In anticipation for Spider-Man Homecoming's release tomorrow, here's Shawn Eastridge's ranking of the Spider-Man films thus far.
5. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
What?? Worse than Spider-Man 3?! I’ll admit it was a tough call and I know this is going to cause some major grumblings, so let me explain:
Yes, I understand Spider-Man 3 is terrible. Yes, Peter Parker donning an emo haircut and dancing through the streets of NYC is a cinematic embarrassment of epic proportions. But the thing is, as bad as Spider-Man 3 is, I feel it was made with utmost sincerity to the best of Raimi’s abilities, considering the parameters forced upon him by the studio. Marc Webb’s second and final Spider-Man flick, on the other hand, seems exclusively designed to make money and plant the seed for Sony’s own Expanded Universe. There’s no creative spark to it. Even Spider-Man 3, as misguided as it was, had that.
From tone to plot to character arcs, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has no clue what it wants to be. It never settles down long enough to follow a single story thread to a satisfying conclusion. The tonal shifts are insane: one minute Electro is tearing up Times Square to a dubstep soundtrack, making ‘spine-chilling’ statements such as, “It’s my birthday. Time to light the candles!” The next minute, Peter is having an intimate, emotional conversation with Aunt May in which a weepy Andrew Garfield and Sally Field both seem to be gunning for Oscar attention. The filmmakers also throw in a famous death scene pulled straight from the comics in a last-ditch effort to earn some love from fans, but it’s too little too late and feels out of place in a movie that functions more as an homage to Batman Forever than anything else.
The ONE positive about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it effectively paved the way for Spidey to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe and finally get back in the hands of some story folk who know what to do with the character. I have absolutely zero interest in ever watching it again.
4. SPIDER-MAN 3
“... It's a movie that just didn't work very well. I tried to make it work, but I didn't really believe in all the characters, and so that can't be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man. If the director doesn't love something, it's wrong of them to make it when so many other people love it.” - Sam Raimi, The Nerdist Podcast
If Spider-Man 2 is the perfect example of how to make a sequel, Spider-Man 3 is the perfect example of how not to. It’s overstuffed with too many villains, too many plotlines, too many pointless characters and too many closeups of Tobey Maguire’s tearful expressions. You could call it too much of a good thing if there was anything all that good about it.
Behind the scenes, things were a mess. Raimi wanted to pull more villains from the Silver Age roster he grew up with (Vulture and Sandman, according to pre-production notes and artwork), but the producers - Avi Arad in particular - pressured him to bring fan-favorite Venom into the mix. Raimi had repeatedly expressed his disinterest in character, but eventually relented. The final result is the madness you see here.
There’s just too much going on to tell a satisfying story. An hour into its runtime, Spider-Man 3 is still introducing new plotlines and characters, and by that point we’re almost halfway through the damn thing. Raimi tries his utmost to balance the special effects mayhem with smaller, character-driven scenes, but they feel phony and underwritten. Not a single element is given room to breathe.
Tobey Maguire, once this series’ greatest asset, has become its greatest weakness. His constant blubbering and constipated expressions, his lame take on ‘evil’ Pete/Spidey with a lame, emo haircut, the OH MY GOD MAKE IT STOP dance scenes. (One was bad enough, did we REALLY need another?!) I recognize Maguire can only be as good as the material he’s saddled with, but good Lord.
Kirsten Dunst, on the other hand, finally gets a chance to strut her acting chops. Of course, Mary Jane’s character gets brushed aside in favor of all the billions of other things this movie focuses on, and it’s a real shame because this is arguably Dunst’s finest performance of her three Spidey pictures. The scene in which she confronts Peter over his kiss with Gwen Stacy is genuinely moving. Dunst’s chops shine through giving us one of the only genuine moments Spider-Man 3 has to offer.
The rest of the cast gets lost in the madness. As Eddie Brock/Venom, Topher Grace is horribly miscast; Thomas Haden Church looks confused and more than a little tired, and Franco, whose character should have been given his due this time around, just seems embarrassed to be involved at all.
