Before I get started, I wanted to establish two things. Firstly, I’m referring to Spider-Man 2, not Spider-Man: Far From Home or The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the worst Spider-Man movie ever made, and Far From Home might be the best (Spider-Verse might have something to say about that). I’m referring to the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man 2 that came out in 2004.
Secondly, I really love this movie. I’m going to spend a decent amount of time complaining about this film, but that doesn’t change how much I really enjoy this movie to this day, 15 years later. So without further ado, let me tell you why I think Spider-Man 2 is wildly overrated.
Spider-Man 2 Is Overrated
For those who aren’t aware, overrated does not mean bad. Nobody has ever said Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern movie is overrated, because that would insinuate someone thought it was good in the first place. The vast majority of things that are considered overrated were, at the very least, good enough for someone to get tired of everyone else talking about how great it is.
Spider-Man 2 was revolutionary when it came out. Sympathetic villains weren’t commonplace in 2004, and Alfred Molinas Doc Ock was brilliant. Throw in a video game adaptation that went unrivaled until Insomniac Games released their Spider-Man game last year and it was totally justified to call Spider-Man 2 the best superhero movie released.
At least, it was in 2004. A full year before Christopher Nolan revived Batman with Christian Bale in Batman Begins. A full four years before Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man started a revolution that changed how movies are made. Spider-Man 2 was the best superhero movie in a world that was 14 years away from Thanos snapping box office records away in Avengers: Infinity War.
There are still people that claim Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 is the best video game every made, and based on how it changed video games and the success it experienced in 1997, they have a claim to that point. But compared to even the buggiest or most generic Call of Duty game on modern consoles, it’s practically unplayable in 2019. Let’s poke some holes in Spider-Man 2.
Punishing Peter Parker
As an avid fan of the comics, I understand that part of Peter Parker’s charm is how often the deck is stacked against him. Spidey is constantly experiencing moments of success, only for something to be taken away from him. Watching everything seem to go wrong for Peter Parker as he struggles to juggle his own responsibility as well as Spider-Man’s is a crucial part of his character, and one of the reasons people loved this movie.
However, they lay it on so thick that it’s almost unwatchable. The first time you see Spider-Man, he’s being fired from his job because he can’t balance his responsibilities. Meanwhile not only can he not afford to pay his rent (at one point, he doesn’t even get paid for pictures of Spider-Man because the money that J. Jonah Jameson pays him doesn’t cover an advance he already took out of his paycheck), but Aunt May is being evicted too. And don’t get me started on Aunt May.
This movie was famous for how likeable a deranged villain like Doc Ock ending up being, but he might be the only person in this movie that isn’t intolerable. I’m serious, let’s take a look at how Pete interacts with everyone in his life.
- Aunt May, the literal only family he has left? Is straight up rude to Peter the entire movie. She’s not the warm, caring link to Peter’s innocence, she’s just a mean old lady this entire movie, highlighted by a scene where Peter admits he’s responsible for Uncle Ben’s death and she straight up gives him the cold shoulder.
- Mary Jane, the love of his life? Is dating someone else just to spite Peter, and then gets engaged to someone else just to spite Peter. Everything about the scene they two share in Aunt May’s backyard after Peter’s botched birthday party is toxic and completely off-brand with Marvel’s Lois Lane.
- Harry Osbourne, his best (only?) friend? Treats him like trash the entire movie because of his relationship with Spider-Man. Even on Peter’s birthday, the first thing he does is give Peter hell.
And then everyone else in his life is just obnoxious too, even if they’re allowed to be. His boss at the pizza place straight up rips the sticker off his helmet, J. Jonah Jameson is… well, that’s actually pretty consistent with his character, his professor casts shade at every possible opportunity, and his landlord beats on him every chance he gets. I know that difficult teachers, bosses, and landlords are a part of life, but they’re literally the only people Peter interacts with and they’re all jerks all of the time.
The Little Things
And that’s my problem with this movie, it’s all the time. We get it, Peter’s struggling because he’s being asked to do too much and nobody even knows it. But there’s this word, subtlety, and it means the quality or state of being subtle. Every single scene of this movie is Pete getting kicked while he’s down and we rarely get to enjoy him being quippy and full of heart, which is… kinda… the point of Spider-Man.
He gets fired for being late, he’s flunking out of school, he can’t afford his own rent, he can’t afford his Aunt’s rent, they go to the bank to apply for a loan and don’t even get the toaster, Pete has to take pictures at the event where the love of his life gets engaged, the entire time he’s there, his best friend is getting drunk, to the point where Harry hits him, and I swear to god, he tries to eat an appetizer like three times and someone takes the last one every single time.
