There aren’t many things that are fortunate enough to be described with what I like to call “GOAT status.” That list includes the likes of Michael Jordan, begrudgingly Tom Brady, Heath Ledger‘s Joker performance, and anything Denzel Washington-related. There’s one that I want to talk bout today that stood the test of time. For 17 years, the superhero movie to hold that very title for me is none other than Spider-Man 2. As we’re about to witness the return of some iconic faces in Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s the perfect time to let you know why it’s garnered that prestige.
A couple of months ago, a debate popped up in my Twitter feed on who the best live-action Spider-Man was, especially in regard to the distinction between Parker and his alter-ego. For my money, Tobey‘s performance in Spider-Man 2 is the best rendition of a college-bound Peter, who also has garnered quite a bit of experience in crime-fighting. In the first Spider-Man film, he took the more awkward approach with the character. This time around, Maguire seems much more comfortable in bringing these two sides to life and it’s not an easy balance to capture.
This time around, he’s haunted by the life he can’t have with MJ, and you can feel that anguish throughout the film. It’s not just that, we also witness the struggle he has with his best friend slowly losing himself to his thirst for vengeance and their eventual falling out throughout the course of the film. Tobey truly sells that anguish throughout the film wheel still balancing it with the light-hearted aspects of the story and what it means to be Spider-Man.
Of course, we can’t talk Spider-Man 2 without discussing the performance of Alfred Molina as Doctor Otto Octavius. He is a legend, to say the least, and to have him in this role lends a certain gravitas to such an important character in the webhead’s mythology. Molina delivers a standout performance and really makes you sympathize with Otto, who’s driven to this point because he’s lost everything. All of it is gone within seconds, be it the woman he loved or all the work he’s invested his entire life for.
It’s a powerful journey throughout the film. Even more so once the moment comes that he can finally overpower the tech that was changing him. He finds the inner strength to take control once again and save Peter along with the rest of the city. It is a beautiful moment that really cemented him as more of an anti-hero than a straight-up villain. Even to this day, it is one of the strongest performances in a superhero movie.
Kirsten Dunst as MJ was panned 17 years ago, but after rewatching it I can’t seem to remember why. I think she is fine in the role, especially in how she sells it that is struggling to make it as an actress and wants a normal relationship with Peter. While the first in one painted her as unattainable for Parker – following high school clichés of the time – this one twists that in its axis by having it be that they can’t be together. It’s a nice twist and one that Dunst handles well throughout the film.
Seeing Dr. Octopus in live-action was visually incredible at the time and it still holds true to this day. The score is exceptional, especially when the citizens of New York City carry Spider-Man after he stops the runaway train. An iconic scene deserves iconic notes, and this one is delivered in spades. That’s just on top of a memorable villain, great performances by the leads, and a story as personal as the original catapults Spider-Man 2 into the upper echelon of superhero films.