Look, I get it. Spider-Man 3 is bad. It’s really bad. But what makes it hurt all the more is its apparent sincerity. Buried beneath the mess of an abundant ensemble, one senses Raimi really just wanted to hunker down and focus on the Peter/MJ/Harry triangle. In the midst of everything going on in the film, this triangle that carried us through films 1 and 2 is buried, undercooked and resolved with a sappy, unsatisfying climax. But then you have this somber, emotional epilogue with Peter and Mary Jane dancing in the club, uncertain of what their future might be. It’s a tender moment and it feels like there was something far more emotionally involving struggling to emerge from the muck. It’s a shame this is how the OG Spidey team had to go out.
3. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It ably functions as a slightly more grounded re-telling of the character’s origin story. But while it might not be bad, I defy anyone to give me a good reason why it has to exist. At all. Every time I even consider watching it, I just end up popping in Raimi’s origin flick instead.
Director Marc Webb, hot off the huge success of rom-com 500 Days of Summer, seemed like an inspired choice for the material. In that film, he demonstrated he had knack for memorable visuals in addition to understanding the unique turmoils that come with romantic angst. Those are the scenes he’s clearly most comfortable with in The Amazing Spider-Man. His action sequences are solid, if uninspired, and Spidey’s character is a bit more upbeat and quip-happy than in Raimi’s trilogy. But the whole thing carries an unavoidable aura of ‘been there, done that.’ And because of the need to re-tell Peter/Spidey’s origin story, Webb’s creative sensibilities never get the chance to flourish. (Though if ASM2 is any indication, that might not be a negative)
I have a great deal of sympathy for Andrew Garfield who was clearly passionate about the project and the character. He nails the Spider-Man half of the character with the witty banter that was sorely missing from the Maguire/Raimi entries. But, look, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I would prefer a decent Spider-Man and a great Peter Parker rather than vice versa. Peter is the heart and soul of the character and if you can’t get him working, you might as well throw in the towel. As portrayed by Garfield and as written, Peter is just a little too James Dean and not enough...well...Peter Parker. It’s no wonder Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy had a crush on him from the start. He's such a bad boy. And look at that hair!
The chemistry between the two leads is the movie’s primary saving grace. The rest is decent fun, but ultimately throwaway when held up to Raimi’s original.
Not since Richard Donner’s Superman had a comic book adaptation been so faithful to its source material. Where Bryan Singer’s brooding X-Men proved superheroes could be taken seriously again (and arguably saved the genre), Raimi’s Spider-Man fully embraced its comic book roots. It’s zany, it’s campy and it’s far more colorful, but it never loses sight of its characters and story, even when it gets bogged down by special effects and lackluster plotting.
While Raimi is fully deserving of all the praise thrown his way, he couldn’t have pulled it off without his leading man Tobey Maguire. In light of the direction the series ended up taking, it’s easy to mock the guy, but re-watching Spider-Man 1 makes it clear he was the right man for the job. Maguire’s performance as dweeby Peter Parker is endearing, heartfelt and genuinely moving. You can’t help but root for him. And then we’ve got Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, clearly having a ball. He even manages to work around his embarrassing Power Rangers costume to make the Goblin a formidable foe. (DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH HE SACRIFICED?! )
Even with its dated effects, its inherent goofiness (“Those horrible yellow eyes!”) and its underwhelming second half, Spider-Man stands tall as one of the 21st century’s most enjoyable action films and one of the finest examples of the superhero genre.
1. SPIDER-MAN 2
There’s a sense that Raimi, having proved his chops with Spider-Man 1, was giving much more creative leeway by the studio this time around and he takes full advantage. You’ve got Evil Dead-inspired madness with Doc Ock’s hospital breakout, you’ve got a musical montage set to ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head,’ you’ve even got another Bruce Campbell cameo! (His scenes are always a standout in these movies)
But, as in the first film, it all comes back to story and character and that’s where Spider-Man 2 really flourishes. Tobey Maguire takes the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character to new heights, delivering a moving and wonderful performance. We also get an incredible villain in Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. The all-out brawls between Doc Ock and Spidey still stand as some of the genre’s best.
It all adds up to a final product that works on every level. At the time of its release, Spider-Man 2 was dubbed by many the greatest superhero film of all time and it’s not hard to understand why. It improves on its predecessor in nearly every way. It’s funnier, more exciting and much more emotionally involving. Character struggles are deepened and the action scenes mesh more organically with the story. Even in the wake of Nolan's revolutionary Dark Knight Trilogy, Spider-Man 2 still stands strong as one of the all-time greats.