Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 emphasizes the importance of mental health by showing how the symbiote helps Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry face their deepest fears and emerge stronger. Peter’s struggle to balance his role as Spider-Man and his personal relationships highlights the common superhero trope of wanting to be everything to everyone. MJ’s bitterness towards Peter and Harry’s jealousy towards Peter and Miles demonstrate the destructive consequences of neglecting one’s own feelings and not communicating openly in relationships.

It’s no secret that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2‘s biggest villain is the symbiote since it corrupts many of the characters that fans have grown to love since the first installment. Although the symbiote has many victims throughout the game, there are three in particular that the game uses in a rather unique way, to not only develop these characters but also send a message about the importance of mental health.

Peter Parker, Mary Jane, and Harry Osborn are three characters in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 who eventually become hosts for the symbiote. Despite each of them being heroes in one way or another, however, the symbiote chooses them for a reason — specifically, on account of their consistently suffering mental health. Fortunately, their time spent with the symbiote allows them to face some of the deepest fears, regrets, and doubts laid deep within their minds, which inevitably leads to them becoming a healthier, stronger version of themselves once they detach from the symbiote.

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Peter Blames Himself For The Loss Of His Loved Ones

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After learning that Kraven has taken Miles captive, Peter, now almost fully bonded with the symbiote, travels to Kraven’s hideout to confront him and rescue Miles. Kraven then traps Peter in a cage with a wounded Miles seen in the distance, that Peter might be motivated to unleash the full power of the symbiote and give Kraven the final battle he craves. Not long after, Peter completely destroys the cage and engages in direct combat with Kraven. As the battle nears its end and Peter has Kraven within his grasp, Miles interrupts the fight to prevent Peter from killing his victim.

Now, Peter has almost completely lost himself to the symbiote, and Miles attempts to persuade him in battle. At the beginning of the fight, Miles begins to lecture Peter, saying that strangling people is not the Spider-Man way. “Don’t try to mentor me,” Peter says, “You’re the one running away from your problems. You’re the one hellbent on revenge!” Miles disagrees, stating his desire to only protect those he loves, to which Peter replies, “You’re not better than me!” Of course, this is not at all what Miles is saying or meaning to imply. Peter’s response simply comes from his own inner struggle.

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“All I wanted was to save everyone — MJ, May — now this city thinks that I’m the problem.” A weeping, tormented Peter Parker cries out from within the grasp of the symbiote. Despite having superpowers, despite being Spider-Man, Peter feels inadequate — inadequate to save his loved ones, inadequate to maintain a real job, and inadequate to sustain a healthy relationship with the love of his life, Mary Jane. His past failures have continued to haunt him, including the passing of his Aunt May at the end of Marvel’s Spider-Man, which he has consistently blamed himself for. In reference to the symbiote, Peter says to Miles, “I can’t let this go. I’m finally everything everyone needs me to be.”

While Peter’s anguish may be a rather common superhero trope, especially for Spider-Man, it is also an all too familiar struggle that many people have in real life. Many times, people desire to be everything to everyone, and they do everything in their power to help those they love. Unfortunately, sometimes, it’s just not enough. Loved ones end up lost or left in disappointment, but it isn’t always the fault of those who try to help but fail to succeed. It is often simply the way of things, and a lack of acceptance or even an avoidance of grief can leave people feeling responsible for what is an otherwise inevitable reality.

MJ’s Neglect of Her Own Feelings Made Her Bitter

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Not long after Harry bonds with the symbiote to become Venom, Peter is driven back home for fear that Venom is after MJ. When Peter arrives, he reunites with a more sinister Harry, now holding MJ hostage. In an attempt to negotiate with Harry, Peter offers to help him by getting “that thing” off of him. Harry and the symbiote, insulted by Peter’s remark, lunge their arm at the table nearby, breaking it in half. Harry then morphs into Venom, slams Peter against a refrigerator and pins him down beneath it, then grabs MJ. Before Peter can get back to MJ, however, Venom corrupts her, transforming her into Scream, and a fight between her and Peter ensues.

At the beginning of the fight, Scream opens with what is perhaps her most revealing statement about MJ’s mental health as she says, “I’m done begging for validation from you — from anyone!” Peter, confused at her statement, assumes that she is referring to her job. However, she interrupts him and says, “This is about me. Me! Not my job and this stupid house. For once, it’s not about you.” As Peter continues his attempts to reason with her, she angrily fires back with, “You stay out of this! I’m finally in control.”

