I’m hyped up like a madman with every piece of news I get about the next Spider-Man film. That said, I want to clarify that the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy is one of my favorite superhero film sagas, and I’m going to tell you why. As usual, this is just my opinion, and these are not reviews. And remember, there are spoilers ahead.
If you asked me to describe the perfect blueprint of a superhero movie, I’d say, “Go watch Sam Raimi’s first Spidey movie”. I’m not kidding, this one does it all right. Especially because Raimi was a huge Spidey fan, he managed to hit on all the right notes an adaption of Spider-Man should be. For those who missed this, it follows the origin of Spidey (played by Tobey Maguire), struggling with his new powers and responsibilities. Mary Jane was played by Kirsten Dunst, Harry Osborn by James Franco, and filling the villain shoes was Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe). The overall theme present here is the motto of Spidey: with great power comes great responsibility. Peter struggles with what is the responsible thing to do with his gifts, and the Goblin is perfect as a villain because he takes chooses to use his power in an irresponsible way. As a result, we get the number one movie of that summer. And honestly, this is such a crowd pleaser. It skyrocketed Spidey’s popularity in the public consciousness, broke box-office records, and firmly established that superhero movies were back in a big way. Is it perfect? Not quite. While this has a solid story, the dialogue has moments of cheesiness. The other issue is just a missing moment of Spidey making his debut in costume. Batman got it in Batman Begins, Iron Man got it, Hulk… all those movies have a moment where it’s like “Here’s the hero in all his glory.” Spidey never got that. As a special note, Spidey’s fighting in this film is okay against ordinary humans, but the Goblin beats him badly in all their fights, even when he wins. This is an important thing to note in this trilogy, and it will come up again in the sequels.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Out of the three, this is my favorite in overall categories. Story is good, dialogue is good (he actually makes a few jokes this time!), action is good, all of it. The theme of the last film was the series’ motto “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”. This time, it’s all about responsibility, dreams, and sacrifice. The story follows that Peter’s life is at an all-time low, with his best friend gunning for his alter-ego of the death of Norman Osborn, his relationship with Mary Jane is essentially dead due to his fear that another psychotic will strike at her to hurt him, his personal life with his aunt and his schooling is shot, and no one really appreciates his superheroics. When scientist Doctor Otto Octavius (played by the awesome Alfred Molina) is turned into the malevolent multi-armed Doctor Octopus, Spidey’s life seems to get more complicated, and with his powers shorting out due to his depression and stress, he decides to quit being a superhero. And the concept of sacrifice runs through the whole movie. Doc Ock refuses to let go of his dream, seeking instead to vindicate himself and his work even if it threatens the city. Mary Jane thinks that she has to move on and no longer wait for Peter, so she’s getting married to a reasonably good man (Jameson’s son John), and Harry is sacrificing his friendship with Peter for his vendetta. Hell, Peter even risks his relationship with his aunt to confess that it’s indirectly his fault that Uncle Ben died. These themes are what I like about this film. During the time these movies were coming out, Spidey comics seemed to focus more on his guilt, bad luck, and angst more than his love of the adventure and joking persona, and if you had a make a movie of that kind of Spidey, making him quit works in the film, and seeing how all these little sacrifices or lack of play off each other just adds to the pathos. The other thing I love is the action. In the time since his battles with the Goblin, Spidey has become a much better fighter, using all his powers at the same time to great effect (the battle on the train between our hero and villain showcases this to great effect). This was one of the high points of the franchise, and it’s great. If you do watch it, I do recommend watching the 2.1 cut, for more action and humor than the theatrical cut.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
