Superhero films have been a staple element in our movie-going lives since the early 2000s. I like some superhero movies, but feel all too often the care factor dissipates rapidly after the random guy (yes ‘guy’, name a good female superhero movie famous for more than her clingy outfit) is granted with his special powers. After this we have the inevitable ‘learning to harness one’s gifts’ sequence and the ‘insert nemesis’ quarter hour. All inevitably followed by the final showdown.
Blade 2 succeeded in part because the hero was cool and the enemies even cooler, but mainly because the action scenes were so damn Awesome. Iron Man succeeded because it would have been a good film even without the nemesis (which for the first two films were only guys in rip-off suits anyway).
Of course Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy works due to the fact that a grown man in a vinyl hood (with ears) owning various other bat themed items is almost secondary to the story. A good thing too, I mean can you imagine someone doing that? Would he really be labelled a hero?
Anyway back to my point. Too often lazy superhero movies get all hyped up identifying the ability and then follow it up with an hour of scenes that leave you flat. It’s no good having an amazing trick if you can’t do anything worthwhile with it. Sure Superman can fly, so can I when my wife accrues enough points buying superfluous handbags. Show me something with your power to wow me Supes…
Which brings me to Spider-Man. Perhaps the superhero best positioned to capture young minds. Peter Parker is a normal young goofy kid with no special… anything, who gains the ability to not only shoot amazingly strong webs from his wrists, but also to swing on said webs in cool looking ways. I mean anything else must be a bonus right?!?
Once this property was handed to up and coming (at the time) director Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame, the question was could Sam make the material work, and would he know what to do with a big budget and without Bruce Campbell to beat over the head.
We know Peter Parker is a nerd from the jump – after all he wears glasses! Peter has only one friend in Harry Osborne (James Franco), another social outcast. This despite Harry being handsome and the son of the immensely wealthy and successful scientist Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe). Yeah the fact that Harry is dropped off at school excursions in a hundred thousand dollar car must be a real turn off…
Anyway Peter and Harry are friends. Peter longs for the beautiful and popular next door neighbour Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) but y’know, the glasses.
Then in the space of a day or two it all changes forever.
Peter is bitten by a genetically modified super spider, coincidentally almost at the same time Norman Osborne offers himself as a guinea pig for a dangerous experiment, desperate to make a breakthrough that will supply more government funding.
Peter goes to bed sick, and wakes up super strong, springy, sticky and spidery.
Norman Osborne enters the test area grumpy, and emerges with the urge to dress in gargoyle garb, which is green and gobliny.
From this point on Peter and Norman cruise the city performing acts of good and evil respectively, all while running into each other or barely missing each other as the plot requires.
I am always amazed that no-one seems to twig as to the top secret identities of superheroes. Sure the random criminal or guy on the street wouldn’t know Peter Parker under a suit, but Norman Osborne meets his more than a few times, and for that matter Harry, Mary-Jane aka ‘MJ’ and Peter’s dear old Aunt May cross paths with not a skerrick of recognition, and Peter doesn’t even bother with the Batman growl.
Parker must traverse a tangled web of choices both civic minded and personal in nature, with his decisions having serious consequences for both the public and his friends. As with almost all superhero movies the plot asks us to believe that society turns against our hero for precious little reason, thus requiring he perform unbelievably brave acts to win us back.
The best aspect of Spider-Man is the sense of energy. The superhero realisation scene is always the best part of the film, and it is carried off well here. Willem Dafoe has a lot of fun as the Green Goblin, especially when he gets the chance to effectively ‘haunt himself’. Dunst plays the nice girl next door to the hilt, and JK Simmons chews scenery as the cartoonish editor of the local newspaper for whom Peter Parker eventually works for.
Perhaps the least effective of the leads is Tobey Maguire, but that is more evident in the sequels so I’ll deal with that then. James Franco fares only marginally better, at least he seems to have improved since…
The film has a surprisingly high body count when you think abut it, but remains firmly in PG territory in all other aspects this side of Dunst’s wet tshirt, which I have no doubt would have launched many a teen’s early nights. The action scenes are effective and frequent, with CGI that holds up reasonably well despite the decade that has elapsed since this was released.
But my favourite part of Spider-Man was the final two minutes after the dust settled, I won’t spoil it here but it was a ballsy choice that set the tone for a potentially compelling sequel.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Back in the days when superhero movies only needed to be fun and not dark nor deep, Spider-Man was one of the best. Until that is the sequel emerged.
Speaking of which…
Spider-Man ended promisingly, so it is gratifying when part 2 starts very strongly. In the intro credits in fact, which feature an effective pastiche of moments from the first film in comic book panel style. It is a lean and mean refresher (or catch up for newcomers) that makes full use of the first few minutes. And above all it looks cool.
