Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, so even if there have been better Batman movies, I’d still say I connect with Spider-Man more. The thing I love about Spider-Man is that he’s so utterly human. He’s not an American boyscout like Captain America nor is he a goody two shoe as say, Superman. His irresponsibility comes at the cost of his uncle, and it’s just a perfect set-up for a heroic origin story. So when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man came out when I was like eight, I devoured it. Probably seen this movie more times than any other superhero movie (movie?) in my life. Did I really have to watch it again to review it properly? No. But I did anyway.
I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a guilty pleasure, though, because I think there are real objective reasons to like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. While X-Men started popularizing the superhero genre by taking a tone more akin to Batman Begins and setting superpowers in a more realistic environment, Spider-Man popularized the upbeat comic book styling of movies like The Avengers. The superhero and supervillain bicker mid-fight, always prepped with their favorite one-liners. Comic-relief characters like J. Jonah Jameson are caricaturized, barking orders around like a madman. And lastly, you have the all-too-necessary damsel in distress who is portrayed as beautiful, played by Kirsten Dunst.
Are some of these characters miscast? Yes. In particular, I think Dunst is not very engaging, often displaying more chemistry with Spider-Man than with Peter Parker. But I think almost every other actor/actress played perfectly to what the script wanted them to do. Tobey Maguire as Peter might be the embodiment of normality with his average height of 5’9″, non-bulky body type, and fairly indistinguishable facial features. Willem Dafoe is a creepy looking actor who is the proper age to be Harry Osborn’s dad while still being in shape to be as intense and menacing as the action scenes required of him. J.K. Simmons is a balding, mustache bearing fast talker who pulled off an New York accent incredibly well to perfectly play Peter’s boss at the Daily Bugle.
While people may not like the tropes these characters represent, with Peter playing the familiar nerd-loser combo and Flash being a very one-dimensional bully, I actually think these archetypes heightens the comic-book experience of Spider-Man, as these characters are instantly recognizable and almost more intimate in spite of their limited screen-time. Where the movie really stands out for me is its meticulous attention to story structure and the relationship between its characters.
In my mind, Raimi’s Spider-Man is about two things: the differences and similarities between hero and villain, and the search of approval from a father-figure. While the differences between Spider-Man and Green Goblin are probably intuitively clear to us, it’s interesting how Raimi parallels the events of both their origin story in order to emphasize their similarities. As Peter falls asleep after his encounter with a genetically enhanced “super spider,” Norman Osborn inhales his own human performance enhancers, receiving their powers at the same time. Both are faced with tragedies to deal with, Peter feeling guilty over the death of uncle Ben and Norman on the verge of losing his company on multiple occasions. This is made explicit in a conversation between Spider-Man and Green Goblin. Goblin says, “You’re an amazing creature, Spider-Man. You and I are not so different.”
And he’s right. They both hold secret identities, even from those they love. They both have incredible superpowers. They both face tragedies. I’d be willing to go as far as to say they’re both good people, except that Peter listens to the last words of uncle Ben whereas Norman listens to his accentuated inner demons.
With great power, comes great responsibility.
In this sense, this story is as much of Norman’s story as it is Peter’s, and while this hinders the development of Peter Parker as an interesting character, Raimi’s Spider-Man does do justice to one of Spider-Man’s biggest arch-nemesis. And more importantly, I think it has defined Spider-Man not only for this franchise, but perhaps indefinitely.
The story also parallels best friends Peter and Harry and their need for approval from a father figure. Peter gets upset when he mistakes uncle Ben’s concerns for misguided criticism. Harry gets upset when Mary Jane doesn’t wear black to impress his father. Both instances showcase their intense desire to become the man they believe their father (or father-figure) to be, and with Harry’s father and Peter sharing an inclination for science, there is a delicately balanced tension that strains on Peter and Harry’s relationship, foreshadowing Harry’s fervent hatred for Peter’s alter ego by the end of the movie.
