Spider-Man is one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. There have been multiple iterations of the character adapted for the screen, but only one scene stands out as perfect. It delivers fantastic action while capturing the heart and drive of the character. Join us as we examine the perfect Spider-Man moment and break down what makes it so special.
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This is Spider-Man. But, of course, you know that. Because Spider-Man is… iconic, and his red and blue suit with the webbed pattern is unmistakable. Since his first appearance in “Amazing Fantasy #15” back in 1962, his popularity has skyrocketed. According to a recent study by “GAME,” Spider-Man is the most popular superhero. Not only in the United States, but in the entire world! Created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man was intended to be a hero that teenaged readers could relate to. Stan Lee saw a gap in the market for teenage heroes. They existed but were usually utilized as sidekicks. Less skilled heroes who acted as backup for the main protagonist. Like Robin, “the boy wonder.” Stan Lee wanted to create a younger hero who was equally as powerful as the adults. Who could hold their own among the likes of Captain America? He insisted on calling the hero Spider-Man, rather than Spider-Boy
This was partially to allow for the character to age throughout the comics. Going from High School to college and eventually to a working professional. It was also to keep the character from appearing inferior or less experienced.
Despite his instant popularity, it wasn’t until 2002 that Spider-Man would get a feature-length, live-action adaptation. The character’s wall-crawling and web-swinging abilities would be difficult to capture on-screen and had to wait until technology was advanced enough to believably make it happen. Sure, we’d gotten Superman on the big screen in the ’70s. But the fluid motion of Spider-Man swinging through New York would be a much bigger task than Superman’s rigid flight pose. Director Sam Raimi had wanted to make a comic book movie for years but was met with refusal after refusal from studios. So, he created his own superhero and made the unique, one-of-a-kind film Darkman. It was an outrageous, and over-the-top superhero film that was like nothing audiences had ever seen, and it laid the path for Raimi to eventually get the reins to Spider-Man.
Playing the titular hero was Tobey Maguire. Maguire gave fans a Peter Parker that was in over his head. A kind-hearted nerd who struggles to confess his feelings to the girl next door. It deviated from the source material in a lot of ways, like ditching the mechanized web-shooters for organic webbing, but it stayed true to the heart and core of the character. A real-world teen dealing with the pressures of school and life while struggling to adapt to his newfound powers. Of course, fans are divided on who has given us the best portrayal of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. And to be fair, each has their merits. But there is one scene in particular that stands out as being truly special. That captures everything you’d want from a Spider-Man film. The action. The spectacle. The heart. It’s epic and meaningful. It’s… perfect. And that’s the Train Scene from Spider-Man 2… obviously.
Doc Ock is one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes. And that’s really saying something considering Spider-Man has arguably the greatest rogues gallery in Marvel comics. Doc Ock’s mechanical arms allow the non-superpowered Otto Octavious to hold his own against the web-slinging hero, and Alfred Molina’s rendition of Octavious is perfect. He is a scientist. An academic who can not only match Spider-Man’s strength but Peter Parker’s intellect. A deadly combo of brains and brawn. It was a perfect counter to the over-the-top madness of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin that we’d seen in the previous film.
Director Sam Raimi used his experience with the horror genre to showcase how truly terrifying of a villain Doc Ock is. We see this primarily in the hospital scene, where the sentient tentacles brutally attack and kill a group of doctors who are working to remove the mechanical arms from their host. It’s a violent moment that showcases some of the most brutal murders we’ve ever seen from a Spider-Man movie. This makes the epic showdown between Spider-Man and Doc Ock on a train full of passengers all the more intense. The danger is clear. Because we know what Doc Ock is capable of and we’ve seen how far he’s willing to go to achieve his goals.
The scene begins as the hero and the villain fall from a building and land on a passing railway train. It’s broad daylight, there is heavy traffic and the train is filled with unsuspecting passengers. The two adversaries exchange a flurry of punches in a gravity-defying spectacle that took two years to complete. It’s a combination of CGI and practical stunts that weave a compelling, adrenaline-fueled battle and showcases a variety of Spider-Man’s uses for his webbing. Like creating a net to safely catch passengers thrown from the train by Octavious. Action is undeniably important in a superhero movie. It’s expected. And the action here is truly top-notch. But it’s more than just the action that makes this scene so perfect. In true villainous form, Doc Ock forces the train to travel full speed and full throttle towards an unfinished train track suspended above the city streets. He doesn’t hesitate to create a situation that threatens the lives of dozens of innocent people with no purpose other than to torment Spider-Man. To test him. Daring him to be the hero and save the people through the delivery of a perfect comic book one-liner.
