Why Spider-Man 2's Train Fight is Superhero Cinema's Greatest Action Scene

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Starting a year or so after the first film, Spider-Man 2 picks up with Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker still struggling to balance his job, his college studies, and his personal life with the great responsibility part of his great power. Desperately in love with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson, he just can’t catch a break. As stress overwhelms him, even Peter’s spider-powers start to fail him, causing him to turn his back on being Spider-Man in order to sort his life out.

While some prefer the modern consistency of the MCU to the nostalgic Silver Age optimism of Sam Raimi’s take, Spider-Man 2 is a triumph of comic-book cinema that absolutely holds up to this day. It follows then, that the film’s best qualities come through most brilliantly in the sequence that is universally agreed to be its best.

Quite aside from being a better superhero action scene than anything else we had seen up to that point, there are a number of reasons why the fight between Spider-Man and Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus atop and around a runaway subway train is the heart of the movie. Representing the very best we’ve seen of Spider-Man on the big screen to date, it’s the build-up and the aftermath that cements this sequence as one of the greats.

‘Do you love me, or not?’

Loosely adapting the classic comic arc, “Spider-Man No More!”, the film is intrinsically about the personal toll that being Spider-Man takes on Peter. His failing powers are an emotional problem, not a physical one, and over the course of the plot, we have to see him come to terms with this. Peter is easy to root for in the first place, so even though the film doesn’t quite reconcile the emergence of an eight-limbed supervillain with the timing of Spider-Man’s brief retirement, the film explores this in a more sensitive way.

read more: The Amazing Spider-Man TV Series Deserves an Official Release

First, Raimi follows the excellent “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage with a scene in which Peter witnesses a mugging that Spider-Man could easily stop, and guiltily walks on. That guilt directly spurs his admission to Aunt May that he could have stopped the man who killed Uncle Ben (threequels notwithstanding) but doesn’t admit his secret identity. Rosemary Harris’ performance is such that you can’t tell if she already knows or not, really.

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