This tension had a lot of potential to be potent had it not been for the underdeveloped relationship between Peter and Harry. As we’ll see in later installments, Raimi has a bad tendency to rush his screenplays. Perhaps this is why he took short-cuts and utilized tropes that prevented characters from being complicated or nuanced. Coupled with its comic book styling, this movie is less of an intellectual experience as it is a blockbuster one. And with the special effects degrading with each and every year technology improves, that is not a recipe for long-lasting success. Perhaps in 2002 this movie would have been one of the best superhero movies of all time, considering its attention to story structure and thematic resonance, but now that we’ve seen better and better superhero movies, it remains to be exactly what I believe it was intended to be: a light-hearted, fun, and sporadically emotional origin re-telling of New York’s favorite web-slinger.
Sam Raimi said in an interview about Spider-Man 3, “I think [raising the stakes after Spider-Man 2] was the thinking going into it, and I think that’s what doomed us. I should’ve just stuck with the characters and the relationships and progressed them to the next step and not tried to top the bar.” Spider-Man 2 does exactly that. It sticks with the characters and progresses them logically. It sticks with the relationships and complicates, deepens, and enriches them. It does not try to top the bar, but Spider-Man 2 was not going to fall short of it. I would even say it topped the bar without trying to. It’s one of those sequels that not only out-dos the original, but makes it outright dispensable. Think about it. What would we have really lost had this been the first movie? Uncle Ben even makes an appearance (in dream form) to say his line again!
Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.
Aunt May did not get mentioned in my Spider-Man 1 review simply because she wasn’t important in the screenplay. To the movie’s credit, they did put her in a bunch of scenes, but, understandably so, never with the presence of Uncle Ben, whose scenes are remembered more fondly after his death. Well, Spider-Man 2 sticks with Aunt May and makes her relevant. She delivers the film’s most poignant line, and coupled with a more emotionally subtle performance from Rosemary Harris, this version of Aunt May is my favorite from any of Sony’s Spider-Man films.
Aunt May’s relationship with Peter also thickens, as it is realized that Peter has kept his involvement with Uncle Ben’s death a secret from her. This can be said of basically every relationship with Peter in this movie. It’s obvious with someone like Harry, who finds it difficult to continue being Peter’s friend as he takes pictures of Spider-Man for the Daily Bugle. But even side characters, such as J. J. Jameson, undergoes a change of heart, albeit temporarily, towards Spider-Man. Perhaps the most important relationship also gets a lift, as Mary Jane gets engaged to Jameson’s astronaut son in this movie. MJ gets engaged to someone besides Peter! I mean, these are some intriguing plot points for drama here. And just about everything materializes.
The most interesting relationship that gets explored in Spider-Man 2, however, is with Spider-Man himself. In the first Spider-Man, Peter basically became Spider-Man the instant he decided to live his life by Uncle Ben’s last few words and donned on the Spidey suit, and that was that. Here, Peter Parker basically breaks up with Spider-Man and with Uncle Ben, as he says he is “Spider-Man, no more,” and has to start over and re-bond with the hero inside of him.
Even though this is a very logical and probably expected direction for the movie, considering Peter’s lack of money as depicted in the comic books, this movie makes use of this psychological relationship to refine its definition of a hero as established in the first film. It isn’t just about responsibility. It argues that the hero is inherently sacrificial. They give up even their dreams to salvage yours.
This definition is much more mature and sophisticated, and plays out excellently in its new villain, Doctor Octavius, as played by Alfred Molina. If there is a singular aspect that this sequel improved on, it has to be the villain and subsequent action scenes. For as much as the Academy discriminates against superhero flicks, they had to give Spider-Man 2 the award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. It’s that good.
