Spider-Man is one of the most beloved Marvel characters, both in comics and film, but there’s one big screen adaptation that stands as the best: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, which is not only the best from Spider-Man’s universe but also from Marvel’s, and no other has managed to top its success. Marvel’s history with the film industry is an interesting one – some adaptations have been truly memorable for how good they were, and others because of how badly done they were. Most importantly, Marvel characters have been scattered across various studios, each one with a different vision for them.
The Marvel universe in film, then, can be divided in three: Fox’s, Sony’s, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, each holding the rights to different characters (and with a special deal between Sony and Disney over Spider-Man). Fox was home to the X-Men and Deadpool, Sony gave the world two different versions of Spider-Man, and the MCU has built a massive connected universe with many characters like the Avengers, Captain Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, among many others. Although each house has had its big hits, only one continues to be a favorite among critics and fans, and it’s the second entry in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Simply titled Spider-Man 2, the film follows Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) two years after the events of the first film as he struggles to manage his personal life and his duties as superhero, which start to affect his personal life. Meanwhile, one of the experiments of Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) goes wrong and ends up bonding him with a harness of robotic arms with artificial intelligence, turning him into the villain Doctor Octopus. Spider-Man 2 is considered the best in Raimi’s trilogy and one of the best superhero movies ever made – and one that no other Marvel movie has managed to top.
The first Spider-Man film was very well received by critics and fans, who praised Raimi’s direction and tone, as well as the fidelity to the character’s story from the comics. The film is also credited for redefining the modern superhero genre and the summer blockbuster. Its success made way for Spider-Man 2, which managed to surpass the first film in every possible way, with many critics calling it an improvement upon its predecessor. Spider-Man 2 was a well-balanced combination of drama, comedy, and comic book elements without it feeling like, well, a comic book film.
One of the most praised aspects from the film was the character of Doctor Octopus, as he was entertaining yet menacing and much more complex than the Green Goblin (though Willem Dafoe’s performance was one of the best things from the first film). Spider-Man 2 also has a deeper emotional focus, with Peter confronting his guilt over uncle Ben’s passing, struggling to balance every aspect in his life (his family, his best friend slowly but surely descending into madness, and Mary Jane going on her own way), and dealing with Octavius’ transformation from mentor to villain.
And yet, Spider-Man 2 still has all the action you would expect from a superhero/Spider-Man film, as well as the type of humor that only Peter Parker can provide. As a result, Spider-Man 2 is still considered one of the best superhero films and blockbusters ever made, and the best Spider-Man film to date, even if the current version of the character has won the approval of fans.
There have been a lot of Marvel films since Spider-Man 2, but none of them has managed to top it just yet. Fox’s X-Men film series began in 2000 and went through different phases, with spinoffs, prequels, and two Deadpool films. Even though they did very well at the box office, most of the stories are forgettable, and its final entry, Dark Phoenix, wasn’t the closing chapter fans were (understandably) expecting. Many credit X-Men’s quality decline to Bryan Singer’s departure and Brett Ratner taking over, while others criticized them for having too many characters and not enough time to explore their stories.
Sony has also had its failures. Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 wasn’t at the level of its predecessors, and its biggest issue was its overloaded storyline and multiple subplots (not to mention, of course, the weird Venom visuals effects). The Spider-Man universe was rebooted in 2012 with Marc Webb as director and Andrew Garfield as the new Peter Parker. The Amazing Spider-Man was a box office hit and was mostly well received, but it didn’t come close to what Spider-Man 2 achieved. The sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, failed to perform as expected, and a third film was cancelled.
The MCU is now home to the highest-grossing film of all time with Avengers: Endgame, but even though it brought together all the superheroes in the MCU and was a big cinematic event, it still didn’t top Spider-Man 2 in the hearts (and minds) of viewers and critics. Of course, all these universes have had their strengths: Logan is one of the best superhero films ever made and the best in the X-Men series, and Deadpool was a fresh addition to the mix as well. Sony, of course, has Spider-Man 2, and the MCU not only has Avengers: Endgame, but also the very first Avengers film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: the Winter Soldier, and Black Panther, just to name a few.
The problem with the MCU, and the reason why it hasn’t managed to top Spider-Man 2 even though it has many films, is because it has landed in a place where it’s too comfortable and won’t move from there as long as it’s profitable. The MCU mostly aims to please the audience and hardly ever takes risks, something that has cost it a couple of directors, such as Edgar Wright, Patty Jenkins, and Scott Derrickson. It’s not surprising, then, that Spider-Man 2 is still at the top of over 20 MCU films.
Spider-Man redefined the superhero genre, and Spider-Man 2 sealed the deal. As mentioned above, Spider-Man 2 was a good mix of comic book elements, action, comedy, and drama without feeling saturated, all thanks to a simpler storyline with a deeper emotional focus. Peter’s struggles are more relatable (except the part where he’s a superhero saving the city, obviously), as he was juggling school and work with his personal and social life, but he also had to confront some demons from his past in order to move on with his life. Sam Raimi’s unique style blended with the superhero genre, Maguire’s performance as Peter Parker, and the overall tone of the film are just some of the reasons why Spider-Man 2 still stands as the best.
Spider-Man 2 has had some fierce competition, but none have topped it yet. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s unbeatable. Times change and now there’s an oversaturation of superhero stories in the film industry, which doesn’t make the task of beating Spider-Man 2 easy, but it’s definitely not impossible. It’s hard to say if any of the upcoming superhero films in the Marvel universe will finally do it, including the third Spider-Man: Homecoming film, but what’s for sure is that it won’t happen unless Marvel Studios opens its mind a bit more. The possibility of Sam Raimi joining the MCU as director of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness could certainly mean that Spider-Man 2’s biggest competitor will arrive in the near future, but it won’t be of much help if the MCU isn’t open to take bigger risks.
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