With a new Spider-Man movie coming out in soon, I think it’s fitting to do as I did with the MCU and X-Men and take a look back on the franchise so far. This is something that I’ll probably do again in the future, although if you think I’m going to do it for all 35 Godzilla movies in preparation for the release of Godzilla vs. King Kong next year, you’re absolutely crazy.
Now then, true believer, have a seat on the nearest chair, wall, or ceiling, and join me on this journey across the quality of Spider-Man movies.
When talking about movies that completely rewrite the box office landscape, Star Wars, the Matrix, Jaws, Dire-Hard, and the Avengers are most often cited as some of the biggest influences. Rarely mentioned is Sam Rami’s Spider-Man, but it absolutely is as influential as the others on that list.
That might be because, unlike the rest of those movies, it doesn’t really hold up.
Now, I’m not going to say Spider-Man is a bad movie. It’s a good movie. But it’s not a great movie. The action sequences are solid, the plot was well structured, the writing was solid, it was groundbreaking to see our friendly neighborhood superhero brought to life with the kind of comic book fidelity that previously had been exclusively the domain of Batman and Superman, and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson was some of the best casting ever done in the history of adaptations. Oh, and William Dafoe did an awesome job as Green Goblin, although he was a bit too Joker-esque for my taste – but that’s more of a personal preference than a mark against the movie.
What does count against the movie was its lead. Even though Tobey Maguire was a great choice for Peter Parker, he could not sell the scenes in the costume as Spider-Man. At all. The script was written with the quick, cutting dialogue that Spidey is known for in the comics, but Tobey absolutely did not have the presence needed to pull it off. Also, some actors can pull off being in high school at age 25, but Mr. Maguire was not one of them. I literally forgot that he was in high school in the original movie until I remembered the tray-catch scene.
There are other problems with the film – the Green Goblin suit looked stupid, Kirsten Dunst had almost no chemistry with Tobey Maguire, this scene is really awkward looking…
…but overall the end result is this is a good movie to watch once, but it doesn’t hold up under rewatches.
This is, hands down, the greatest of the Sam Rami Spider-Man films, and it was the best film with this character that we’d see for over a decade. Everything good about the first Spider-Man film carried over to this one – action, plot, writing good, J.K. Simmons was still a treasure, etc. Meanwhile, the things that didn’t quite work in the first movie were fixed. Tobey Maguire perfectly fit the role of college student where he failed as a high school student. He did a much better job with the quips mid-fight, although the script also demanded less of them. He and Kristen Dunst must have either matured as actors or actually become friends because the chemistry between the two of them was believable.
However, what really elevated this movie above its predecessor was the villain. Alfred Molina was phenomenal in the role, and on top of that Doctor Octopus was just a well written bad guy. He was intelligent and nerdy, but sophisticated and classy. He was not interested in power or crime, he wanted to solve for nuclear fusion – and was brought low by his own hubris. In a Greek Tragedy, he would be a perfect protagonist. As this movie’s antagonist, he is one of the greatest comic book movie villains we’ve seen and is up there with the likes of Killmonger.
The scenes with him and Peter really shine, too. Those two have chemistry in spades and sell a burgeoning paternal relationship so perfectly that the later pathos of Doctor Octopus’ fall was wonderful. On top of that, the special effects used to show and animate his tentacles was beautifully handled and made the action scenes the best this franchise would get for years.
Especially because of what came next.
I could just show this Gif and call it a day:
But I won’t, because this dance sequence is not what killed the movie. It was a terrible scene, but if the rest of the film around it had been good, it would have just been remembered as a stupid moment in a solid story.
No, what made it bad was literally everything else. Sandman was a cool visual effect wrapped around a bland villain the movie never really fully knew what to do with. Venom was tacked awkwardly onto the movie and ditched everything good about the character in exchange for…nothing. Harry being a bad guy, then the good guy, then a bad guy, then a good guy again is a damn disaster of characterization.
On top of it, the halfway interesting ideas the film had were poorly handled. Peter going ‘evil’ was never used for anything interesting, instead just making him being generically douchey. If Tobey Maguire couldn’t sell High-Schooler, he definitely couldn’t sell “corrupted.”
This film was a disaster on every level. It cemented the curse of third movies in superhero franchises being train wrecks, a curse didn’t get broken (in my opinion) till Captain America: Civil War.
Let’s put this movie back in the memory hole where it belongs and move on.
The Amazing Spider-Man
After the disaster that was Spider-Man 3 forced Sony to do a reboot, they obviously knew they had to make sure that they took steps to ensure the new franchise was a masterpiece. The film was made with the love and care and attention this franchise deserved and-
Okay, yeah, no, I can’t get through that joke anymore.
The Amazing Spider-Man was not a good film. The pacing was a mess, and rewriting the backstory to make everything link together was the first sign of a terrible trend forming in blockbusters. Curt Conner’s as the Lizard could not carry an entire movie – at least, not a movie with this kind of plot-line.
But it’s not as bad as everyone remembers. Andrew Garfield could not sell Peter Parker the same way Tobey Maguire could not sell Spider-Man, but Mr. Garfield absolutely sold the shit out Spider-Man. The jokes and quips were well timed and got some actual laughs out of me, the action was even better than the previous films, and Gwen Stacey – played by Emma Stone – was a delight with some phenomenal chemistry than Andrew Garfield. Not a good movie, but a fun movie I enjoyed.
This is classic Spider-Man right here.
That will not be the last time this phrase is used on this list.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
And hey, let’s just start off by saying “Not a good movie, but a fun movie.” I really don’t get the hate The Amazing Spider-Man series gets. Sure, they’re not good movies, but plenty of ‘not good’ movies don’t get the level of vitriol directed at these films. Listening to people in the nerd sphere, you’d think these were Twilight levels bad. Was it just because it followed a so obviously superior franchise in the Sam Rami films? Because the Sam Rami films ended on Spider-Man 3, and neither of these movies was as bad as Spider-Man 3.