It’s kind of unrealistic how many punches to the face Doc Ock can take from Spider-Man, since his only superpower lies in his mechanical tentacles, but questionable pain tolerance aside, Doc Ock is by far more cinematic than Goblin. His extra limbs allow him to fight in any environment Spider-Man can handle, including on the side of a running train, without giving him an easy escape route in the form of a glider. However, Doc Ock is resourceful, understanding his opponent’s motives and throwing people off the train in an attempt to flee the scene.
Something else I love about the fight scenes, which deserve this much attention, is the sheer scope of it. You really feel like this battle is taking place across half of New York City, leaving behind a trail of rubble from clock towers and citizens perched in Spidey’s webbing. There is also another excellent action scene in a bank, and once again, the environment is wonderfully utilized, as Doc Ock flings bundles of gold coins at Spider-Man to compete with him in long-ranged combat. Three Spider-Man films later, and Spider-Man 2 still has my favorite action sequences.
Although Raimi’s supervillain in Spider-Man 2 still delivers comic-book one-liners like, “You have a train to catch,” and the occasional monologue (with his arms) to reveal his diabolical plan and other usually internal thoughts to the audience, he can be taken much more seriously than the Goblin for a couple reasons. First and foremost, the arms are very convincing, being mostly amutronics instead of CGI. In other words, he is actually intimidating.
Secondly, he is established as Peter’s mentor, an idol almost. Raimi takes time to develop him as a role-model before he transforms into Doc Ock so that when he makes his transformation back into himself in the final act, it’s believable and real. Given what Aunt May says about being a hero, it’s actually difficult to classify Doctor Octavius as a true villain. For all the mistakes and wrong-doings he commits, is he not redeemed by his final gesture of nobility? Didn’t Peter also kill innocent people by not being responsible with his powers?
It’s these sort of questions which arise from the Spider-Man 2 experience that elevate this sequel above the blockbuster standard. It goes to show that a big budget doesn’t have to translate into senselessness. Spider-Man 2 is the intellectual experience I was looking for in a Spider-Man film with all the action that I always imagined was possible.
As a sequel, however, it does feel a bit redundant. Although every character and their relationships with other characters take their next logical step, it repeated most of the same beats of the original film. Peter has to climb a wall again to see if his powers are still working. Uncle Ben reappears just to say his line again. Aunt May still grieves about Uncle Ben. Mary Jane is still being pursued by many male characters, including Peter. I’m adamant about this film needing to be the origin film. We don’t need to see the actual spider bite or the actual Uncle Ben death. Peter Parker discovers exactly the same identity in this film as in the last, and it sucks a bit of the freshness out of Spider-Man 2.
But still, what we got is a sequel that is superior to the original in practically every way possible. The romance is less cheesy, the friendship more strained, the villain less black and white, the hero more compelling, and a story ultimately worth telling again for the second time.
Boss: Hey guys, let’s talk about this new Spider-Man 3 movie.
Executive #1: What about it?
Boss: Hob Goblin. Is that the only villain we are going with?
Executive #1: Well, I mean, the one villain formula has brought in a boat load of money and critical…
Marketer: Polls show that Venom is a popular villain amongst our target demographic.
Boss: No. He’s too big of a character to squeeze in with Hob Goblin.
Executive #2: Just knock James Franco out of the movie with amnesia for like half the movie.
Secretary: Oh, can we do Sandman too? I always loved that character growing up.
Executive #1: Really? Who says that?
Boss: Yes. Executive #1 is right. The Sandman would require too much focus to develop adequate effects.
Executive #3: Let’s have Mary Jane break-up with Peter.
Executive #1: What? Peter has been chasing MJ for like two entire movies and you just want them to…
Executive #4: Oh. And let’s have Gwen Stacy in the movie so Peter can cheat on MJ with her!
Executive #2: Can we have Stacy date Eddie Brook? I think that’s what happens in the comics.
Executive #1: Does Raimi even want to do these…
Executive #3: And Eddie can compete with Peter for a job at the Daily Bugle!
