Released in theaters in 2004 as a follow-up to Sam Raimi's groundbreaking Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 is a rarity. Why? It's a perfect sequel. The filmmaker clearly just gets Peter Parker, and while the character is definitely put through the wringer here, the fact he's motivated by guilt means we get to see a faithful, emotionally charged take on the wall-crawler that hits all the right notes.
With Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's work still serving as a basis for this world, the cheesier, sillier moments are easy to forgive, as are apparent leaps in logic or minor "plot holes" which would be put under the magnifying glass in a big way on Twitter and Reddit in 2020. Spider-Man 2 boasts a screenplay by Alvin Sargent (based on a story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Michael Chabon), and as well as taking a deep dive into Peter's relationship with Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), and Harry Osborn (James Franco), a great new bad guy is brought to the big screen courtesy of Alfred Molina's sinister Doctor Octopus.
The actor is excellent, and Doc Ock is an unhinged, terrific bad guy who serves as an undeniably worthy follow-up to Willem Dafoe's memorable Green Goblin. The returning cast members are great for the most part, though Franco appears to be phoning his performance in at points, with his best work coming nearer the end of the movie. Maguire and Dunst have a tonne of chemistry, though it's J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson who most often steals the show as The Daily Bugle's endlessly entertaining Editor-in-Chief.
A strong journey for Peter as he declares "Spider-Man, No More!" is bolstered by a compelling love story, Harry's desire for revenge, and Doctor Octopus' unforgettable battles with the web-slinger. While the transition from practical to visual effects are easier to spot today than they were in 2004, the VFX were groundbreaking at the time and still look spectacular now. The battle atop the train in phenomenal, and Danny Elfman's score compliments the action wonderfully. There are plenty of big laughs even if Maguire's Spidey doesn't drop as many wisecracks as his comic book counterpart, and everything about this feels like "classic" Spider-Man. Harry discovering his father's Green Goblin stash would make for a great post-credits scene these days, but serves as an incredible teaser here which we sadly know led to disappointment in Spider-Man 3.
Minor flaws aside (which only really crop up looking at the 2004 movie with a 2020 lens), Spider-Man 2 is a worthy follow-up to that first instalment, improving on it in many ways, and setting the stage for what should have been another amazing sequel a few years later. If Maguire's Spider-Man is indeed set to arrive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of the "Multiverse," then it will be a real treat to spend more time with him - or any other character from this world, for that matter - as this classic take on the web-slinger holds up today and feels like a breath of fresh air in a world of crossovers, stories setting up the next big event, and modern reimaginings (there's not a Stark Suit in site, but we do get some superb Doctor Strange Easter Eggs).
A groundbreaking, epic masterpiece, Spider-Man 2 sees Sam Raimi continue to make great use of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's classic stories to deliver the rare perfect sequel.