Spider-Man Trilogy Retrospective

The Spider-Man of film maker Sam Raimi is one of the most beloved movie franchises when it comes to superheroes. Many of people would put it up there with Richard Donner’s Superman, Christopher Nolan’s Batman or Tim Burton’s, your pick and possibly even the MCU. When this film first arrived to us in 2002 it was a maelstrom for comic book enthusiast. With the exception of X-Men we were finally getting back to having good comic book films since it was felt Batman & Robin had ruined all of that. If anything, this was appealing to us nerds even more than X-Men since at least Spidey had his costume unlike the black leather club under Bryan Singer. The first Spider-Man spawned an entire trilogy with its rave reviews and $821.7 million worldwide box office receipt. The sequel came a mere two years later and the series ended with its last film releasing in 2007, that made the most cash with over $890 million at the worldwide box office. This makes this series already a decade old. It is weird looking back and thinking it was that long ago. A film trilogy that defined Spider-Man for so many people, that would go on to rake in almost $2.5 billion at the worldwide box office and carry an overall 82% average (Rotten Tomatoes) or average of 72 (MetaCritic), the highest praised film being the sequel (94% – Rotten Tomatoes/83 – MetaCritic) and the lowest being the third film (63% – Rotten Tomatoes/59 – Meta Critic) and trust me, that is still better than many other films, especially comic book films. This all says a lot about our favorite web head here.

However, this was only the first series. In 2012, Sony took another stab at the friendly neighborhood… you know the rest and now they are doing it all over again with the MCU. Many people still swear by these films, or at least the first two. Looking back now, how does this series hold up? Has it aged well? Can we still hold this film in solid grounding much like we did with Tim Burton’s Batman until Christopher Nolan made it appear on par with Adam West? We are not going to review each film one by one of course, that is too much of a chore and these films already have plenty of reviews out there for you to read and or watch. No, we are more interested if it is still worth watching today. Part of the reason with reboots and remakes is to liven it up for a new audience, in case the original is far from timeless. Is the film timeless or do certain aspects keep the film locked to its timely setting? Although not a remake of course but with comic books take Iron Man for example. The character’s origins in the first series are rooted in the Vietnam War. It would be pointless and downright odd to use this for a modern telling and modern audience.

strogatz_spider_manIn many ways Sam Raimi through Tobey Macguire captured Peter Parker perfectly. He was the dorky, bumbling nerd who was no good with girls, socially awkward and not the most dashing figure. This is especially summed up quite well I would argue during his back to Peter Parker life in Spider-Man 2 when walking down the street. At almost any time he spews some scientific jargon you want to do your best Homer Simpson impression and shout out to the heavens – “NERD!” All in all, it was very faithful to the character and source material. Spider-Man was a truly innovative character given all of these features; he was not wealthy like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. He certainly was no ladies’ man like the two industrialists either.  Is it possible that the films hammered this nerd aspect way too hard and too bluntly, in such a narrow minded fashion? Not to turn this into some kind of versus match between the two film series but Andrew Garfield’s Parker was scientifically literate and educated, but he came off as a regular kid who just happened to like science. There seems to be an idea to many that a love of science or anything noted as “nerdy” like D&D or comic books equates to a socially awkward, four-eyed dweeb who constantly trips over his words like George McFly in Back to The Future. Yet, you have people like Bill Gates who is wealthy, well-spoken and married. Another example would be SpaceX’s and Tesla’s Elon Musk who is beloved by many young people and is supposedly dating the very attractive Mera-er I mean Amber Heard.

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Continuing on with Spider-Man is perhaps this is as not true to the source material as we remember. In the first film it is quickly established that Spider-Man’s webs are organic, as a result from his accident. It’s possible part of the reasoning for this was not to spend too much time on origin stories. Granted, this pre-dates Batman Begins and Hollywood’s fascination with origin stories. Looking back though, this was not the case in the comics. More important is that it is a disservice to the character as well. Parker is supposed to be a genius, imagine a teenage kid who was able to construct these like in the comics would make for a great story and possible inspiration for young scientists at the time seeing the film. If anything, Parker’s brilliance gets a bit sidelined. Sure, he trades a few things with Osborn and Octavius, but this comes off more as trivia knowledge almost.

spider-man-film-cool-goblinHow do the villains stack up in today’s world? Are they real threats or just mere nuisances? By means of Christopher Nolan the molding of a super-villain has changed a lot! Villains can have plans where they think they are the hero (Ra’s al Ghul, Bane, General Zod, etc.) or truly frighten and make the audience truly think about life and society at large (The Joker) or come with personal tragedy like Loki. Spider-Man’s villains do all suffer some tragedy, but the tragedy is merely the catalyst, it does not serve the villains’ overall arc and character. Green Goblin gets his revenge after killing his military funders who cut him off. Why bother to do anything else? If anything, his “plan” was hardly even expanded upon. Again, he killed those who wronged him and then asked Peter to join him in a sense of just taking over the world… I guess. Generic, evil bad buy plot a-hoy! When he is denied he takes this out on Spider-Man and is somehow surprised. Doc Ock probably makes more sense in wanting to carry on his failed experiment with his mind now being compromised and committing heinous acts. Harry Osborn gets driven to revenge, Sandman wants money to pay for his daughter’s illness and then you have Venom. Unfortunately, the loadedness of Spider-Man 3 makes it hard to truly analyze the villains that entirely well. Going back to Goblin though and to some degree Doctor Octopus, if seemed Sam Raimi and his cast looked back to older comic book movies. They saw Terrence Stamp’s General Zod and Jack Nicholson’s Joker, and decided to just play it big. It seems the idea of being evil being more sub-due is lost upon people. Instead of the well-spoken, analytical and almost charming persona of a Hannibal Lecter they’d prefer to go for the maniacal, self-serving and ego-driven tirade of a Hitler almost. Note I am not calling our favorite villains Nazis. Doc Ock and Green Goblin are angels compared to them.