Boss: I love the synergy people! More ideas, please!
Executive #4: I’ve always wanted to see Tobey Maguire dance like a complete idiot. Is this a possibility?
Marketer: Dancing is trending in superhero movies nowadays.
Executive #1: That’s a load of…
Executive #2: Can we completely revise Uncle Ben’s death and change his original killer?
Boss: Guys, guys. Do we really want to risk making a crap movie by trying to cram in all these plot threads?
Sony Board: Yes.
Boss: Oh, well, what was I thinking? Let’s do EVERYTHING!
Sony Board: YAY!!!
Boss: Great work today people. Executive #1, you have the pleasure of informing Raimi of our…
Executive #1: I QUIT!!!
*storms out the room*
Boss: What’s his problem?
An over-long, unorganized mess is what you are going to get every time you let people who don’t know anything about filmmaking tell filmmakers what to do. It’s that simple.
Raimi never wanted to do venom. He wanted two villains. Hob Goblin and Sandman. That’s why venom is shoe-horned in there. Because some people at the top thought it was a good idea to exercise their power over a director who brought in well over 1.5 billion dollars in box office receipts for the studio in just two films. This is a guy who grew up with a Spider-Man poster hanging on his bedroom wall. What exactly was Sony worried about?
Raimi not only has my forgiveness. He has my utmost sympathy. Sony had to stick their nose into his project and turn it into… well, you know.
However, at this point, Spider-Man 3 is so universally hated and exposed that it almost feels like a cheap shot to even include pictures of emo Peter Parker dancing, let alone spend time talking about. Spider-Man 3 got a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not Daredevil’s 44%. Not Green Lantern’s 25%. Spider-Man 3 has a near “certified fresh” aggregate of 63%.
Which begs the question: is Spider-Man 3 as bad as people make it out to be? No. I wouldn’t say so. Even though it isn’t a very good film, this is a film that is often framed as being one of the worst superhero movies out there. Right there with Catwoman and Ghost Rider.
In terms of falling short of expectations? Maybe. Catwoman and Ghost Rider never had prospects of being any good. Spider-Man 3 was following Spider-Man 2, one of the greatest superhero sequels made, if not the greatest.
If I haven’t made myself clear on why I think Spider-Man 3 is subpar at best, I’m going to refer you to Confused Matthew’s in-depth review of it. I find no gratification in bashing a movie that has already been bashed time and time again. Instead, I’m going to attempt to remind people why this movie still made close to 900 million dollars and got more fresh reviews than rotten ones.
Reason #1: Black Spider-Man is cool.
Say what you will about the underdeveloped Venom and emo Peter Parker. Black Spider-Man is still cool. After seeing two films of the same red and blue Spidey uniform, the black suit breathed life into the aesthetics of Spider-Man 3. Not only that, but it felt like there was a real concerted effort to make black Spider-Man more vicious and even stronger. His fight with Sandman, although made slightly mundane by the use of trains again, is a highly intense fight sequence, and the movie’s best, showing off what Spider-Man is really capable of.
Reason #2: Harry Osborn’s character arc.
Okay, so his costume still sucks, but him finally fighting beside Spider-Man in the final battle? We’ve never really seen tag-team superhero battles up to this point, and while the action wasn’t great, the idea behind it was full of potential, demonstrating aspiration from Raimi’s crew. Not to mention, the franchise shows some courage by killing off a protagonist as prevalent in the series as best friend, Harry Osborn.
Reason #3: Sandman’s transformation.
If there’s anything truly beautiful in Spider-Man 3, it’s Flint Marko’s tragic transformation into Sandman. It’s a physical transformation so graceful and yet imperfect that it makes you believe this is Sandman’s first attempt in trying to stand up or pick up an object. Wonderfully scored by Danny Elfman (how did he not get mentioned until now in my reviews?) and rendered by the effects team, this feat in spectacle and visual storytelling will have you momentarily forget how much of an expressionless dud Sandman turns out to be.
