The creative team remains intact between X-Men and this sequel, which means that X2 is able to offer a serialized narrative. Most Hollywood film series demand episodic narratives. The Batman and Superman series were both essentially self-contained. (Batman Returns references Vicki Vale’s entrance into the Batcave; Superman II finds Lex Luthor still in prison. Otherwise, each sequel is remarkably self-contained.)
A serialized narrative, like the X-Men series, requires multiple installments. The 1930s Flash Gordon film serials are obvious examples, but each of those installments were much shorter than a contemporary Hollywood movie and distributed more frequently. X2 arrives three years after X-Men, but it behaves like the next Flash Gordon chapter. It addresses dangling plot threads from the previous installment and introduces new plot threads to be resolved in a subsequent installment. In doing so, X2 finally introduces a narrative format to the superhero genre, similar to the monthly schedule of the comic books upon which these films are based.
Marvel’s cinematic strategy at this point is to diversify, setting up production deals with different studios. Twentieth Century Fox produces X-Men; Sony’s Columbia Pictures makes Spider-Man; Universal will release Hulk within the year. But Marvel never surrenders their characters entirely. Starting with Spider-Man, a distinctive flipbook logo emerges to signify Marvel’s involvement with a project. (The first time I saw Spider-Man in theaters, audiences cheered for that logo.)
Spider-Man was a massive financial success — the first film to make over $100 million in its opening weekend. Now other studios are scrambling to make their own superhero movie, and Marvel’s diversification strategy pays off in a big way. Daredevil is the first of four superhero movies released in 2003 — and one of three Marvel properties released theatrically that year. Marvel not only diversifies its distributors, but its content as well. Daredevil makes a number of aesthetic choices in response to Spider-Man, trying to assert its own distinct identity.
It’s really difficult for me to watch Spider-Man objectively. Peter Parker is my favorite comic book character, because he endures endless punishment with a sense of humor. Other superheroes face challenges and suffer, but Peter’s trials always seem more potent to me. Out of all the characters associated with Stan Lee, Peter’s flaws and anxieties seem the most relatable. Unlike the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, or the X-Men, Peter worries about homework and his family just as much as the supervillains.
Spider-Man is a competently made film. When I saw it in theaters with my dad, we were both thrilled — we stayed through the end credits, just to savor the experience. (Marvel hadn’t started planting post-credits scenes yet.) But I also remember, as we walked back in the house, thinking that something wasn’t quite right with it. So I’m going to do something I try to avoid. I’m looking look ahead a few years to the universally-reviled Spider-Man 3. Here’s my theory: the things that make Spider-Man 3 a bad movie are already present in Spider-Man.
Blade established a mythos and visual style for the character. Wesley Snipes’ version of Blade is the Daywalker, a hybrid born with “all of [vampires’] strengths, none of their weaknesses.” He stalks his prey in a monstrous world nestled inside our own. Around every corner lurks a monster, and the only one who can save us is a man with some monstrous qualities himself.
As the character returns for this sequel, Guillermo del Toro replaces Stephen Norrington as director. Although del Toro preserves the mythos, he radically alters the series’ visual style. In film studies, all the stuff that appears on-screen — the costumes, the sets, the acting, the cinematography — is called the mise-en-scène. del Toro adjusts all of it, transplanting Blade into a more magical world. How does that affect our concept of the character?