As one who grew up reading comic books, I've watched the superheroes come to life on the big screen with great interest. Unfortunately, most of them haven't fared that well; many have tried but few have succeeded. The Superman films captured the spirit of the comics, but they've grown dated and silly over time. Tim Burton's Batman movies championed style over substance; the sequels by Joel Schumacher even more so, at the cost of plot coherency. It really wasn't until 2000's adaptation of the X-Men when filmmakers successfully balanced first-rate action with drama.

Tobey Maguire is Spider-man and Peter Parker

Tobey Maguire is Spider-man and Peter Parker

Then in 2002, one of the most popular superheroes of all time finally graced the silver screen. It took that long to secure film rights for Spider-Man with the cooperation of creator Stan Lee, as well as to believably re-create the stunts and acrobatics of the world's favorite webslinger through computer-generated special effects. It was worth the time and effort—Spider-Man ended up grossing $820 million worldwide and became the fifth highest grossing film in U.S. history.

Many would also say that it was the best comic-book adaptation ever, and if there were any doubts of that, Spider-Man 2 puts them to rest. The beauty of this film is that it is not simply a sequel, designed to upstage its predecessor with "bigger and better." True to its comic roots, it's a continuation of the Spider-Man saga, following up from where the first film's origin story left off. This is wonderfully captured in Spider-Man 2's opening credits, which uses graphic novel styled artwork to create a visual overture, jogging the viewer's memory of key events from the first film: mild-mannered student Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider, the death of his uncle, the famed upside-down smooch with girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man's defeat of the Green Goblin, and more.

Spider-Man 2 begins two years later (natch), showing us what's become of the key characters in that time. Think it's easy being a superhero? Think again. Anonymous crime fighting doesn't pay the bills, and Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire of Seabiscuit) is struggling to make ends meet by working two part-time jobs. Besides working as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle, taking pictures of "that menace" Spider-Man, he's working another gig which I won't spoil for the viewer—suffice to say, it's one in which Spidey powers can come in handy. Parker's desperate for money because the bank is close to foreclosing on his dear Aunt May's house. Unfortunately, his grades at the local university are slipping, the second job doesn't work out, and Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson isn't making life any easier.

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Peter's still trying to figure out if he loves Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst)

Peter's still trying to figure out if he loves Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst)

On top of that, Parker's relationships are falling apart. His best friend Harry (James Franco of TV's "Freeks and Geeks") still blames Spider-Man for the death of his father, corporate scientist Norman Osborn (aka The Green Goblin). As stress builds for Harry in trying to run his father's company, he begins to increasingly blame Spider-Man for his troubles, never suspecting his true identity. Meanwhile, longtime crush Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst of Mona Lisa Smile) still has feelings for Parker, but he continues to push her away in order to protect her from his dangerous life. As Spider-Man, he believes he is unable to keep promises to her or guarantee her safety. Tired of waiting for him to express his feelings, she's seriously considering a relationship with Jameson's astronaut son.

This may read a bit like a Jane Austen novel or a modern soap opera, but the best comic books are in fact serials, placing real people and their human motivations in unreal circumstances. That's what makes this film such a refreshing summer blockbuster—it's primarily about the characters, not the special effects. Be prepared for long scenes of dialogue between Parker and those around him, as he considers to hang up his red and blue long-johns for good in order to enjoy a happy and normal life. He even gets love advice from Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina of Frida and Luther), a driven scientist financed by Osborn's Oscorp to create a perpetual energy source.

Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is about to turn into something very nasty

Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is about to turn into something very nasty

Ah, right, Dr. Octopus—how could I forget? Here's even more evidence that Spider-Man is focused on the right things: unlike Batman and other films, the spotlight is on the hero, and the villain is secondary. Octavius' experiments go awry, fusing a set of mechanical tentacles to his body and giving him a Jekyll & Hyde type disorder. It's a bit creepy the way the filmmakers infuse these robotic arms with their own personality, as if they were living snake-like creatures, and many will find this sympathetic villain a more fearsome foe than the Green Goblin. Indeed, his escape from a hospital in which he attacks (kills?) several doctors plays out like a sci-fi horror movie—the action is intense, but it's nearly bloodless.

A showdown between Spidey and Doc Ock

A showdown between Spidey and Doc Ock

Spidey's battles with Doc Ock are vital to the movie's action, but they're not the heart of the film. This is really about the nature of heroism, making the choice to either use one's gifts for the benefit of mankind or to ignore them and let someone else worry about the world's problems. Must Parker forever heed his uncle's advice ("With great power comes great responsibility"), or can he pursue his dreams and still do what's right? Can he do both?

