Before Iron Man and Captain America began setting box-office records, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films set new highs for the superhero genre. Typically, the first two are lauded and the third decried, but I find all three enormously entertaining and pitch-perfect in spirit and tone for their source material.
The first Spider-Man is among the best and most faithful comic book adaptations around, nailing who Peter Parker is and how he becomes everyone’s favorite webslinger. The casting is exceptional; while not everyone’s a Toby Maguire fan, he captures Peter’s innate lovable geekiness to a tee and effortlessly shows a much wider range of emotion than Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot. While the first movie skips Gwen Stacy in favor of Pete’s inevitable love Mary Jane Watson, Kirsten Dunst is a beautiful girl-next-door love interest who shares that iconic upside-down kiss with Spidey. Their romance is sweet and heart-felt, pure and innocent, though not immune to the typical bumps along the road of love. On top of them, there’s Cliff Robertson as wise Uncle Ben, Rosemary Harris as equally wise Aunt May, and J. K. Simmons as antagonistic J. Jonah Jameson, all superbly owning their roles, especially Simmons who couldn’t be replaced for the reboot. While the Green Goblin’s mask is rather hokey, Willem Dafoe is an effectively creepy villain with his intentionally devilish voice. So many scenes are simply untouchable that the reboot was forced to avoid some of the best and most essential aspects of the story, such as the whole “With great power…” conversation, and changed much of what it could for the worse. Not to say The Amazing Spider-Man is a bad film, but it simply cannot compare with the original, particularly Toby Maguire as my ideal Peter Parker.
As good as the first is, though, the second surpassed it to become one of the best superhero films ever. With all returning actors, including James Franco as Harry Osborn, the relationships are deepened, secrets revealed, and cliffhangers formed; in short, it does everything a successful sequel ought to do. It also introduced Alfred Molina as another favorite villain Doctor Octopus, turning the consistently villainous comic book character into a tragic role both dangerous and sympathetic. The train battle is one of the most exciting and awesome superhero fights I’ve seen, and Peter’s temporary departure from being Spider-Man further develops his struggle with his hero identity. One thing I’ve noticed about these films is that there are different perspectives from the people he defends. Superman is universally lauded by everyone, while the X-Men are mostly feared and hated for their mutations. Even with the Avengers, most opinions are debated among high-profile leaders, except for a few brief scenes. Spider-Man is applauded by most of the everyday New Yorkers, but certain non-fans (police and mainly Jameson) inexplicably see him as a menace and have the power to sway others’ views against him. It’s a balanced approach that makes hero work into a tricky public image nightmare, though even Jameson misses Spidey when he disappears.
The third film has its detractors, who often dislike it for its over-packed plot and those scenes with the “dark” Peter dancing stupidly. Yet, in many ways, it delivers a purely enjoyable comic book mish-mash of villains and subplots. The action scenes are amazing, from Peter’s mid-air battle with Harry to his face-off with Sandman among subway trains to the big climax which is as close to an epic villain team-up as we may get outside of the comics. As stuffed as the plot is with concurrent storylines and coincidences, nothing is overly random and the various subplots do tie together smoothly; Flint Marko’s reappearance and the vindictive wiles of Harry Osborn spark Peter’s desire for revenge, which is aggravated by the symbiote-soon-to-be-known-as-Venom. I can even defend the silly dance scenes since the symbiote increases Peter’s aggression and confidence but doesn’t necessarily diminish his inherent geekiness; such is the result. I do wish that the Venom symbiote had had a better introduction than a convenient meteorite landing near Peter and MJ, and that the film had ended on a happier note, considering it would be the last of the original series. It would have been nice for Raimi and company to collaborate on one more film, though it was not to be. They seemed to be setting up the Lizard storyline that was ultimately used in the reboot; notice that Peter’s college professor Curt Connors only had one arm, and in one scene in the third film, there were lizards he was studying in the background. Oh, well.
While the animated TV shows (especially The Spectacular Spider-Man) often do the characters justice and the reboot has at least expanded on Gwen Stacy, all three Raimi films are such excellent comic book adaptations that no other Spider-Man movie could add anything to their chosen storylines but additional special effects and more villains (I’m sure they’ll get to the rest of the rogues gallery, like Vulture, Kraven, Black Cat, Scorpion, and maybe Hydro-man or Carnage one of these days). Tobey Maguire will always be Peter Parker for me, and these films will remain comic book classics.
Best line from Spider-Man: (Peter, at the end) “Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spider-Man.”
Best line from Spider-Man 2: (a witness, after pizza-delivery boy Peter changes into Spider-Man) “He just stole that guy’s pizza!”
Best line from Spider-Man 3: (Peter, at the end) “Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what’s right.”Rank: 58 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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