What kind of escapism is this when I have to watch this guy I’m supposed to like have every possible inconvenience happen to him? I know it’s a comic book movie, but there has to be some semblance of reality or subtlety somewhere. And this is without mentioning the secondary subplot, Peter’s arachnile dysfunction.
Because Spidey is so stressed out, and having an identity crisis, his Spider-powers aren’t working well. I’m actually all about this arch. Not only is he mentally struggling to pick a side, but it’s having a physical effect on him. A huge part of Spider-Man’s lore is that he’s burdened by his great power to have great responsibility. By removing his power, it questions how much responsibility is truly his. I love it. This is not a criticism, I kinda wish they’d done more with this than literally everyone in New York being a dick to Peter.
The Silly Stuff
Some stuff happens in this movie that uh… doesn’t make sense. And sure, it’s a movie about a professional photographer/scientist that has the abilities of a spider, but they try to get away with a lot of nonsense because the plot demands it.
Harry’s entire life is absorbed by wanting to kill Spider-Man, but when he has an unconscious Spider-Man tied up in his room, he doesn’t kill him. And he doesn’t spare Spidey because he still loves his buddy Peter, he doesn’t even unmask him right away. Why? Well, because the plot demands it, duh.
Peter points out that attaching his brain to the AI could be dangerous, but Otto just shrugs. Considering this ends up being a pretty significant part of the story, that’s pretty lazy. Otto is built up to be this super genius that nearly discovers a form of renewable energy that could literally save the planet but ignores a huge problem because the plot demands it.
Otto Goes To The Mall
At one point, Doc Ock robs a bank so he can buy the equipment for his experiment. Uh… why? I feel like there would probably be significantly less opposition just by robbing the places that sell the things he needs. Morally or logically, it makes no sense to rob a bank so he can have the money to buy the parts he needs. Wouldn’t he be wanted by the authorities by then? Since everyone knows who he is, wouldn’t the people selling the parts recognize Otto and call the cops? Did he show up with the tentacle arms and an environmentally friendly re-usable tote bag full of stolen cash at these distributors and just buy the stuff. Silly, but I guess the plot demanded it.
Oblivious Otto Pt. 2
At another point, Doc Ock and Harry have a deal where Harry will give Otto what he needs (again, why not just steal it?) if he brings him Spider-Man alive. In order to track down Spidey, Harry tells Otto to beat the information out of his best friend, Peter Parker. This is actually good story-telling because it shows Harry is so hell-bent on getting revenge that he’d sacrifice his own best friend (though, they don’t act like friends in this movie and he totally passes up the opportunity to unmask/kill him later). Anyway, how does Otto go about contacting Peter? He tracks him and Mary-Jane to a coffee shop and throws a car at him. Great shot, iconic shot, but he doesn’t know Peter is Spider-Man, so that car should totally kill normal, not-a-mutant Spider-Man. If you throw a car at someone, they usually die, and you still don’t know who Spider-Man is. But you know, the plot…
Other Superhero Movies
I wholeheartedly believe that Spider-Man 2 proved what Spider-Man one proposed, that superhero movies were viable box office successes after a few failures in the late 90’s the same way Goldeneye proved first person shooters were money-makers for video games. But just like how even the most cliche shooters have eclipsed Goldeneye, there are a ton of superhero movies that are better than Spider-Man 2.
Rotten Tomatoes ranks 24 superhero movies ahead of Spider-Man 2, and I personally prefer the Dark Knight Trilogy, a chunk of the MCU, both Tom Holland Spider-Man movies, Spider-Verse, and admittedly, Deadpool, which at the very least, did something unique.
Spider-Man 2 is the Johnny Unitas of superhero movies. The impact that he left on the business was dramatic and significant, but even if they started by standing on his shoulders, they’ve advanced so far behind him that it’s not fair to put him the same conversation as the modern group.
I love the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies for what they are. They’re campy, fun, lovable Spider-Man movies, and without them, who knows if we’d ever have the MCU. If this is your favorite Spider-Man or superhero movie, that’s totally fine, I understand. For the record, Batman Forever is one of my favorite superhero movies and I know how objectively horrible it is.
But in a world where Tom Holland exists and the MCU has become what it is, we need to pump the brakes on giving this dated film too much praise. Liking something doesn’t necessarily make it better than anything else, as it were.
And at least we can all agree that the worst Raimi movie is 100 times better than any Spidey flick featuring Andrew Garfield.