Reason #4: The franchise’s tone.
Remember this elevator scene in Spider-Man 2? Or how about the milk and chocolate cake scene between Peter and the land-lord’s daughter? Surely you must recall the line, “Whoa! He stole that guy’s pizza!”, not putting together the fact that the pizza guy is indeed Spider-Man. Raimi’s Spider-Man is and has always been innocent and light-hearted. So when Raindrops Are Falling On My Head starts playing in the background, or when Peter does some improve jazz piano or disco dancing, I’m actually kind of
okay with it prepared for it. Kind of.
I really like this movie. It’s highly underrated. I don’t care if this is a movie nobody asked for. I don’t care if this is a reboot nobody asked for. Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is a darn good superhero origin story. One that just happens to feature my favorite superhero of them all.
Why do I like it so much? I think Andrew Garfield is a much better Peter Parker. He emotes more, and he easily sells the whole anguished teenage vibe the film is trying to get across. People have criticized Garfield for being too attractive for the role, but something like attractiveness is so subjective that I find it’s almost silly to try to mount serious film criticism on this basis. Garfield should be viewed as a rising star in Hollywood; an actor with much potential. It’s awesome to see an actor of his caliber play out a character as iconic as Spider-Man. He’s made the character his own, with charismatic, comical stutters and skips as nerdy Peter, and playful quips as an almost cocky Spider-Man. Whereas Raimi flew right past Peter’s high school life in his film series, both Webb and Garfield embraces teenage Peter.
Coupled with a new mystery surrounding his parent’s death, teenage Peter works really well because he has something to be anguished about. It’s as if he has lost a part of himself in the process of living without his parents, and it is this emptiness that paves way for the identity-searching experience of becoming Spider-Man. Although this means Uncle Ben becomes suddenly less important in the screenplay, this is just one of many instances that keeps this Spidey origin story fresh despite revisiting a majority of the same plot elements. I admire the creativity coming from Mark Webb’s team, and I actually think this active attention in making a different Spider-Man film also helped fix up some of the major issues of Raimi’s version, namely Kristen Dunst.
Don’t get me wrong. Mary Jane, in my mind, is Peter Parker’s definitive love interest. But you know, it really didn’t seem like Emma Stone got the memo. After seeing so many dud romances in superhero films, it’s obvious when you see something special. And Garfield and Stone has it. Their eyes light up when they see each other. Sparks fly whenever they share the screen. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie is when Peter asks out Gwen Stacy. One can accuse Garfield of overacting, but Stone? I think she nails it. She’s sure of herself, but noticeably nervous. She knows what she wants, but she’s not forceful about it. She gives Peter hints and waits (humorously long) for him to ask her out. She is witty, sarcastic, cheery, and just full of personality. Holy crap! Gwen Stacy is a strong female character! In a superhero film? Could it be?
This may have been the only superhero film where I wanted to see more of the romance and less of the action. And while my wish would be granted in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I think this is a direct result of Sony’s willingness to bring in a director who had only one romantic comedy/drama under his belt. I haven’t seen (500) Days of Summer, but The Amazing Spider-Man has put that movie towards the top of my watch-list.
Of course, the romance would mean nothing had it not been placed in a good Spider-Man story, and in my opinion, The Amazing Spider-Man gives Peter Parker the Batman Begins treatment. Okay, no, this movie is nowhere as good as Batman Begins, but it does make Peter into a seriously troubled individual before transforming him into a costume-wearing superhero. The fact that he is taking the law into his own hands is heavily considered, as the police force of New York plays a big role in the movie trying to apprehend this masked vigilante. Peter even gets a chance to explicitly defend Spider-Man to Gwen Stacy’s father, Captain Stacy, over dinner, and seeing how upset Peter gets over this conversation really conveys the growing importance of Spider-Man to Peter Parker.
