Four years after being bitten by a radioactive spider and gaining wall-crawling powers, things are looking up for Peter Parker. He and Mary Jane are in love, he’s excelling in his college studies, and crowds are cheering the web-slinging Spider-Man while he’s being handed the keys to the city.
Peter is feeling so good that he decides to take the next step with MJ and seeks his Aunt May’s advice on how to ask for her hand in marriage. But that’s when things start to crumble. (You knew they had to, right?) First, MJ is fired from her job in a Broadway musical, which causes a little tension. Then Spidey gives an upside-down kiss to a pretty girl for the newspapers, which causes a lot of tension (“That’s our kiss!” MJ grumpily informs Peter).
On top of that, Peter’s friend Harry has strapped on the high-tech gadgetry of the Green Goblin and wants to avenge his father’s death (that he mistakenly thinks Peter deliberately caused). On top of that, there’s a thief-turned-Sandman-monster, who turns out to be the guy who really killed Peter’s Uncle Ben. And on top of that and that, a manipulative photographer named Eddie Brock is trying to steal Peter’s job with the Daily Bugle.
And there’s still one more “on top of” calamity: A tar-black chunk of bio-organism from outer space (to become known as Venom) crash-lands and hitches a ride on Peter’s motor scooter before eventually attaching itself to our hero’s outfit. One of Spider-Man’s red-and-blue suits turns a cool, coal black—and his heart begins to darken, too. Peter fights against the urge to wear the power-amplifying suit, but comes to the decision that wearing it is the only way to seek out his revenge and battle off new threats. Besides, he’s starting to like the dark changes he’s feeling.
Alongside their superhero action sequences, all of the Spider-Man movies have set up a pulpit and preached about courage, responsibility, friendship, duty and follow-through. This one doesn’t alter the formula. At its end, Peter proclaims, “Whatever battles we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. It’s the choices that make us who we are and we can always choose to do what’s right.” When Peter chooses to use his superpowers to exact vengeance upon the man who killed his uncle, he soon realizes that his hatred is taking its worst toll on no one but himself.
He finds he can only be rid of this burden by forgiving his foe.
[Spoiler Warning] Harry is consumed by rage as well, all focused at Peter. He, too, not only learns to forgive, but he puts his life on the line to protect his friend. Eddie, on the other hand, is so eaten up by malignant hate that when he is given a chance to free himself, he refuses and is destroyed. Sandman also makes choices. He loves his sick daughter, but he turns to theft to try to help her and loses everything, even her.
Never far away from her pearls of wisdom, Aunt May tells Peter, “A man has to be understanding and put his wife before himself. Can you do that?” She also warns him that revenge “is like a poison. It can take us over. Before you know it, it can turn us into something ugly.” Peter is told, “Everybody needs help sometimes.”
While looking at an announcement of a city gathering to celebrate Spider-Man, a passerby tells Peter, “I guess one person can make a difference.”
We see Spider-Man contemplating his choices while sitting on the cross-adorned peak of a church’s bell tower. And he makes the choice for rightness and freedom inside that same bell tower. (I’ll deal with the biblical implications in more detail in my “Conclusion.”)
In a much less spiritual moment, Peter confronts a lying Eddie with, “You want forgiveness—get religion!” Eddie subsequently enters a Catholic church, dips his fingers into the holy water, crosses himself and asks God to kill Peter Parker.
A TV announcer says of Spider-Man, “He seems to have come out of nowhere to answer the prayers of the city.”
MJ (along with most other women in the film) wear blouses and dresses that show cleavage. Some costumes reveal midriff, and a fair amount of leg and back, too. Peter is shown shirtless in the opening credits, and in one scene Harry appears dressed in nothing but his boxers.
MJ and Peter kiss while lying together on a huge spider web in the moonlight. Gwen, a classmate of Peter’s, gives Spider-Man a big kiss (while he hangs upside down). MJ and Harry briefly (but passionately) kiss, too.
When Peter wears the Venom suit under his street clothes, he starts acting out of character and flirts with every girl he comes in contact with. He does some pelvic thrusts. And to make MJ jealous, he pulls Gwen close and does a hot-and-heavy dance number with her. When he sidles up to Mr. Jameson’s secretary in the office, Jameson calls out, “That’s not the position I hired you for!”
