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Why Spider-Man 2 Is the Best Adaptation of the Superhero


Why Spider-Man 2 Is the Best Adaptation of the Superhero


Summary

  • Spider-Man 2
    expertly shows the price Peter Parker pays for being a hero, impacting every aspect of his life.
  • Financial struggles are a key element in
    Spider-Man 2
    , highlighting Peter Parker’s everyday challenges.
  • The importance of Spider-Man as a symbol for his universe is a central theme in
    Spider-Man 2
    that resonates with audiences.



Spider-Man 2 is approaching its 20th anniversary. Released in theaters on June 30, 2004, the film, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Alfred Molina, was one of the most anticipated movies that year. It had a massive opening, grossing $152 million over the five-day 4th of July holiday weekend. The sequel more than lived up to the hype of the first movie, garnering rave reviews from critics and audiences, where many saw it as better than the first film and one of the best sequels ever made. Even after all this time, it is still considered one of the best superhero movies ever.


Since then, there have been multiple Spider-Man films, from the two Andrew Garfield-led Amazing Spider-Man films to the Tom Holland MCU entries to the Miles Morales-led animated movies to even films focused on Spider-Man supporting characters that don’t even feature the webhead like Venom, Morbius, and Madame Web. All of these films have explored different aspects of the Spider-Man story, adapting various elements from the comics, but there is one element that Spider-Man 2 has done better than most, and that is the struggle between Peter Parker and Spider-Man.


Spider-Man 2 Shows the Cost of How Spider-Man Impacts Peter’s Life

Spider-Man 2

From the very first scene in Spider-Man 2, director Sam Raimi is intent on showing how difficult Spider-Man makes Peter Parker’s life. His need to help everyone as a superhero makes others see him as unreliable, either constantly being late for work or not being able to make it to Mary Jane’s show on time because he has a duty he feels like he must perform. His relationship with Harry Osborn is strained because of his identity as Spider-Man and being part of Norman Osborn’s death. Harry wants revenge on Spider-Man, but the betrayal of his best friend, who has been the hero all along, greatly hurts him.


Much of Peter’s issues in life stem from his role as Spider-Man and, more specifically, from his inability to tell everyone he is Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield’s version of the character clues Gwen Stacy in on his role as Spider-Man midway through the first film, and while in the second film, she still dies due to her connection to Peter Parker, it is not the specific targeted attack against an unknowing Gwen like in the comics.


Meanwhile, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has his friend Ned in the chair in Spider-Man: Homecoming, with Aunt May finding out by the end of the film and Michelle Jones (MJ) finding out by the next movie. The world finding out Peter Parker is Spider-Man does become a major driving point for Spider-Man: No Way Home, but that is explored more through the lens of celebrity rather than Spider-Man having an impact on Peter Parker’s social life, as a lot of his social circle is filled with other heroes.

Miles Morales’s Spider-Man story is still being told in the Spider-Verse films, but so far, he is the closest to Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2. While Miles has his roommate Ganke and the other Spider-themed heroes in the multiverse, his inability to tell his parents strains his relationship with them. Much like how Peter Parker is left disappointing the people he loves because he doesn’t communicate with them, Miles fears telling his parents the truth and feels frustrated with their son. That leaves an interesting story element, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, to resolve and see how Miles will differ from Peter.


Spider-Man 2 Shows the Literal Financial Cost of Being Spider-Man

One element audiences have loved about Spider-Man since the comics is that Peter Parker is typically a down-on-his-luck everyman who struggles with finances like many people. Unlike billionaires like Iron Man or Batman or heroes with financially stable careers like Superman’s Clark Kent or Captain America’s Steve Rogers, Peter Parker often struggles with money. Spider-Man 2 repeatedly underlines this point.


He is late on his rent payments and lives in a small New York City apartment that still costs a lot of money. He works multiple jobs, from pizza delivery to freelance photography and attending college. Being Spider-Man might help pay for his freelance job at the Daily Bugle as it gives him photos to sell, but he is struggling to stay afloat as he needs advancements he can’t even keep up with. Meanwhile, being Spider-Man cost him his job as a pizza delivery driver because he was late for work. Spider-Man is putting Peter Parker in both physical and financial danger.