Both Scream’s pain-filled statements and Peter’s confusion about where they are coming from are very telling of MJ’s mental health. Peter is confused because MJ has not yet talked to him about any of this. She has kept it bottled up inside, most likely due to her love for Peter and her willingness to set aside her own feelings and not be a burden to him, who is already weighed down by the city’s ongoing problems. She has sacrificed her own desires in order to keep Peter first, and although she may not have realized it before, it has now taken hold of her and transformed into bitterness toward him.

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In the second phase of the fight, Scream brings up MJ and Peter’s financial struggles as she accuses Peter of his inability to keep a job and pay the mortgage. Despite Peter’s attempts to convince her that he has a job with Harry and that they’ll be okay, Scream doubts his promise, as she is convinced that Peter only cares about one job: being Spider-Man. Peter responds with resentment toward her unfair comment, as the city needs him, not the other way around. “I always come second,” Scream replies, “I live in your shadow where my dreams turn to dust!” Peter disagrees and counters by telling her that what she does matters.

There’s an obvious amount of responsibility placed on Peter here for his general absence from MJ’s life and his inability to prioritize her over his obligation to protect the city. Although the city does need him, MJ needs him all the same, and he alone made the choice to commit himself to her. That being said, it’s apparent that MJ has not entirely expressed these feelings to Peter in the past, which might have helped her. Additionally, she later reveals that she feels taken advantage of — that Peter is using her freedom to make enough money for the two of them while he is out saving the world. Peter’s “I didn’t realize” reply is a clear indicator that she had never told him these things.

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At one point during the battle, Peter warns MJ not to listen to the symbiote and that everything it is telling her is a lie. However, this isn’t entirely true. While these “lies” may not be what MJ wants to think, they are nonetheless her own thoughts. There is a clear conflict taking place within her, and it shows itself throughout the fight as she attempts to detach from the symbiote. For example, Scream says that nobody read her book, so “nobody cared.” Shortly thereafter, MJ breaks through in disagreement and says, “That’s not true. If I helped one person, it was worth it.” Both of these ideas are thoughts that MJ has. She is simply in conflict with her own insecurity.

MJ’s transformation into Scream is more than enough evidence to prove that one should not ignore their own feelings and should voice them to those they care about before resentment begins to set in. Bitterness and resentment are destructive forces, and they are often birthed out of self-neglect, fear of being a burden to others, and insecurity. Had MJ taken the time to express these feelings to Peter as they came up, perhaps she would have had enough strength to resist the symbiote. Fortunately, however, MJ eventually breaks free from its hold after Peter relentlessly affirms her and uses the symbiote’s hatred of sound to weaken it.

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Near the end of the main story, Peter engages in battle with Venom — really his best friend Harry who is now fully bonded with the symbiote. During the second phase of the battle, Venom shouts in anger, “We gave you everything you ever wanted, and you threw us away. And you replaced us with Miles.” Despite Peter’s repentance, Venom ignores it and later says, “We’ve never been good enough for you…or Dad.” Peter then reassures Harry that they are best friends. Unfortunately, Peter’s encouragement does nothing, as the battle continues to rage on until Venom grows wings, grabs Peter, and flies to retrieve the meteorite.

Harry’s turmoil is very similar to Peter’s in that he feels as though he is not “good enough” for anyone, especially his father. Where Harry’s inner battle differs, however, is in his struggle with feelings of jealousy toward Peter and Miles. In a previous scene, Harry overhears his father, Norman, telling Peter, “I’m so proud of the man you’ve become.” By the look on Harry’s face, it can be assumed Norman never expressed that same sentiment to his own son, fueling any feelings of jealousy Harry already had toward Peter. Additionally, Harry feels replaced by Miles, as he and Peter had “abandoned” Harry to rescue Dr. Connors.

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Similarly to Eddie Brock in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, the symbiote not only took hold of Harry because of his need for it but also because of the burning jealousy within him. Jealousy is a silent killer. It destroys relationships by creating false assumptions about loved ones, rather than inviting its hosts into a healthy conversation that can heal and sustain those relationships. Many times in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Harry consistently shows clear signs of jealousy, yet he never attempts to express his feelings to Peter. Had he opened up to Peter, perhaps those feelings of jealousy might have subsided, as Peter would have reassured Harry of the bond the two of them share.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 should be praised for its emphasis on mental health, especially as it is becoming an increasingly important area of health to address in modern society. Feelings left unexpressed, insecurity left uncomforted, and jealousy left unchecked can all contribute to the destruction of relationships and the destruction of self. That’s why Insomniac’s latest installment to the Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise is a great reminder that everyone needs to remember to take care of themselves, even if it may be their job to take care of others.

 Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 uses the symbiote to explore the effects poor mental health can have on a person and their relationships.  Read More