As a young boy growing up on the not so mean streets of suburban Manchester, I used to daydream about what it would be like to be my favourite superhero, Spider-Man.
I’d look up at the, then, not so impressive, skyline of the city, and try to work out how the Wall-Crawler would move over the rooftops and if it would even be possible for him to web swing.
If I’m honest, I was obsessed with the Webhead, and still am, but growing up in early Nineties Manchester – while it was in the grips of a bucket hat plague – there weren’t many outlets for this obsession.
So imagine my joy in 2002 when, in a battered, borrowed, issue of Astonishing Spider-Man (£2.20 was far too steep for me then), I found an article about an upcoming live-action Spider-Man film.
To say I was excited would be an understatement, and I feverishly counted down the days for the film’s release, begging my poor dad to take me to see it.
The film was spectacular, to my 13-year-old discerning eye, clearly one of the greatest films ever made, and it opened the floodgates to a wave of Spider-Man movies.
In just under a decade and a half, we’ve had three different Spider-Men, eight movies featuring the character and a trio of reboots which have revised and refreshed the character.
Of the six ‘core’ Spider-Films, however, there’s one stand out film that’s easily the best of the bunch, I’m talking of course about Spider-Man 2, a film so good, it’s genre-defining.
So what makes the film the superior Spider-Man movie? Well, allow me to explain.
Starring Tobey Maguire as the titular Webhead, Spider-Man 2 sees Spidey face off against the deadly Doctor Octopus, while also dealing with the loss of his amazing powers and Mary Jane’s looming marriage.
It’s classic Spider-Man stuff, perfectly reflecting the type of story Stan Lee himself wrote in the Sixties and Seventies, where Peter struggled in and out of the suit.
Of all the other Spidey films, with the notable exception of Homecoming, Peter’s problems are ones he can deal with by punching, kicking and quipping.
Here, the battle’s more internal and it’s Otto Octavius not Doctor Octopus, who represents everything Peter could have if he wasn’t Spider-Man, which proves the greatest obstacle.
After all, Peter’s power incontinence is sparked, not by some nefarious serum or fiendish plot, it’s Peter’s own lack of self-confidence and his subconscious desire to live a normal life which causes his power outage.
A desire sparked by seeing how happy Otto is with his beloved Rosie and his words: ‘if you keep something as complicated as love stored up inside, it could make you sick’.
Even when Peter’s over his unfortunate impotence, and Otto’s well and truly lost his mind to the twisted tentacles fused to his back, the battle between Spidey and Doc Ock still has a fascinating subtext.
While Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin represents the rejection of Spider-Man’s core philosophy, ‘with great comes to great responsibility’, Molina’s Doc Ock warps it and corrupts it.
Ock believes fervently it’s his ‘responsibility’ to finish his fusion experiment for the good of mankind, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen – even if it means using his ‘powerful’ mechanical arms to commit crimes.
Even on the surface, the pair are two sides of the same coin, after all, Ock’s based on an eight-legged animal, they have a similar power-set and both Peter and Otto are geniuses.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t be much of a superhero film if all it did was muse on the nature of heroes and villains – at some point you want to see some punching and Spider-Man 2 offers some pretty delightful punching.
Most notably during the battle on the above ground train in the third act. It’s a supremely engaging action scene and remains, in my humble opinion, one of the best fights in the history of superhero films.
The way director Sam Raimi and cinematographer Bill Pope frame the scene is simply spectacular, taking perfect advantage of both Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man’s power set to make a unique dynamic set piece.
This consideration about the way the two characters would move and interact with the world is what separates the action scenes in Spider-Man 2 from the other films.
Take for example Amazing Spider-Man 2’s final battle in contrast, despite Electro existing as a being of pure energy and Spider-Man possessing the proportional speed and agility of a spider, the two’s movement through the power station is flat and clunky.
Oh sure, Peter swings around and Electro flies, but it’s not as considered as the fight in Spider-Man 2 and it leads to a standard action scene that’s serviceable, but ultimately, forgettable.
In contrast, during the train fight, Peter runs along buildings, fights on the top, sides, and even in the train, while Otto’s tentacles move him around with surprising grace, even bracing him from the speed of the train.
I put it down to the skill of director Sam Raimi, who brings his own sensibility to all of the Spider-Man films he made, even Spider-Man 3.
For those who don’t know, Raimi’s perhaps best known for creating the Evil Dead series, and he’s a lifelong fan of Spider-Man. It was his passion for the character which earned him the job directing the first Spider-Man.
His love for the character is clear to anyone who’s watched his Spider-Man films, and his choice to adapt the ‘Spider-Man No More!’ arc is a great one.
Yet the truly joyous thing he brings to Spider-Man 2 is his quintessentially Raimi flourishes.
The scene where the doctors work to remove Otto’s tentacles could be taken straight from the Evil Dead 2, specifically when he shoots from the tentacles point of view which echoes the first person perspective of the Deadite spirit chasing Ash.
Never one to take himself or the film he’s working on too seriously, Raimi also allowed for comedy in the film – an essential element of the Spider-Man character, so often neglected.
My favourite scene will always be Peter’s battle with the Usher outside Mary Jane’s play, although any sequence featuring J.K. Simmon’s irascible and dare I say, irreplaceable Jonah Jameson, is a close second.
Another element of the Spider-Man mythos which is forgotten in the worst adaptations of the character is his spectacular supporting cast.
Raimi deftly weaves Peter’s friends and family into the film, making his world richer and fuller.
Finally, while other Spider-Man films may do individual things better than Spider-Man 2, Homecoming nails the personal problems of being Spider-Man and The Amazing series gets the quips right.
Raimi’s film is the whole package.
More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.