And we come to the black sheep of the family. In this film, Peter’s life is starting to go right: the city loves him, he’s planning to ask Mary Jane to marry him. It seems like the ol’ Parker luck is finally letting him have a good time. Except Harry (now aware that his father was the Green Goblin and Peter is Spider-Man) has become his own Goblin persona in order to kill Peter, a new supervillain called the Sandman (played by Thomas Hayden Church) has emerged (and may be the real killer of Uncle Ben), he’s got a work rival in Eddie Brock Jr. (Topher Grace), and a strange alien symbiote has bonded to Peter, amplifying all his worse traits. What follows is actually not a bad movie, just not as good as the last one. The theme this time around is about revenge, guilt, and forgiveness. Peter wants revenge on Sandman, Harry wants revenge on Peter, Brock wants revenge of Peter, and the symbiote wants revenge on Spidey when it’s rejected by him. The question becomes: who deserves forgiveness, and who will get it before it’s too late? I genuinely do not get the hatred this movie has. When I first saw it, I was so hyped up that I felt let down, that it didn’t live up to my expectations. I ended up going to see it again, this time watching it without the hype in me, and found that I actually really enjoyed it.I think that’s why so many people hate this is that they wanted it to live up to their expectations instead of seeing it as it was. The story can be a bit convoluted, but I survived the 90’s comics era. This is nowhere near as bad as those. The other positive I can state for it is the action. Hands-down, this is the best action the franchise has had yet. Whether it’s the black-suited Spidey taking on Sandman, or Spidey and Harry fighting Sandman and Venom, the action has ramped up in quality since the last film, and Peter’s fighting style has finally become the one I’ve imagined since reading the comics. On the more negative side, I didn’t like that the composer Danny Elfman left. It’s not bad music, it’s just noticeably not his music (which has helped define the series for me). The other thing that bugs me was the inclusion of Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). She was thrown in both as fanservice to old school Spidey fans, and to serve as a sort of foil/alternate love interest for Peter. Eddie Brock’s in love with her, but the scenes that worked with that angle (it turning out that Eddie is kind of a crazy stalker) ended up on the cutting room floor. This would have helped build on how Brock is just a bad person.
Now, to address the complaints people have with the third one:
– Sandman killing Uncle Ben. I’m a stickler for canon as much as the next guy, but given how the theme here is about revenge and forgiveness, it makes sense to use Sandman this way. Sandman was always the nicer of Spidey’s foes, more of a working-class criminal than a true monster. And given that Peter was going to be have both his power and rage enhanced by the symbiote, we needed someone really durable to take the beating that was coming.
– Too many villains. The sad fact is, we needed to resolve Harry’s plotline of revenge against Spider-Man, so he had to be included. And his story arc ended really well, I’m actually impressed they managed to work in both Harry’s fall and redemption into the film. Sandman, much as I hate to say it, is not a good enough villain to carry a film by himself. He’s just not that evil, and like I said, he works as the target of Peter’s revenge, and the one Peter needs to forgive, along with himself for the damage he does to his loved ones (including MJ). And Venom is the last great archenemy of Spidey. The other two films took Norman Osborn and Doc Ock, this movie needed Venom because he’s equal in ranking as Spidey’s great foe. Speaking of Venom…
– Not enough Venom. This is an annoyance for me, because what are we thinking of when we’re thinking of Venom? Do you just mean the particular combination of Eddie Brock and the symbiote? Considering that in the comics theses days, the name “Venom” is used for anyone who the symbiote is bonded with (I’ve already mentioned how Mac Gargan, the Scorpion had it in my Sinister Six article, and we’ve covered how Flash Thompson is wearing in the last Marooner’s Talk podcast), I’m inclined to think of Venom as just the symbiote. And that kind of thinking works here too. The symbiote (who we can just call Venom), in the end, is the biggest villain of the film, a representative of what kind of darkness can be unleashed in a person. It bonds to Peter, pushes him further and further into darkness, and when it’s rejected, it bonds to someone to use that person and Sandman get vengeance. As for Eddie, while he’s not like the comic version, I like how he comes off as a slimy, selfish jerk, and when his dishonesty screws him over, he chooses instead to blame Peter for all of it. Eddie may not get much screen-time as Venom, but he does show why he’s a monster when the suit gets him.
– The dancing scenes…. You know what,I got nothing, those were stupid and out-of-place. The only logic I could give is that this is what Peter Parker is like with an alien making him not care anymore. Which then speaks volumes about the kind of psychosis Eddie Brock must have inside him, given the difference between the two when bonded.
Well, that’s pretty much it for the Spider-Man trilogy. Due to problems between Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures, it was decided to reboot the franchise. And while I initially was annoyed and worried about a reboot happening 10 years after the first film came out, The Amazing Spider-Man is shaping up to be a really good film. It’s sorta like comparing the ’89 Batman movie to the recent Chris Nolan films. They’re both good, just in different ways.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like marathoning my Spidey trilogy blu-ray set.