Spider-Man is everywhere these days when it comes to movies, comics, video games, and cartoons. The scarlet webhead is Marvel Comics’ most iconic character. Marvel has made a name for itself over the last decade, but it wasn’t always like this. Back in the 1990s, Marvel as a company was bankrupt and famously had to sell the film rights to their characters to multiple studios. Spider-Man got sold to Sony.
Before Blade and X-Men, Marvel pretty much had no presence in movies. It was all Superman and Batman at the time, but Blade and X-Men showed that films based on Marvel characters are possible. Despite the success of those two films, at the time they could never reach the highs of a film starring Batman or Superman. Then 2002 happened…
I was born in October 1994 so I never got to experience Richard Donner’s Superman or Tim Burton’s Batman in all their full glory. Those films are awesome to this day, but I was too young to be part of those films’ hype cycles. When the previousgeneration excitedly talks about 1989 being the summer of Batman or the glory of seeing Christopher Reeves’ Superman, I get that same feeling when talking about this film.
At 7 years old in the spring of 2002, I still remember the presence Spider-Man had in our culture. I watched the constant reruns of old Spider-Man cartoons and couldn’t believe a big budget live-action Spider-Man film was going to happen. The merchandise was everywhere and I still have the tie-in video game for the Nintendo Gamecube. This was the first time I ever saw a comic book movie of this scale on the big screen. I remember the theater being packed with practically every screen playing the movie. I remember the initial 8 PM showing my family wanted to go to was sold out, so we waited until the 10 PM showtime in a long line.
I sat in the theater and honestly thought it was the best thing ever. It was the perfect introduction to the character for a whole new generation because it touched upon everything that’s important to him. It was truly mindblowing seeing Spider-Man web sling through a real city like New York City. It felt like he was actually doing that in real life. It’s amazing how special effects had finally caught up to accurately portray that fluid movement of Spider-Man that I thought was only possible in a cartoon or comic book.
Rewatching the film recently it’s mindblowing how much ground Sam Raimi covers in this movie. Peter Parker is a nerd, Mary Jane is the girl he’s in love with, Harry Osborn is his best friend, Peter gets bit by a radioactive spider, Peter becomes a wrestler, Uncle Ben’s murder happens, Peter finds out that the guy he let go was responsible for Ben’s murder, Peter becomes Spider-Man, and Norman Osborn’s transformation into Spider-Man’s arch nemesis Green Goblin are all covered.
All of the things that people know Spider-Man for are in this movie. If someone wanted to get into Spider-Man more, I’d tell them to watch this film because it presents everything you need to know about the character. Sam Raimi, known for directing horror films like the Evil Dead, directed all three films in this trilogy. Raimi bought his campy horror aesthetic into these films that surprisingly fit well within these movies. It’s one of the earliest examples of a filmmaker with a horror background successfully bringing their talents to comic book movies.
Raimi proved to be a fan of the character because he knew that Spidey lives by the quote that Uncle Ben gave him a couple of hours before he died: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s then and there that the tone of all three movies is set. As long as Peter has these powers he will always possess a massive amount of responsibility to protect the city he lives in from villains like Green Goblin. Outside of Spider-Man, Peter deals with everyday issues like to trying to make ends meet, making it to Thanksgiving dinner, going to school, working for the Daily Bugle, etc. When Mary Jane finally confesses her love to Peter at the end, he knows that a life with her would endanger her and chooses to walk away from her despite being his childhood crush. It’s those type of moments that define Spider-Man. He would selflessly alienate some people in his life in order for them to be safe.
Tobey Maguire is still my favorite actor to play Spider-Man. He plays an awkward old fashioned nerd who has a good heart. Maguire’s quirky charm is definitely not for everybody, but he fit in well with what Raimi was doing. He definitely feels like an average guy trying to get through life. You could feel the tragedy and the weight of the world with his performance.
Willem Dafoe is a great Green Goblin. He definitely embraced the role and is one of the highlights of the whole trilogy. His laugh was great and the way he was able to turn on his Goblin alter ego was impressive. The metallic Green Goblin costume definitely resembles a Power Rangers villain, but at the time it was fine.
People seem to not like Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane nowadays, but I honestly think she did a good job of portraying the All-American girl next door with her charm. James Franco is a good Harry Osborn, a boy who clearly has issues with his father. Rosemary Harris as Aunt Mary and Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben were great and believable as Peter’s parent figures. Tobey has great chemistry with all these actors. J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson is spot on and it’s no surprise that no future Spider-Man reboot has attempted the character again because of how good he was.
Danny Elfman’s score for this film is great. The main theme is awesome and I love the way it swells during the film’s dramatic moments. Raimi deciding to go with organic webbing coming from Peter’s body is a bit controversial, but it goes with the light horror aesthetic of Peter’s body transformation.
This Spider-Man suit in this film is still my favorite. It looks like a suit that a real-life Spider-Man would wear and Tobey fills out the suit really well. The silver webbing and the reflective eyes give it a look that pops out in action. It’s also nice that the suit is actually there on camera unlike the heavy use of CGI for more recent suits.