The unfinished or damaged train track or bridge is a movie trope that’s been around for decades. We’ve seen variations of it in blockbusters like Speed and True Lies. It’s nothing new. But that’s part of what makes it work so well. Comic books are all about those moments of imminent danger. Split-second decision-making with life or death stakes. Recycling old ideas executed in new stylized fashions.
Sparks from the destroyed control panel catch on Spider-Man’s mask and he’s forced to remove it, exposing his face. This is important because Peter Parker holds the secrecy of his identity in very high regard. In order to keep those he cares about safe, he wears the mask. We’ve seen in the comics how tragic things can turn if his identity is not kept secret. During the Civil War comics storyline, Spider-Man chooses to reveal his identity to the world, through the urging of Tony Stark. This immediately leads to Aunt May being murdered and Peter having to cope with the guilt of his decision ultimately causing her death.
In Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man is still relatively new. He’s inexperienced. He’s had his powers for a couple of years, but prior to his run-in with Doc Ock, he’d only faced off against Green Goblin and some low-level thugs. He doesn’t have all the answers. He doesn’t have a plan. Remember, Maguire’s Spider-Man is in over his head. We see that as he tries and fails more than once to stop the train from reaching the end of the track. First using his body as a human brake pad and then by using his webs to attach to nearby buildings. The webbing holds, but the buildings break under the stress of the speeding train, showing just how strong Spider-Man’s webbing is. The concrete siding of a building gives out before the webs do. He tries it again, but this time uses multiple webs and divides them out across the passing buildings, minimizing the pressure applied to any one point of contact and spreading it throughout them all. You know… science stuff.
What follows is a moment of pure intensity. An image that lives on forever on the internet through memes and GIFs. People like to laugh at this expression. And sure, without context, I get it. But when you look at this moment as a whole there’s nothing funny about it. This is the face of a man in pain. Excruciating pain. A man holding on when it feels impossible, because… he has to. People’s lives depend on him. His suit tears along the bicep. The glass shatters as the front of the train literally bends and breaks from the pressure of his body being pulled against it. It’s easy to forget that Spider-Man is not invincible. He can be hurt and he feels pain. And that’s why, when the train finally comes to a stop, moments before plummeting to the streets below, Peter loses consciousness. He gave everything he had to save those people and when he had nothing left to give, his body shuts down and he begins to fall forward.
Hands emerge from the crumpled and dented train and catch the hero before he falls. Cradled in the arms of strangers, the unconscious hero is carried to the safety of a train car and laid down. The reactions from the passengers are all the same. They’re shocked. At this moment they see him as a real person, not just a faceless figure on the front page of the Daily Bugle. They whisper among themselves that he’s just a kid. No older than some of their own children. As he awakens, he’s panicked to find that so many people are looking at him with his face exposed. But the passengers assure him that it’s okay and two children bring him his mask, promising to keep his secret.
When Doc Ock promptly returns, the people of the train stand in his path. These are people who have seen how powerful a villain he is. People who have come within inches of death only seconds before, and yet one by one they stand to block and protect Spider-Man. Like the climactic moments of Spartacus, each of them declares that Doc Ock will have to go through them if he wants to get to Spider-Man.
This is the defining moment of the movie. Spider-Man 2 follows Peter as he struggles with the responsibility of being Spider-Man. He never asked for it. At times, he doesn’t want it. He asks himself why he should sacrifice the things he wants in his life for the well-being of strangers, and this moment is the answer. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because with great power comes great responsibility. These people know that they don’t stand a chance against Doc Ock, yet they are prepared to put themselves in imminent danger to protect Spider-Man. Because even though they don’t know him personally. And even though they know they will fail… it’s the right thing to do. And he would do the same for them.
It’s a moment of New York comradery that is typical of Spider-Man movies. We saw it at the end of the original Spider-Man when New Yorkers threw garbage at the Green Goblin while chanting “You mess wit one of us, you mess wit all of us!” And again in The Amazing Spider-Man when the crane operators created a bridge for Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man to swing across and save the day. But it was never done better than it was here. It never felt this meaningful. The Spider-Man 2 storyline humanizes Peter Parker more than any other film has managed to do. It shows his flaws. His fears. His doubts. And then forces him to face them all head-on in this one scene and it was, well… perfect. It’s a moment that has earned a permanent place in the memories of anybody who was lucky enough to experience it in cinemas. In a time when superhero films are released by the dozens every year, it can be easy to forget that they don’t have to be huge world-building experiences. Sometimes the best superhero movie is one that examines the humanity and heart of a single hero who’s facing the dangers of the world alone.
Who’s your favorite Spider-Man? And what do you think the perfect Spider-Man scene is? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to like, subscribe and click the notification bell to catch all of the amazing content. I’ll see ya next time, webheads.