If Spider-Man 2 wasn't so good, then maybe Spider-Man 3 wouldn't have seemed so bad. The first film was pretty solid, and I probably like it more due to the fact that I'm such a fan of the character than anything else. The second one, however, is one that I don't just like as a superhero fan; I love it as a fan of movies.
Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. I suppose that he was my favorite when I was little for what were probably arbitrary reasons. Maybe it was the costume, or maybe it was because of the cartoon and my fond memories of that. As I got a bit older though, into my early teens through today, he has remained my favorite. I think that the reason why is because I'm so much like him. At his heart, Spider-Man is a guy who feels guilty and responsible for a lot of things that aren't really his fault. This obsessive nature of his leads him to being his own worst critic, and he constantly beats himself up over his supposed failures. Those are things that I can definitely relate to.
The reason why Spider-Man 2 resonates the most with me is because it's the movie that really gets that part of his character right. His sense of responsibility makes him miserable, and he can't have any semblance of a normal life. He then attempts to quit, but the point is that he can't quit - being Spider-Man is who he is, and it's what he's good at. I genuinely feel for him when he tosses his costume in the trash (a reconstruction from a very specific comic panel). Even more so though, I know that he's making a big mistake.
Another thing that I love is that the movie makes no attempt to explain why his powers suddenly disappear only to eventually come back. This is just like what happened in one of the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko issues (at least, I think it did! It sure seems familiar! Quick, to the archives!) Of course, that doesn't make it good storytelling simply because that's what the comic did. However, it works because it doesn't need an explanation. We know exactly as much as he does, and since he never gets one, why do we need one? Besides, any explanation would have probably sounded contrived anyway, so it's best just to leave it mysterious.
I should probably also say something about Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I remember hearing from a student shortly after they cast him in the part that she thought it was a lousy choice. Well, all of the comics fans I knew were on board with me that he was the perfect choice. I guess if folks don't read the comics or aren't familiar with the various cartoons, they might think that Spidey needs to be some kind of hunky beefcake. That's exactly what you don't want for an everyman like Parker. You want a regular looking guy - not unattractive, but not overly handsome either.
Of course, there were a lot of things that were changed from the comics. Honestly, Mary Jane is nothing like she is in the books. In the movie, she's more of a composite of a few characters in Peter's life. Also, Doctor Octopus didn't have nearly as much of a backstory in the original telling. None of these things bother me. After all, a movie and a monthly comic that's been running since the 60s are completely different things. To me, it was far more important that they got the heart of the character and all the major themes down. That's something that they achieved spectacularly (even amazingly and sensationally).
I'm actually pretty optimistic about the fourth one. Sam Raimi has given us one good Spidey flick and another excellent one. The third was a misfire, but it's not like it was Batman and Robin level bad. From what I've heard, Raimi is going to have more creative control over the film he's making - and to my understanding, it was him having to give in to the producers that made the last one go astray. Still, even though I think that they might be able to pull off another good one, I think that I should probably just accept the fact that they'll never get it better than Spider-Man 2.