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Kudos to director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead) for making a film that is entertaining from practically every angle. The special effects are somewhat improved from the first movie, giving viewers a more seamless distinction between fantasy and reality; though you can tell that many of the effects are computer generated, you'd expect Spider-Man to move with the fluid agility of animation. This is not a wall-to-wall action movie, but the thrills are there without dumbing down the story or resorting to extreme violence.

It's also a very touching and dramatic film, and I think most will also be surprised at how genuinely funny it is. There are scenes with Spidey in an elevator and at the local Laundromat that are played to great comedic effect. Longtime Raimi actor Bruce Campbell also makes another Spider-Man cameo, this time as the world's most annoying theater usher. And J.K. Simmons (The Ladykillers) as Jameson steals nearly every scene he's in, perfectly capturing the news editor's manic egotism and belligerence. The filmmakers have wisely given him more screen time for this film, and they could use him even more for the next.

Spider-Man saves the day … and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris)

Spider-Man saves the day … and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris)

The quibbles with this movie are so small, even the most fanatical of comic book geeks can overlook them. Spider-Man is not given nearly enough of his funny wisecracks, probably because he's so miserable in this film. The script lays it on a little thick when it builds upon Parker's troubles, as well as delivering the corny (but true) speeches about doing the right thing. The best action in the film is mostly seen in the trailers, and much of the action you haven't seen is too similar to that of the first film. It would have been nice to see one or two truly awe-inspiring scenes of something new.

But never mind those things. This is a fun movie—a crowd-pleaser surprisingly wholesome in content and appealing to a broad audience (though I recommend parents at least consider the PG-13 rating because of the action's intensity). Columbia has already slated Spider-Man 3 for 2007—astute fans of Spider-Man folklore will note that they've left the door open for as many as three possible villains in the next movie. Frankly, I think they should make several more of these films, as they're likely to get better with time. Here's hoping Tobey Maguire, who has committed to Spidey 3, is up for even more. Like his cinematic alter ego, he should accept his destiny as Spider-Man, hands down the best comic book franchise on film.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why do bad things happen to good people? Can we escape our problems by insulating ourselves or shirking responsibilities?

  2. Are we defined by our actions or the people we spend time with? What roles do responsibility and duty play in shaping our identity?

  3. One character says that doing the right thing sometimes means giving up your dreams. Do you agree? When should you look out for yourself and when should you look out for others? What choice do we have and how do we decide?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Spider-Man 2 generally deserves its rating for stylized action violence, though it's a light PG-13; 8-10 year olds can probably handle it. The violence is intense and implied, but never graphic. One character is killed by broken glass, though nothing is shown. Doc Ock makes a terrifying escape from a hospital, attacking (killing?) several doctors in a scene that plays out like a sci-fi horror film, but it's bloodless comic violence. Spider-Man gets a little cut and bruised from his battles. Otherwise, the movie is surprisingly wholesome—no sexual content or language to worry about.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 07/01/04

Who can walk and chew gum … throw a taxi cab, smash a window, pour a drink, and pat you on the back, all at the same time?

That would be Otto Octavius—or "Doc Ock," as he's best known to Spider-man fans. He's the multi-limbed scientist whose malevolent, metallic appendages override his better instincts in Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi's exhilarating, super-sized superhero sequel. Alfred Molina storms onto the screen and becomes the most formidable supervillain we've yet seen in a comic-book movie. Many Marvel fans will agree that this is the greatest comic book movie ever made, and one of the many things Raimi gets right is casting Molina in this role.

But Spider-Man 2 has more than just a villain. It's the best film of Raimi's career, full of renzied comedy-packed action. (Note to parents: It's an extremely violent movie in a way that only comic-book movies can be.) But more surprisingly, this is also his most emotional film. Perhaps more impressive is the moral backbone of the Spider-Man story. Octavius becomes a striking metaphor for the way that power corrupts—and for the dilemma of weapons of mass destruction.

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Peter Parker faces some truly challenging choices in this film, as he ponders the burden of responsibility, and how his true calling may require him to sacrifice his own personal desires. In a society saturated with movies that tell us the most important ethic is to "follow your dreams," the Spider-Man franchise offers an admirable alternative: There is something more important, something bigger, than you and I—and in order to overcome evil with good, we will have to turn away from our personal preferences and lay down our lives for others. Hard to believe such heavy stuff can come from the comic books. But isn't that really why this particular character has remained so popular for so long?

My full review is at Looking Closer.

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) turns in a tarantula-sized rave: "At last! At last! This is what a Spider-Man movie should be—freewheeling, rip-roaring, hilarious, heartfelt, over the top. Spider-Man 2 just might be the single greatest super-hero movie ever; it is unquestionably the wildest, most joyous, flat-out comic-bookiest comic-book of all time. Nothing in the original prepared me for the sheer energy, creativity, wit, and daring of this sequel. Spider-Man 2 left me bursting with excitement like no super-hero movie since I first saw Superman II in theaters—and I wasn't yet in high school then."

