Tom Gooderson A’Court discusses Spider-Man, from the first released in 2002, building up to The Amazing Spiderman, released in 2012.
Everyone has their James Bond or their Dr. Who but for my generation, we have our Spider-Man. Actor Tobey Maguire starred in three Spider-Man movies in the last decade, all directed by Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame. Between them they amassed almost $2.5 billion and are all amongst the highest grossing films in history.
2002s Spider Man is the origin story, a story that most people will be at least partly aware of. Geeky high school kid Peter Parker is on a field trip when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider. Later that day he feels ill but wakes up the next day feeling better than ever. His sight and reflexes have improved and he is stronger too. He soon discovers that he is able to shoot a web like substance from his wrists and it isn’t long before he is using his new found powers to make money in an amateur wrestling match. Tragedy strikes though when Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben is killed and this event convinces Peter to adopt the moniker of Spider-Man and use his powers to fight crime. This turns out to be just in time as the city soon comes under attack from The Green Goblin, a crazed scientist who is seeking revenge.
I hadn’t seen Spider-Man since its release in 2002 and remembered it fondly. My reaction when watching it again ten years later though was very different. I thought that the tone was all wrong and reminded me of a cross between the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon and Power Rangers. There wasn’t enough humour or action and the plot was predictable. I was actually shocked by how much I disliked the film. The CGI is a bit of a mixed bag with some shots looking alright while others make the film look like a video game. Tobey Maguire makes a good Spider-Man though. He is able to pull of both the geeky school kid role as well as that of the super hero. He is supported by Kirsten Dunst and James Franco playing love interest Mary Jane and best friend Harry Osborn respectively. The two actors have gone on to do much better work since but are solid here. For me the highlight of the film is Peter’s infatuation with Mary Jane and how the two of them can never quite get on the same wave length at the same time. Overall though I was bitterly disappointed by what my memory had told me was a decent film.
With much trepidation I put in the DVD for Spider-Man 2 and thank goodness, it was excellent. We join the characters two years on from the events of Spider Man. Peter is struggling to deal with his dual responsibilities of the crime fighting Spider-Man and the college student Peter Parker and he and Mary Jane have drifted apart. Peter’s relationship with his best friend Harry is also tense after Spider-Man’s involvement with Harry’s father’s death in Spider-Man. There is a new villain on the scene – another crazed scientist. This time it’s Doctor Octopus, formally Dr. Octavius who becomes surgically attached to four tentacle like instruments after a disastrous experiment. He is willing to destroy the city in order to complete his experiments and there is only one man who can stop him – Spider-Man.
I thought that the tone of this film was much better than the first; it was funnier, darker and had much more action. The highlight is a terrific over ground subway fight between our hero and villain. It still looks fresh today. The CGI overall is improved but there’s still the odd dodgy shot. Spider-Man’s web slinging is made more visually exciting by the introduction of a Spidey-cam which follows Spider-Man as he swings between buildings, showing us a multitude of different angles. The system gives a great sense of space and movement. The cast all look more comfortable in their roles too. Tobey Maguire is still great but Dunst and Franco give much more rounded performances. Alfred Molina makes a tremendous villain and is another of the film’s highlights. The weakest part of the film is the constant plot explanation. This is something which is indicative of all three films but is at its worst in this instalment. Absolutely everything is explained either by extras off screen “The train is going to fast”, or by the main cast who sometimes appear to be voicing their internal monologue. Because of this the script sometimes feels clunky but overall the film is a marked improvement on Spider-Man and my favourite of the series.
Three years later came Spider-Man 3. While it’s generally considered to be the weakest of the trilogy, I have a bit of a soft spot for it. We find Peter Parker finally enjoying life. He is top of his class, is closer than ever to Mary Jane and still finds time to fight crime as his alter ego Spider-Man. If anything though he has become a bit too arrogant and this nearly becomes his undoing when he is infected with an extra terrestrial parasite which amplifies the characteristics of its host. Parker becomes much more aggressive and has less time for the likes of MJ or his Aunt May. Spider-Man also takes on a darker side, being rougher with criminals and adopting a new black suit. He has some new enemies to fend off in the form of an escaped criminal turned Sandman, his old friend Harry and most dangerous of all Venom, a fellow photographer turned villain who becomes infected with the same parasite that’s infecting Peter.
For me this is the film with the best story. It focuses on Peter’s psychological state and how the parasite affects who and what he is. All of the aspects of his personality are heightened and we get to see what lies deep inside our hero. Peter’s relationship with MJ also becomes strained and their entire relationship is delved into to much greater extent than in the previous films. Because the film focuses more on the villain inside Spider-Man, the actual bad guys have smaller roles than in the previous films and their back stories are a little bit thin. Sandman’s CGI is also quite poor in places but overall it is quite good. The design of Spider-Man’s black suit is much cooler than his regular one and Venom also looks really cool. The film isn’t all great though. Sometimes it feels like there is too much going on and the frequent shots of crowds looking up, saying “oooh, ahhh” are a bit clichéd. The low point of the entire trilogy comes towards the end of the film when Spider-Man briefly halts before entering the final fight to pose in front of a giant CGI American flag. I can still remember the groan in the cinema from five years ago. The film and trilogy don’t really end in a totally satisfying way but that may be explained by the fact that a forth film was in pre-production but never actually got made.
Taken as a whole the trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some great characters and action scenes in the three films but plenty of dodgy CGI and clunky dialogue. Having spoken to a couple of parents I can attest that the films have found their audience with young children, one parent telling me that her son watches them every week. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I wasn’t blown away by the films. Modern super hero films feel very much like they’re made for adults as well as children, from Christopher Nolan’s dark Batman trilogy to the funny and edgy Avengers. These films can be enjoyed by people of all ages but I think the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films are very much for children. Before watching the films again I thought it was mad that the series was being rebooted only five years after the last film but having now watched them again I think the time is right to make a new style of Spider-Man film, one that is more in keeping with what we have become accustomed to in recent years. From what I’ve seen of The Amazing Spider-Man, released this summer, it looks funny and action packed with a great character story at its centre. Add this to the success of the Sam Raimi trilogy and the worldwide love of Spider-Man and it looks like the film is going to be a big hit.
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