No matter the cause, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 was greeted with a warm reception in the same sense an upraised middle finger is a loving embrace. Everyone hated this film. I can see why it didn’t land – the interconnected everything got even stronger, it included too much of Green Goblin and Rhino in the trailer for them being in such a small part of the film, Electro and Green Goblin’s plans were a hot mess.
However, this was my favorite Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2. The action sequences were the best so far, Jamie Foxx did a great job with Electro, the movie was a good example of how to do a large number of villains in a single film. Sure, it was messy, but not because the villains were fighting for screen time – Rhino was the bookend to the film and Green Goblin was mostly manipulating Electro for his own ends, but didn’t get involved until the final fight.
More than that…okay, look. Fellow nerds. I know everyone likes to say now they expected Gwen Stacey to die, but before going in, I didn’t expect the movie to actually have the balls to do it. The death of Gwen Stacey is one of the iconic comic book moments, and I never believed Sony would allow them to kill off such a good character and actress – and make it explicitly clear that Peter Parker couldn’t save her.
I left the film actually looking forward to the Sinister Six movie, but that was not to be. The Amazing series was cancelled, and we all had to wait to see what came next. What we got was…
Tom Holland is the best live-action actor to play Spider-Man. He’s the first and, to date, only to be able to play both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. He’s dorky and awkward as Peter, and he’s sarcastic and joking as Spider-Man. It works perfectly. He sells “high-schooler” better than either of the prior actors.
As for the movie itself…
It’s damn good, and would be even without the integration into the MCU. Tony Stark does a great job establishing the right kind of father figure for Peter in the absence of Uncle Ben. Skipping over a third retelling of the origin story was a welcome change of pace and very good, because absolutely no one needed to see Spider-Man’s origin story yet again. Every character was well written and a welcome change of pace from what we’d gotten before, including Laura Harrier as the romantic interest in Liz. Marisa Tomei as young Aunt May was a good change from the canon and allowed for some really fun interplay between her and Peter, and Peter’s new best friend as Ned was a comic delight.
To add to that, I really like Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones. She was the fun kind of sarcastic, and the trick they played with the name was a nice way of establishing “this is a new character inspired by an existing one.”
It’s not perfect though. The movie does bog down a bit in places, especially during the trip to DC, and that time could have been spent on a bit more of development for Vulture. Don’t get me wrong, Vulture is an awesome villain, and leagues above most of what Spider-Man or the MCU has had to offer. But with a bit more time fleshing him out, he could have been as good as Doctor Octopus, and it’s a shame we didn’t get that.
Still, overall, a good movie, and I can’t wait for Far From Home.
Yes, I’m counting this as a Spider-Man movie. It’s a movie starring a Spider-Man villain, and it’s my list, so I make the rules. Besides, I wanted to use the phrase “Not a good movie, but a fun movie,” again.
And in spite of its flaws, Venom is a ton of fun. After Spider-Man 3, getting to see the murderous symbiote let loose to show off what he could do was a ton of fun. Tom Hardy acted the hell out of Eddie Brock and completely sold the idea of the do-good reporter that gets in over his head. The action sequences are beautifully done, and Tom Hardy also did a great job with Venom. The movie hits the right tone for a film with a heroic monster, with just enough humor to lighten things up.
That being said, those flaws can’t be ignored. The movie’s plot is a bit of a mess. The love interest, whose name I had to look up because she was so bland, was basically a plot device. The villain is just…okay, so at some point in the past few years it’s become a thing where the villain is a corporate executive or scientist who wants to save the world from global warming and goes to awful means to do it. It is my second least favorite villain trope because I’m not sure what the message is. “Global warming is bad but anyone who tries to solve it is also bad?” It’s always so damn confusing. Can we just stop doing it? Also, as much fun as the fight with Riot was, knowing the franchise is going to be doing all symbiots, all the time is…less appealing. Let’s give Venom something interesting to fight, yeah?
Still, fun movie, worth a watch, just keep reasonable expectations.
You won’t need that for…
Into the Spider-Verse
Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie, full stop, no qualifiers. The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The voice acting is top notch. The writing is incredible – they managed to tell Spider-Man’s origin story six times at a point where no one wanted Spider-Man’s origin story, and they made it amazing. On top of that, Into the Spider-Verse brought big comics concepts like alternate universes to the big screen and that just makes me so incredibly happy.
Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man, was the heart and soul of the movie, and his relationship with down on his luck alternate universe Spider-Man was a treat, as was his relationship with his primary antagonist. I mean…this movie managed to make Prowler into a legitimate menaching presence. Prowler. If you’ve read the comics, you know how absurd this is. Prowler was d-list at best and about as menacing as a wet blanket. This movie’s Prowler, on the other hand…
Gwen Stacey, from a a universe where the spider bit Gwen and not Peter, would have stolen the show in any other film, but Miles and Peter were so strong that she instead ‘just’ held her own with the more central characters. Her friendship with Miles is well realized, and you definitely get the feeling she is premire ass-kicker in her universe. The three minor Spider-Men – Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, and Peni Parker – were all a delight that managed to elevate the movie instead of bog it down.
Overall, the Spider-Man movies have been one hell of a ride, and I can’t wait to see where the movies take our friendly neighborhood web-head next.
What’s your favorite of these films? Let me know in the comments! I’m gearing up for Strange Cosmology, my second book in the Small Worlds series, to release by the end of the summer. If you could, please do me a favor and take the time take the time to leave me an honest review of Weird Theology here.