Peter Parker hasn’t let spider-fame go to his head. He now works minimum wage as a pizza delivery boy and as a result is near broke, burning the web at both ends as he tries to be a full time student, full time employee and full time red and blue suited and booted webslinger, all on a 24/7 basis. Unfortunately for Peter he seems to coincidently witness more criminal acts in his daily wandering than any one person in history. It seems he can’t walk a block without seeing someone committing a heinous crime that requires intervention. That’s a lot of pressure for one small guy, but as we are told once a sequel “with great power comes great responsibility“.
Further furrowing the brow is the fact that beloved Aunt May is set to lose her house thanks to a never before mentioned debt.
Elsewhere MJ is now a successful actress stepping the Broadway boards and wondering why Peter won’t return her calls. And meanwhile at Oscorp Harry has stepped up to take the throne. Inheriting also the pathological hatred of spiders and those that wear their suits.
Harry is also funding Dr Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist who seems on the verge of cheap renewable energy. Harry arranges a meeting of the minds between the Doc and Peter and the two hit it off instantly. Not for long though. One cracked atom – or something equally scientific sounding – later and Octavius becomes the victim of yet another botched experiment, emerging drunk with power and extraneous mechanical robotic arms.
Perhaps a little pissed to be resigned to a supporting role in the original, Aunt May steps to the plate here and gets to deliver one of the cheesiest ‘heroes simply must’ speeches in recent memory.
Spidey 2 boasts better action and the same confusing emotional choices that must keep Peter up at night. That and delivering pizzas to stoners and night owls. It seems that all the primary characters have an emotional arc that varies as much as the guys on The Walking Dead. The sequel also guns for more laughs and about breaks even with the chuckle/cringe ratio. As you might expect this is neither a win nor a loss.
The fact is that this film has aspects that clearly surpass the original, however it also has a few moments that clearly overreach to the point that they become noticeable for all the wrong reasons. Take the clumsy reenactment of the upside down kiss – or for those that like a little logic amid their escapism – consider just where Peter’s ‘train to nowhere’ was destined to end if he wasn’t capable of ending its wild ride…
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Spider-Man 2 was for a time considered the pinnacle of the genre. While it is probably a better film than the original, it definitely still has some frustrating moments that render the above statement false.
But it is clearly better than…
The film opens with Spider-Man enjoying a long overdue period of positive PR, to the point where the ‘new hero smell’ is wearing off. It’s fair to say that after a few years of regular saviour work New York City has adopted a “whatever yo” attitude to their local webslinger.
In a sure sign of desperation this time around Sam Raimi throws no less than three bad guys at Spider-Man. Harry Osborne is back having taken on the family goblin suit and love of evil-doing. Flint Marco, an ex-con with a heart of gold and a consistency of sand after falling into some sort of… sand based experiment, and some new photographer guy who falls victim to some black alien goo.
Spider-Man 3 the movie and Spider-Man the character both fall victim to the same irrational thoughts. Both get ahead of themselves and clearly believe that they are better than they are. In both cases this unjustifiable cocksure attitude threatens their existence.
The fact that we had a reboot instead of Spider-Man 4 should indicate just who won that particular battle.
Everything here is turned up to 11, except the small matters of entertainment value, believability and credibility. Instead of those we get cheesiness, coincidence, cloying emotional blackmail and character arcs that seem as sensible and rational as Gary Busey.
It doesn’t help that even when Peter decides to scrap his nice guy image and try dangerous on for size that he comes across as 100%
Bieber douche. But even without his god awful ‘puttin on the Ritz’ moment Spidey 3 has more too many flaws to write off with a simple all encompassing ‘it’s just a movie’ alibi.
So pinpointing the liquid alien emotional supercharger as the moment Spider-man jumped the shark seems a little rich.
Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. Spidey 3 is as long and clumsy as a bad NBA player, with some of the most miscalculated moments of attempted ‘cool’ on record. I sometimes awake in a cold sweat and blurt out “no Peter! Don’t dance!”
Trilogy Rating – 7 / 10. Spider-Man is worth watching if only for the first movie, the prototypical superhero movie before Christopher Nolan rewrote the book.
For mine Spider-Man 2 took as much off the table as it added to it, and the less said about Spider-Man 3 ‘The Douchening’ the better as far as I am concerned…
We wonder openly why some crap films cop the reboot and remake treatment. Spider-Man however is a character worthy of multiple onscreen versions. The new Andrew Garfield / Emma Stone version has potential, time will tell if it has ‘legs’.
But speaking as a once-eight-year-old-boy; take a meek unassuming kid who learns to swing from tall buildings and to tie guys up with web in between taking on bad guys who are bigger, stronger and well equipped, before beating them?
Can’t be too many films about that.