He also doesn’t have anyone to ask for financial help. Even the $20 Aunt May gives him is a big deal as she can’t afford it, but he needs it. There might be a particular reason why a generation who grew up with Spider-Man 2, who might have been too young to relate to the problems of early 20s Peter Parker, now find themself more drawn to these movies. As a generation who had their own childhoods impacted by the Great Recession, the 2008 housing crisis, increased college tuition and housing prices while income has stayed the same, rising inflation, and now fears of an upcoming recession, they relate to Peter Parker’s struggles being a 20 year old trying to pay rent and find work more relatable than the adventures of high schooled themed Peter Parker in the MCU.


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Recent Spider-Man films have only briefly touched on financial struggles. The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t touch on it at all. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes brief gestures to it, with Aunt May taking on extra shifts to put herself through nursing school. Still, that film is more preoccupied with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy’s doomed romance and setting up villains for spin-off films that never materialized.


Tom Holland’s introduction as Peter Parker into the MCU teased a teenage Peter Parker living in a low-income family as he and Aunt May lived in an apartment in Queens as opposed to a house like what Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker grew up in, while also dumpster diving for cheap technology. Yet by the time of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker’s financial situation is mainly glossed over, apart from how many backpacks May has bought him, due to the film being a more lighthearted teen comedy.

Spider-Man: Far From Home would feature a deleted scene of Peter Parker selling some of his action figures to afford to go on his expensive European vacation, but it was cut from the final film. By the time of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the film is so preoccupied with multiverse threats it doesn’t have time to focus on Peter’s finances and uses the end sequences to set up Peter Parker in a more traditional status quo.


Meanwhile, the Spider-Verse films have fun contrasting Miles Morales and Peter Parker. While Miles Morales is going to a prep school on a scholarship, the sequel Across the Spider-Verse makes a point to push back on the idea that his family is “financially struggling” when his dad points out they have an apartment in the expensive neighborhood of Brooklyn, and he is Police Captain, enforcing the idea that Miles Morales is a different type of Spider-Man than Peter Parker and that is okay.

What Happens Without Spider-Man

A big part of the Spider-Man 2 marketing campaign was Spider-Man’s suit in the trash, a recreation of the iconic panel from The Amazing Spider-Man #50 titled “Spider-Man No More,” which was even a line of dialogue in the film. The comic itself is very different from the film, both in overall tone and also thematic points, but the film uses the striking image to dig into what happens if/when Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man. While his life might appear better off, with his grades improving and finally being able to see Mary Jane’s play, it doesn’t entirely make him happy. Part of it is the sadness of it still not making Mary Jane fall for him again, but also because he can only ignore the number of people suffering without Spider-Man for so long.


From rising crime stats to a person being mugged in broad daylight to someone dying in a fire because someone was not able to get to them in time, Peter Parker sees that New York City is suffering without Spider-Man. While Spider-Man might make his life more difficult at times, it might be the cost he must pay for the betterment of everyone. This can certainly be read as a martyr complex and something more akin to Daredevil, but the film shows that Spider-Man is important. Aunt May’s line about the importance of heroes, giving people strength and someone to believe in, is not just about what Spider-Man does for others around him, but what Spider-Man does for Peter Parker.

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So far, the only other Spider-Man movie that touches on what Spider-Man means as a symbol is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which is more in a metatextual sense. That film is all about what Spider-Man as a concept means for the multiverse, a stand-in for the worlds the audiences are watching. Spider-Man 2 is very much what Spider-Man means as a symbol for the people in his universe.

These various elements have made Spider-Man 2 stand out after 20 years. It goes to show how rich the stories are, and the other films in the franchise have been able to dig into other aspects of the character while still capturing his essence, because Spider-Man has meant so much to so many people across the globe. Yet the story of an ordinary guy barely being able to pay rent and being drawn between what is right and what is easy has made Spider-Man 2 a story that spoke to audiences in 2004, speaks to them now in 2024, and likely will speak to them as far as 2099. Spider-Man 2 is streaming on Netflix.


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