[Spoiler Warning] Enveloped in Venom, Eddie gains superpowers and kidnaps MJ. While holding her, he leeringly says to Peter, “My spidey-sense is tingling. If you know what I mean.”
Last go-around we said, “Incrementally more violent than its predecessor, Spider-Man 2 offers up hefty doses of bloodless-yet-intense, highly stylized combat.” No less can now be said about 3. There’s certainly lots of head banging, body slamming and appendage crushing. I wouldn’t really call it cartoonish, but it is superhero-ish in that there’s little blood—even when bodies are impaled.
Tumbling air attacks are the specialty of the day as Spider-Man, Harry and Venom all fly and smash into and through various walls, windows and other objects. Things feel more intense when Harry stabs Spider-Man with a sword. (We see blood on the blade as he withdraws it, but no visible effects on the hero.) Harry also slashes at Peter with sharp blades on his gloves. And we see blood on Harry’s lip at one point. The Venom-suited Spider-Man throws a Goblin bomb back at Harry and it blows up next to his head. (We later see Harry with scars on his face.) Venom has sharp gnashing teeth. A man is impaled by a flying blade. Etcetera.
There is a lot of destruction of surrounding property (smashed and crumbled walls and sidewalks, smashed windows and construction sites). A large crane atop a high-rise starts veering wildly, sending a girder smashing through walls and windows and collapsing floors (people slide around and fall). The police fire guns at Sandman. Harry blows him up. Spider-Man turns him into mud with a torrent of water.
Speaking of Sandman, the filmmakers take advantage of the fact that he can be eroded, showing us acts of violence that normally would be reserved for movies with harsher ratings. For example, Spider-Man holds Sandman’s face up against a racing subway train, and we see half of it disintegrate. We also see Spider-Man’s fists and feet cut through the brute—who at times is sand and at times appears human. Of course, Sandman returns fire with, well, sand, and proceeds to pound Spider-Man to within an inch of his life.
MJ is in a car caught in a huge web 40 stories in the air. She falls out of the car, is almost smashed by it and a dump truck (also caught in the web) and later falls again (to be caught by Spider-Man). Worse, while dabbling with the dark side, Peter starts a brawl at the jazz club MJ is working at. She tries to stop him. He hits her and knocks her down.
[Spoiler Warning] In an attempt to destroy the Venom suit, Spider-Man devises a way to pull Eddie out of it. But when an explosive is thrown into what is now an independently thriving organism, Eddie yells and jumps back to it (and is blown up in the process).
One use each of “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” There are several exclamations of “oh my god.” The scriptwriters seem to be having a little “fun” with a French man’s accent when he twice calls Peter “Pecker” instead of “Parker.”
Harry guzzles brandy from a decanter and, later, drinks a martini. People down mixed drinks at a club. Eddie celebrates with a glass of champagne. Peter gets a maître d’ to serve champagne with a wedding ring in the bottom of the glass.
Mr. Jameson has a stockpile of prescription and over-the-counter medications on his desk. He takes some after a call from his wife.
Not very many action movies take the time to tell teens, “These are the years a man changes into the man he’s going to be for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into.” Or tell the rest of us, “There’s a hero in all of us that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble and finally allows us to die with pride.” Or, even more poignantly, “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”
That was then (in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2). This is now. Thankfully, the now isn’t much different from the then.
If anything, the lessons here are more spiritual than before as we watch a superhero choose between good (the red-and-blue suit) and evil (the black one). It’s the old-man-new-man struggle that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4. The viscid, symbiote organism that latches onto Peter amplifies his strengths, but it also inflates his desire for vengeance and power. He slides into the darker side of his nature, becoming moody and arrogant, and driving away everyone he values. Peter loves the rush of the change, but soon laments the consequences of his actions and struggles to break free.
Thus, the CGI web-slinging and sandy shape-shifting may be right off the pages of a comic book, but the struggle it represents is of biblical proportions. (Romans 7 chimes in with, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”) And the movie’s ultimate resolutions take on a scriptural tone as well. A man gives his life for a friend. Bitter enemies repent and find forgiveness. And the clear statement that we live and die by the choices we make is echoed by every character and situation in the film.
Sometimes I found myself wondering how in the world that kind of positivity could be flying at me from the same screen as brain-bruising battles, sharp-toothed-and-screeching monster attacks, and requisite Mary Jane-dangling-from-a-precipice moments. But there it was, and there it still is, all mashed together in one skintight spider costume.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.