Aah Spider-man, the red menace everyone knows and loves. Spider-man has been a deeply beloved character in modern culture for the past several decades, and rightfully so. He’s one of the most unique and down to earth characters in all the Comic Book Universe. He’s been my favorite superhero ever since I was a child, maybe even my most favorite character of all time. And I truly believe that with all the new superhero movies that have emerged in the past two decades, Spider-man 2 (2004) still remains the best superhero movie of them all.
Peter Parker is a kid – a teenager in most cases – that gains the ability to shoot web and swing across buildings, so he decides to use his powers for good. And in Spider-man 2, after his origin had been realized in the first movie, Peter struggles with his newly-formed identity. The movie is about him struggling with the persona of Spider-man, and him possibly leaving the costume behind for good. Now maybe that premise sounds boring to you. Like, it’s about a superhero not being a superhero? How great could that be? Well it’s goddamn beautiful you hear.
Most superhero movies are about the super aspect. Doctor Strange is about a Doctor gaining magical powers and flying around and shit. Thor is about a guy who’s trying to regain his powers after having lost them. Man of Steel is about a guy coming to terms with his unique and powerful gifts. Yet, Spider-man 2 isn’t really about any of that. It isn’t about the super. It’s about the human behind it all.
Spider-man 2 is about a kid coming to terms with his identity, not just his super powers. It’s about a teenager discovering who he is, what he’s meant to do, and where his life should go. If that sounds familiar, it’s because EVERY TEENAGER GOES THROUGH THAT. Everyone is clueless about where their life is going to lead at that age, hell I have no clue what I want to be in my life or what I want to do. It’s an important aspect of everybody’s life, finding out who you are, and Peter goes through it too. That’s why this movie works so well.
Ordinary people like you and me, don’t have to worry about their mythical hammer Mjolnir being smashed to bits. Ordinary people don’t have to worry about going back in time to stop the one guy that will eradicate all mutants. Ordinary people don’t have to worry about stopping an all-powerful inter-galactic demigod from acquiring a set of 5 gems. And Peter Parker doesn’t worry about those things either, at least not in Spider-man 2.
Peter has to worry about losing his job. He has to worry about supporting his Aunt May who – like him – is going broke. He has to worry about the love of his life being married to some rich pretty boy. He has to worry about his friend turning against him. He has to worry about school, and being left far behind in his college work. And on top of all that, he has to worry about psychos, sociopaths, alien-creatures, delusional masked men, and other types of criminals destroying his city, because he apparently has a responsibility to deal with that too?
Peter’s endeavor to find himself and his own path is one that almost anyone can relate with. Peter’s unwillingness towards being a superhero is understandable. It’s understandable that he’s unsure if being a superhero is what he’s meant to do for the rest of his life. It’s understandable that he doesn’t want to put his loved ones and his livelihood at risk. So when at the end of the movie Peter realizes Spider-man is who he truly is, and he puts on that mask and he fights to save that derailing train, we as an audience CHEER for him, because we understand how important it was for him to find his own path.
And you don’t get that in many superhero movies. Most superheroes don’t even have a human aspect to their stories. Batman is a sociopathic night crawler that goes around fighting villains that on the surface don’t seem to be like him, but honestly are like him. Superman is an all-mighty, immortal, god-like being that has to deal with concealing his immense power. (Btw, I’d recommend this comic if you want to read the human side of Superman). Even Tony Stark is a narcissistic, self-indulging rich boy that not many people can relate with.
But Spider-man is relatable. Spider-man has the hassle of juggling friends, and family, and work, and financial issues, and the uncertainty of self-identity, all at once. In Spider-man 2, we see that what’s most important isn’t Spider-man the masked vigilante, it’s Peter Parker the teenage boy. That’s why Spider-man 2 is, to me, the greatest superhero movie. Because it doesn’t try to be a superhero movie. It just tries to be a movie about self-discovery first, before anything else.