Spider-Man 2 pretty much improves and expands upon everything the first one did. The heavy stress of being Spider-Man and the way it negatively affects all aspects of life make Peter reach a breaking point. He loses his powers and uses it as an opportunity to live a normal life free of Spider-Man. In that time Dr. Otto Octavius becomes the villainous Dr. Octopus and terrorizes the city.
This film’s adaption of the famous comic storyline ‘Spider-Man No More!’ is masterful. What if Peter just quits being the hero he became? That’s what this film explores and it is honestly one of the best character studies ever in a comic book film. For a while, Peter is happier living a regular life free of that burden, but he slowly sees why Spider-Man is necessary. There’s more crime in the city, people are losing hope, and that quote from Uncle Ben will forever stick with him.
There are so many great emotional moments. The scene with Peter talking to Uncle Ben giving up, to not being able to make MJ’s play, the one on one moments with Aunt May, to him not being able to save one more person in that fire will all make the viewer feel something. Everyone involved with this film did a commendable job of beating Peter down to make us feel sympathy for the man behind the mask. Peter suffers so much in this movie, so when the character finally gets his moment, it’s purely triumphant.
When people talk about this film, one of the biggest takeaways is the amazing train sequence, Everything from the intense white-knuckled fight with Dr. Octopus on a high-speed train to Spider-Man using everything in him to stop it make it one of the most thrilling action scenes ever put together in any film. When the citizens on the train carried him to safety without his mask on, it honestly almost brings a tear to my eye. One of them says he’s just a kid no older than his son. It’s at that moment where Peter could see how important Spider-Man is to the people.
Alfred Molina is fantastic as Dr. Octopus and plays him very convincingly. Seeing him slowly go from respected scientist to a legit psychopath makes him the best villain of this trilogy. James Franco is even better in this film because of his personal vendetta against Spider-Man, while Peter has to stand by listening to it.
Kirsten Dunst is also good in this film as well. Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship is the heart of this trilogy and in this film, you see them struggle with complications. MJ is about to marry a man who has everything going for him, while Peter is struggling. Seeing Mary Jane leave the altar to run to Peter is such a sweet moment because after learning about Peter, she wants to accept him for everything he is and be part of his life despite the risk.
I struggle to choose between Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. I’ll always adore the charm of the first one, but I acknowledge that Spider-Man 2 is a masterpiece in the comic book film genre.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Oof! A lot has been said about this film, but I still think there are good elements in there that make it an enjoyable watch. This is a prime example of a film that bit off much more than it could chew. There are enough plot lines for three films, so it never really commits to anything. Sony and producer Avi Arad pushed Sam Raimi to include Venom when he didn’t want to, which resulted in this film.
I remember watching this for the first time thinking there was something wrong but not being able to articulate what exactly the problem was. It was slow, dark, and somber during parts and weird in others. The Black Suit and Venom were a big selling point, but those elements were underwhelming in their execution. Topher Grace known for being Eric Forman in That 70’s Show was miscast as Venom.
One of the things I do love about this film is the credit sequence showing clips from the first two movies mixed in with the sand and symbiote. The complex relationship between Peter and Harry was interesting, and it’s awesome when they team up at the end. Thomas Haden Church was definitely good as Sandman and deserved a film of his own to shine. The special effects are incredible in this film. The birth of Sandman scene is really cool. The symbiote CGI is great as well because it felt like I was watching an alien-like ooze come to life. It’s interesting seeing Peter delving into his darker side which offers up some interesting storytelling opportunities.
Ultimately Spider-Man 3 is definitely a disappointment when compared to the first two, but there are some interesting things going on that makes it a must watch for Spider-Man fans. It offered some emotional closure regarding Peter and Harry’s relationship and Uncle Ben’s murder but it’s unfortunate that Sony rebooted after this leaving some loose ends.
The impact of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is undeniable but can be easily forgotten about. It was the first film starring a Marvel character that made an impact similar to Batman and Superman.
I have no qualms against the other actors who have played Spider-Man after Tobey, as I think they have all done a good job. There’s a feeling of innocence to these Raimi films that a lot of comic book films of this era had. There was no interconnected universe or set up for spin-offs. It was just a story about a guy in New York City who became a superhero.
In my opinion, these films still hold up against the comic book films of today. These were films that embraced their comic book source material while also taking it very seriously. Spider-Man in these films was as bright and colorful as he appeared in his comic books which at the time was mindblowing. While it’s expected for comic book characters to look good in live action now, there was a time where technology wasn’t where it is to accurately bring these characters to life.
Superman’s effect in 1978 look dated and Batman is a bit stiff, however, Spider-Man moved like he was supposed to because of the cutting edge technology at the time that allowed him to. But despite the amazing special effects of the time, the most important thing these films did was make the audience care about the man behind the mask, which made those visually stunning scenes so much more fulfilling. These films showed how to get modern comic book characters right and later films would follow its example.
I’ll always love these films and what they brought to the table right before the superhero golden age we are living in today. Their influence has been felt and will hopefully never be forgotten.