007sm3_tobey_maguire_024Another character of interest is Mary Jane. As I watch these films now I think we could also use Lois Lane from old Superman lore. Change the hair color, the attitude and occupation and the character is still the same. No in fact, there is no character. They just serve a function. This clichéd helpless dame, who requires rescuing from the hero so many times throughout a film that you could make into a drinking game, this ends up feeling so old, that it practically outdates the film trilogy itself. By the turn of the century we still have to narrow female characters down to this? On top of this is the on-going insanity of not knowing your secret admirer (who is far from subtle) and hero is the same person. This is what helped bring Man of Steel into today when WB argued that’s just always been the way it is – Lois Lane does not know who Superman is. Yet, Goyer argued how this was idiotic on her part as best the reporter as just a person in general. More and more, this ridiculous relationship pattern is being uprooted, like in The Flash or even the MCU where there almost are no secret identities. It makes for silly hijinks akin to a Benny Hill episode. On top of female character is the complete under utlization of Gwen Stacy who I must add is not loyal to the source material. Instead, she serves as not a character but a plot device to make Peter appear like a jerk and to also upset our third villain even more.

maxresdefault1On a technical level these films do show a good amount of age. “Let’s hear it for Macy Gray” – Spider-Man (2002). Wait, who? Exactly, some of you may recall her from that single of hers “I Try” released almost a whole three years before this film. These two notes aside, you may not know her or even know who she is. Sorry Macy, I do not mean to be rude. Furthermore in that scene are when Green Goblin on his glider first shows up and the hot air balloons. The CG on all of these is rough. Even in a CGI rich film world today you can tell yourself that you believe all of X is on-screen, but this part is a tough sell. Luckily, the CG would get better later on, so perhaps Spider-Man and not its sequels which do age well in this case. In other regards, the series has things going for it feeling outdated prior the year 2001. For example, Aunt May & Peter go to a bank where its vault is clear in public view with the huge big vault door and bags of gold in them. I can you tell this – no bank operates like this. In addition, they offer a free toaster upon opening an account. Banks don’t do this, for opening an account you usually get some form of perks and not material goods. Dialogue too throughout the series can be quite silly such as “It’s you who’s out Gobby—out of your mind!” Wow, what a terrible line and someone got paid to write that. It could work in a comic book, from the 60’s maybe. Doc Ock’s “butterfingers” when he drops Aunt May. Then you have the sexual innuendo like speak of Topher Grace’s Venom about “spider-sense is tingling” and “oh you’d like that wouldn’t you” in such a sleazy way when Parker tells him to take off the symbiote. One other note is the music. That is not to say the music is bad with the first two by Danny Elfman and the final by Christopher Young. Elfman gave us a theme for Spider-Man, but it’s hardly memorable. It is hardly if ever used or even remembered like a John Williams theme or Elfman’s Batman. One final note, which truly shows this film’s age is the use of the American flag so liberally throughout the series. This makes sense for Captain America or maybe Superman back in the Christopher Reeves days, prior to in the comics of him renouncing himself to being a citizen of the world. Spider-Man was never classified a truly American hero, but more of hero for New York City. The reasoning for this was the first film’s timing, as it was made during the events of 9/11. In fact, this even changed its marketing as a teaser and poster were pulled after that fateful since they both featured the Twin Towers. America was quiet grief-stricken, hence it made sense in the first film. Yet, it is so glaringly and was odd they kept this up all the way to 2007 when the mourning was more or less done.

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At the end of the day, I would argue Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is not our Spider-Man, in the sense of the comic books. His Spider-Man is that of the 60’s cartoon series. Which is… laughable. Which it is! There is one episode where Spider-man keeps throwing his voice and impersonating the villains (poorly) and they all fall for it and clobber one another – again, laughable but entertaining. These films are close to that with a tad bit of more seriousness to them. The films do capture the conflict of the double life superhero and having to make sacrifices. They provide great action and plenty of laughs as well. Sam Raimi did a wonderful job of constructing each movie as its own movie but part of a trilogy. You can watch each film back to back or pause between each one. Plus, it’s a nice break from the intertwining shared universes of today. The film starts and it ends, simple as that. I would not dare say to skip over these films, but looking back they do give off a silly vibe of 70’s Superman operating in a rather black and white world for the most part. Though the films do have a lot of editing issues as well like a car being thrown through a café window only for Doc Ock to climb in even though there was no sight of him a second before. This is not Christopher Nolan or Zack Snyder. These are popcorn flicks and still enjoyable, but feeling a bit dated and downright goofy as a cartoon.

 

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