The following was commissioned by Flickering Myth
Henry Bevan binge-watches the Spider-Man movie series…
Inspired by our viewing of Spider-Man: Homecoming, a film this website called “the best Spider-Man movie to date” and “another hit for the carefully crafted MCU“, a mate and I decided we should binge watch the previous five movies. While I’m personally conflicted about my favourite superhero’s latest outing (more on that later), it has made me excited about this trip down film history.
So, be prepared for some tired and probably drunken thoughts on the old wall-crawler. As Hemmingway always said, people should write when they’re drunk; let’s see if he was onto something.
For a film often described as kickstarting the modern superhero trend, it’s amazing how it bears little resemblance to today’s output. There is no snarky self-reflectiveness or even an attempt at grounding Spider-Man’s heroics. Sam Raimi masterfully blends fantasy and reality, creating a sincere film whose main character accepts his new found powers with a goofy grin.
On the surface, Spider-Man is simple. There is no complex plotting or the hero (and by extension the audience) doesn’t need to uncover some nefarious plot. It’s just two guys fighting over the responsibility their powers grant them. But, using great cause-and-effect storytelling, Raimi gives us a thematically rich story touching on love, life and heroism. It’s a detailed portrait of New York, and its supporting characters have lives outside of Spider-Man; he’s just the dude interrupting their lives. The film is decidedly human and Raimi serves the spectacle with a slice of real emotion.
How do you follow a bonafide hit like Spider-Man? Well, if you’re Sam Raimi, you don’t go darker, you just perfect what came before. Spider-Man 2 perfects the formula created for the first film as our down-on-his-luck protagonist, Peter Parker (a great Tobey Maguire) struggles to balance his life as a hero and a normal guy. It also carries over the thematic intelligence of the first film as Peter deals with his lingering guilt about Uncle Ben’s death. Rosemary Harris is particularly devastating when Peter confesses and Bob Murawski edits the scene for a full emotional wallop.
On top of this, the action is superb and the train sequence has never been surpassed in any other superhero film. Alfred Molina brings gravitas to Doc Ock, who is a more sombre villain than the Green Goblin. Through Doc Ock, Raimi suggests that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Intelligence is a gift and it should be used responsibly.
Doc Ock may be a thorn in Peter’s side but he also helps him focus on what he wants: Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Here, their relationship is sweet and sincere as both of them have feelings for each other but cannot bring themselves to admit it. This leads to one of the best superhero endings ever as MJ tells Peter it’s time for someone to save him. Their decision is monumental and that final shot of Mary Jane questioning her decision and her insecure future is one of the best endings for any superhero film. God, I love this movie.
We’re roughly five hours in and we’ve reached the bit I’ve dreaded. Spider-Man 3. From the start, it feels off. Raimi is clearly unhappy and it’s obvious his heart isn’t in it. The main problem with Spider-Man 3 isn’t that there are too many villains (although that is one of the problems) or the emo dancing (although, again, problematic) – it’s that no cares. Tobey Maguire is visibly bored, James Franco obviously feels shortchanged, and the script, which Raimi co-wrote, is half-baked. The filmmakers had clearly made the film they all wanted to make with Spider-Man 2, so didn’t really know what they wanted from number three.
Which is a shame because there is some great material here. Peter’s arc is the most interesting here as he turns from an egotist into a self-sacrificing hero. It’s not something we’d seen from Peter up to and after this point. The film just needed a bit more focus, a bit more passion.
However, for all its faults, it still whacks an emotional wallop. Now, this maybe because I’m very tired but the moment Peter reaches out to Mary Jane when he is on the brink of death grounds the fantasy in something entirely relatable: love. As Peter said right at the start of his journey, this is a story about a girl. Even when this bloated sequel ends, their relationship will make you cry.
SEE ALSO: Ranking the Spider-Man Movie Villains
Click below for the reboots…
The Amazing Spider-Man
When I pitched this article to my editor, he quickly wrote back: “Bet it gets tough around The Amazing Spider-Man“. Now, I am a defender of this film and its tight story acts like a nice sorbet cleaning my palette after Spider-Man 3‘s bloat.
Admittedly, it is generic. Martin Sheen is great, and he makes up for the decision to kill him off, again. Retelling the origin feels necessary considering Andrew Garfield’s Peter is hung up on dead dads. The whole storyline about his missing parents is boring. In fact, the whole plot is boring. Luckily, Marc Webb knows this, and he smartly foregrounds the smaller character scenes. Emma Stone and Garfield have amazing chemistry and are both great in their respective roles. It may not be anything special, but The Amazing Spider-Man does lay some good foundations for an interesting take on the web-slinger.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
It might be because I’m tired, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t as bad as I remember. In fact, as my former housemate reminded me on Twitter, I was a big fan when it was released in 2014. A couple of rewatches highlighted the flaws and I put it on the shelf marked “Never watch again”. Yet, viewing it now, I can see why I initially liked it. I am a sucker for performance and chemistry, and the all-star ensemble brings it. The scenes of Stone and Garfield talking are gripping in a nice rom-com way and Sally Field delivers a devastating monologue even if she hated these movies.
So it’s a shame the film keeps jeopardising itself by cutting from a sweet character moment to Spider-Man dressed as a firefighter or whatever Marton Csokas is doing. The film is constantly being pulled by its superhero spectacle responsibilities from the thing it wants to be, which is a moving relationship drama. Even though this is the film that finally aces Spider-Man’s swinging, that spectacle is pretty boring, and it gets worse with every bit of information doled out about Peter’s parents. The changes that storyline makes to Spider-Man’s mythology take away what makes the character special and show this angle was ill-advised.
In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man series has a lot of nice moments and its characters have their own individual aims. I like the fact Aunt May has a subplot about her training to be a nurse. And, I think we should always praise Garfield’s Spider-Man. The scene where he tries talking Electro down shows he was a Spider-Man with humanity who’d save anyone.
Well, that’s the end of the binge, but I promised some stuff on Homecoming so here it is:
I’m not going to lie, I have conflicted emotions concerning Spider-Man: Homecoming. The movie is really enjoyable, but it feels like two films bashed together: an excellent teen movie and a perfunctory superhero one. The film didn’t feel brave enough to blend the genres together (when it does, its one of the best superhero films) and as a result, it underuses its incredible cast. Just because your movie stars teenagers doesn’t make it a teen movie. Homecoming is a superhero movie with a teenager when it should be a teen movie with a superhero.
What are your thoughts on the Spider-Man series and Spider-Man: Homecoming? Let us know in the comments below…