Spider-Man 2 vs. The Dark Knight: Marvel vs. DC at the movies.

Which movie is better?


Gavin Van Voorhis

Is Spider-Man 2 better than The Dark Knight, or is The Dark Knight better than Spider-Man 2? To put this debate to rest, I have come up with a system using seven categories: 

  1. The Hero
  2. The Villain
  3. The Supporting Characters
  4. The Story and Themes
  5. The Visuals
  6. The Genre
  7. The Sounds and Score

If one movie is better than the other in a given category, that movie will get the point for that category. In the end, the movie with the most points out of seven will gain the title of Best Comic Book Movie of All Time. 

The Hero:

In Spider-Man 2, we have Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He is a man that struggles to balance his normal life with the burden of being Spider-Man. Parker undergoes a clear arc in this film. Due to how being Spider-Man interferes with his happiness as his life falls apart around him, he quits being Spider-Man to live a normal life, but when both New York and Mary Jane Watson, the girl he loves, is threatened by Doctor Octopus, he is willing to sacrifice his normal life to do what is right.

In The Dark Knight, we have Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I would normally say the main characters arc in these movies, but that’s the problem here, Batman doesn’t have an arc in this movie, which significantly hurts his character and makes him far less interesting. While I do think that Bale does a great job as Bruce Wayne, his Batman voice is pretty annoying compared to the same Batman in “Batman Begins”. It’s almost like he forgets he’s a good actor while wearing the cowl.

Peter Parker undergoes a clear arc while Bruce Wayne does not. Easy point for Marvel. 


The Villain: 

In Spider-Man 2, we have Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus. Last time Molina was in a big movie was Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981. Anyways, Alfred Molina pulls off a fantastic performance in the role of Otto Octavius and pulls off the idea that he himself is not the true villain but rather the mechanical arms controlling him are the real villains. In the end however, he is able to overpower the giant mechanical arms stuck on his back and fix the evil he did as Doctor Octopus by sacrificing himself to save New York.

In The Dark Knight, we have Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker. This is easily the best incarnation of the character, as Ledger managed to create a Joker that was both funny AND terrifying. His goal in this movie is to get Batman to break his one rule and prove that people will always resort to chaos whenever faced with a dilemna. The Joker is defeated not by Batman, but by the realization that people won’t resort to chaos when in a no win situation.

Put it this way, Otto is a great villain, while The Joker is one of the best villains of all time. Point for DC. 


The Supporting Characters:

In Spider-Man 2, we have Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, James Franco as Harry Osborne, Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, and J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.

In The Dark Knight, we have Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as Commisioner Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Even though some may put Dent into the Villain section, I feel he fits more into the supporting characters based on his overall role in the movie.

You may have noticed that I haven’t gone over each one yet, but that is because they are all so good yet so different. The Dark Knight gives us more grounded characters that feel real, while Spider-Man 2 gives us surreal characters that work perfectly within the universe set up for Spider-Man. The best way to break them down is to look at the strongest and weakest links. The weakest links are the romantic interests, being Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel Dawes. Kirsten Dunst is a better actress than Maggie Gyllenhaal, but she doesn’t carry as much of the movie as Maggie does. Now let’s look at the strongest links: Michael Caine’s Alfred and J.K. Simmon’s J. Jonah Jameson. Both are some of the best actors alive today, and while I love both characters and actors, ties would break the purpose of this article, so I have to give the point to DC. 


The Story and Themes: 

Spider-Man 2 is clearly about choice. It demonstrates this well in Peter’s character arc, where he gives up being Spider-Man to live a normal life as well as when he chooses to sacrifice it all to do the right thing and become Spider-Man again. It’s also on display when Octavius make the choice that he would destroy his experiment along with himself rather than see it destroy our world. It’s all very strong stuff in there and it works exceptionally well. 

The Dark Knight is about how being a hero influences others around them, whether the result be good or ill. Because of Batman, people have actually began to put themselves in danger to do the right thing. However, his heroism also sparks the Joker’s goal to destroy the order that Batman had established in Gotham and also causes the death of Harvey Dent. However, the fact that Batman doesn’t have an arc in this movie hurts the theme substantially, but overall it works fairly decently, if a little muddy. 

Overall, Spider-Man 2 has a better hold over it’s resonant themes than The Dark Knight does over its own themes. Point for Marvel.


The Visuals: 

The Dark Knight has some amazing practical effects while keeping CGI down to a minimum, which gives the movie a nice grounded feeling. That being said, the camerawork and lighting are pretty standard. Some shots look pretty cool, but are really nothing special.

Spider-Man 2 has some CGI issues due to its age. While it didn’t bother anyone at the time, by today’s standards the CGI looks very dated. That being said, I would have given the point to DC if I was ignoring Sam Raimi’s visual flare. Raimi has many unique camera movements and lighting in his shots that make them more exciting and also make them instantly recognizable as his own. 

It all comes down to either Christopher Nolan’s Practical Effects or Sam Raimi’s lighting and camerawork. Which is better? Definitely Sam Raimi’s camerawork and lighting. Point for Marvel. 


The Sounds and Score: 

Spider-Man 2 has Danny Elfman returning from Spider-Man 1 to compose the music for Spider-Man 2, and he does amazingly. It’s instantly recognizable and is by far the only REAL Spider-Man theme we have ever heard. Sound Design-wise, Spider-Man 2 has some unique sounds for Octavius’s mechanical claws and his machinery, but other than that, we’ve heard most of it from Spider-Man 1.

The Dark Knight is nothing unique from Sound design in any particular way, but the score, composed by Hans Zimmer is incredible. His score here is better than it was in Pirates of the Carribean, but maybe not as good as his work in Man of Steel. His work is, like Elfman’s, instantly recognizable, and is even better than Elfman’s already outstanding score for Spider-Man 2. Point for DC.


The Genre (Action vs Action): 

Action has never been Christopher Nolan’s strong-suit. He did get better with future films, and while his action scenes in The Dark Knight are better than the sloppy quick-cut action in Batman Begins, they’re still rather unremarkable and unmemorable. 

Spider-Man 2 has no trouble with making its action memorable and fun, thanks to Raimi’s visual flare and experience with horror and action movies before. If you had to choose between stylized action and coherent action, by all means, go coherent, but Spider-Man 2 has action that is the best of both. Point and win for Marvel. 


The Final Verdict: Spider Man 2 (Marvel) 4 points; The Dark Knight (D.C.) 3 points

Both of these movies are fantastic and deserve my respect, however, the debate should now be broken. While the Dark Knight may have some more real feeling supporting characters, a better villain, and an outstanding Zimmer score, it is hindered by Batman not having a character arc, giving Spider-Man 2 an edge.

Let me know what you want next from this Marvel vs DC at the movies!