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John DoughertyJuly 21, 2023
Tobey Maguire soars as the web-clad superhero in "Spider-Man."Tobey Maguire as "Spider-Man" (CNS photo from Sony Pictures).

The Catholic Movie Club is a short weekly essay pulling out spiritual themes in our favorite films. You can discuss the movies with other readers in the comments on this page or in our Facebook group. Find past Catholic Movie Club selections here.

You didn’t think we could do Blockbuster Month without a superhero movie, did you?

For this reflection, however, I wanted to focus on a film from before our current superhero monoculture: “Spider-Man 2”(2004), directed by Sam Raimi, written by Alvin Sargent based on a story developed by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Michael Chabon. Today’s superhero films follow a tried-and-true formula, but “Spider-Man 2” came out at a time when a director like Raimi could put their distinctive stamp on a film, creating (in my opinion) more interesting work. This film evokes the original “Spider-Man” comics of the 1960s with a mix of earnestness, melodrama and slapstick. All of this to say: It’s a superhero film, but a weirder—and richer—one than Hollywood has produced in a while.

In this film, Peter Parker isn’t just down on his luck; he’s a cosmic punching bag. 

Following the events of the original “Spider-Man” (don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, there’s a visual summary of everything you need to know over the opening credits), Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is firmly established as the web-slinging superhero. That doesn’t mean life is easy: He struggles to make ends meet and to care for his elderly Aunt May (Rosemarie Harris), and his commitment to his secret life has cost him a relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Things go from bad to worse when his powers begin to fail him at critical moments, and a new villain, the mechanical-armed villain Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), makes his debut.

Raimi takes one of Spider-Man’s essential characteristics—he’s the everyman superhero who struggles with ordinary problems as well as extraordinary ones—and pushes them to comical extremes. In this film, Peter isn’t just down on his luck; he’s a cosmic punching bag. It’s the Book of Job rendered as a superhero movie: A righteous man struggles to keep his faith despite a never-ending stream of misfortune.

Unlike Job, Peter does lose faith and abandons his mission. For a while it seems to make things better, but he eventually realizes this is a lie. Living life with your eyes closed to the suffering of your neighbor is no life at all. Faith, as we know all too well, requires sacrifice. Aunt May (a widow who, in one of the movie’s most biblical moments, gives to Peter from her poverty) sums it up best: “I believe 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, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most.”

We’re never promised that faith will be easy, or that the world will reward us for it. Quite the opposite, as Jesus tells the disciples: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22). Peter Parker’s faith allows him to perform extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice. But his true reward is in how those acts inspire others to do the same, including a train full of gruff New Yorkers, and even Doctor Octopus. We believe it will be the same for us: If we can keep the faith through all of life’s trials and storms, in the end we will find ourselves vindicated.

“Spider-Man 2” is streaming on Disney+, Netflix and DirecTV, and available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime and Apple TV+.

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