torn off, his true identity is unveiled for all the passengers to see. One passenger remarks that ‘’He’s just a kid, no older than my son”. This sums up what makes Spiderman a hero, not his physical abilities but his willpower to go beyond of what is expected of him. This is followed by seeing the heroism of ordinary people, not only do the train passengers promise not to reveal his identity to the world but promise to protect him. When the villain returns to finish Spiderman off, we see the passengers gather around Peter Parker and state, that if he wants him, he’ll have to get through them first. This exemplifies what is so great about this film; it shows us ordinary people performing heroism. The audience is then treated to one last action filled scene, in which the villain achieves redemption by sacrificing himself to stop an out-of-control experiment from blowing up New York. When this redemption does eventually happen, it's tragically superb.

Despite reviewing 10,000 films in his career as a film critic, Ebert hailed Spiderman 2 as the greatest superhero film he had ever seen, and it is easy to see why. This superhero film, unlike so many before or after, managed to create investment in fully fleshed out characters. It managed to have audiences captivated so much by the characters, that the first action scene could be pushed until 30 minutes into the film. It did not rely solely on flashy set pieces, as it had a much deeper to story to tell, that of everyday heroism. As hard as it is to believe, and as difficult for us to spot, heroism is performed in the real world. The film shows us that everyday heroism doesn’t involve mutants fighting extra-terrestrials but comes in the form of sacrificing one’s happiness to do what is morally right. No film from the Marvel renaissance we are currently living through has conveyed this message anywhere near as eloquently as Spiderman 2, hence why it stands as modern-day classic 15 years on. 

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