At Christianity Today Movies, Russ Breimeier gushes, "Kudos to director Sam Raimi for making a film that is entertaining from practically every angle. It's also a very touching and dramatic film, and I think most will also be surprised at how genuinely funny it is." He concludes that Spider-Man is "hands down the best comic book franchise on film."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service)—always up for puns and wordplay—says, "If bad summer films have you crawling up the walls, you may want to swing by your friendly neighborhood multiplex and check out Spider-Man 2." He calls it "twice as fun as the original. Underneath its exhilarating effects sequences is a tale about a guy viewers can identify with. Raimi once again leavens the film with dollops of camp and self-conscious humor. Building on themes established in the first movie, [it] plumbs deeper in its exploration of the emotional web in which Peter finds himself entangled. It raises moral questions concerning identity, responsibility and sacrifice."

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Mainstream critics are slinging rave reviews all over the place. It looks unlikely that any other summer blockbusters can top this one for spectacle, storytelling, or box office appeal.

from Film Forum, 07/08/04

Last week, Christian press film critics heralded Spider-Man 2 as a sequel that surpasses the original film in the franchise. They also called it one of the year's best films. This week, more critics join the chorus of admirers.

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) calls it "one of the best movies I've seen in years. Director Sam Raimi has done a fabulous job with this film, and the script couldn't be any better. Full of nuances, great dialogue and Godly themes, Spider-Man 2 has something for everyone. Most important is its overarching message—that good must and will ultimately conquer evil. Evil is overcome, this film clearly says, by men who are willing to do what is right—at any cost."

Josh Hurst (Reveal) writes, "Raimi has hit a homerun and raised the bar staggeringly high for future comic book movies. He has done so by giving this super sequel a few things that your average summer action movie just doesn't have." He goes on to list its several distinct strengths.

Ed Cox (Christian Spotlight) assesses it for what it doesn't have: "There are a few language problems (two h*ll, one a** by my count, nothing in the profane category), two kissing scenes (one bland, one passionate). There are no drugs or references to same, no revealing costumes, no blood, nothing out of wedlock, etc. For Hollywood this is about as wholesome as an action movie can get."

Benn Becker (Hollywood Jesus) writes, "Spider-Man 2 is one of the best overall films I've seen this year. It manages to find great balance between character development and action sequences. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments as well."

Mike Furches (Hollywood Jesus) adds, "I can't recommend this movie high enough. It is the pill of joy that we all needed this summer and the one that will get us back to carrying for our fellow human, whether we agree with them, are the same as them, or not. In the tumultuous political climate surrounding our world right now, [Spider-Man 2] is a breath of fresh air. Don't believe me, go see for yourself."

Matt Wiggins (Relevant) says, "Two words are heard throughout the film: responsibility and trying. For an action movie, Spider-Man 2 is very thoughtful and spends a considerable amount of time examining these two ideas. Instead of racing from one action sequence to another, it takes its time to build characters and relationships. Raimi is a brilliant action director but also proves he is equally capable with the dramatic aspects of the film. Every performance is great and no single actor seems to carry the film. Spider-Man 2 may not move as quickly as the first film, but the tradeoff is well worth it. Simply put, this movie is a joy to watch."

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Will Johnson (Thunderstruck) contemplates the difference between the heroics of Spider-Man and another prominent hero. "He is [the people's] protector, their inspiration and their hope. There's one problem. Spider-Man isn't real. Just over two thousand years ago another man came to his earth, but he didn't wear a costume and he didn't fight the bad guys. Yet, despite all of this, he changed the course of history and gave countless millions of people hope, joy and deep love."

from Film Forum, 07/15/04

On the No. 1 movie of the week—Spider-Man 2—Coffin (World) writes, "[Director Sam Raimi is] not afraid to use a popcorn movie to deal straightforwardly with grand themes, like the nature of heroism, the need for self-sacrifice, the responsibility of power. This, truly, is a remarkable feat in a modern film. Moviegoers … ought to be deeply grateful that Peter Parker does more than follow his heart."

Mike Parnell (Ethics Daily) is similarly enthusiastic. "Sam Raimi has crafted the best translation of a comic book to the screen. There has been a lot of seeming hyperbole about this movie, but it is all well deserved. There is nary a misstep in story, effects or casting."

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download Movie Discussion Guide related to this movie is available at Use this guide after the movie to help you and your small group better connect your faith to pop culture.

Spider-Man 2
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (stylized action violence)
Directed By
Sam Raimi
Run Time
2 hours 7 minutes
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina
Theatre Release
June 30, 2004 by Columbia Pictures
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