Throughout the movie, what Spider-Man means to Peter takes on many different forms. At first, it’s just a red mask and pair of sunglasses lens as a way to protect his identity while he searches for his Uncle Ben’s killer. The costume is just a means for revenge. But as he becomes painted as a hero by the citizens of New York, he starts to see himself as hero. He upgrades his costume and fights crime, but perhaps out of self-ego. Ironically, his transformation isn’t fully complete until he gives up his mask to a boy stuck in a car. His name is Jack. He’s scared. He screams for help. And when the car catches on fire and Peter asks him to climb up the car, he says he can’t.
Jack, in many ways, is Peter. He’s “just a normal guy” who got stuck in a terrible situation. It isn’t his fault that he’s stuck in this terrible situation, buckled down to a car hanging over a large river, just as it isn’t Peter’s fault that he got abandoned by his parents. Then Peter tells Jack to put on the mask because it’ll make him stronger, and all of a sudden, he starts to climb. He becomes empowered to escape his situation. Spider-Man takes on its final form here.
Spider-Man is catharsis for Peter Parker.
I love Spider-Man because he is the one I feel most inclined to take after. He’s not from another planet or a billionaire. He’s Peter Parker. A guy who just got lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. To me, Spider-Man represents the hero inside all of us, because after watching a Spider-Man film, that’s all I want to do. I want to put on a mask, build my own web shooters, and save people’s lives. And the fact that this movie gets it. Just gets it. Is amazing to me.
This isn’t to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is amazing in its entirety. The action is particularly flat, especially when compared to Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, though I appreciate how spider-like Spider-Man fights in this film. The villain is also noticeably weaker than Doc Ock, opting to turn to the let’s-make-the-villain-crazy-after-he-gets-drugged route of William Dafoe’s character, which meshed in much better with Raimi’s comic-book tone. There were also a few too many cliffhangers for my personal liking, like with Gwen Stacy’s relationship with Peter and Uncle Ben’s killer. But in the end, these are relatively minor problems in an otherwise great origin story.
Every since you were a little boy, you’ve been living with so many unresolved things. Well, take it from an old man, those things send us down a road, that make us who are we. And if anyone is destined for greatness, it’s you son. You owe the world your gifts. You just have to figure out how to use them. And know, that wherever they take you, we’ll always be here. So come on home Peter. You’re my hero, and I love you.
Peter’s English teacher claims there is only one plot in all of fiction: who am I? Rarely is that story done as well as Peter Parker’s in The Amazing Spider-Man.
I will not be repeating any of the stuff I mentioned in my non-spoiler review, which you can read here: https://taestfulreviews.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/the-amazing-spider-man-2-2014-non-spoiler-review/
Rarely is a movie such a mixed bag for me. I absolutely loved how Mark Webb’s team handled Gwen Stacy’s death. But… DID THEY HAVE TO KILL HER OFF?!?
I honestly have no problem calling Emma Stone the face of Mark Webb’s franchise. People are mixed on Garfield, but everyone loves Stone. Not only is she a more engaging actress than Dunst, but her character is so well-written and so well-done. And they killed her off folks. They killed her off.
I guess that’s the reaction I was supposed to have, but in terms of getting me to see the next installment… oh wait.
You’d expect me, a huge Spider-Man fan, to be jumping up and down at this news, but I’m not. And you know, since I’ve already done a pretty in-depth review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 already, I’d actually like to talk about this: why is everyone so freakin’ happy about Spider-Man being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Marvel doesn’t make good films! I’m sorry. They don’t. Not consistently, at least. They’re more fun than Sony and Warner Bros., but they’re equally as stupid. They consistently hire sub-par directors to take on their projects while Warner Bros. brings in Christopher Nolan and considers directors like Darren Aronofsky. Hell, for as much as I hate Sony for being too involved in the film-making process, at least they are willing to pay for their actors, as seen through the hire of Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti. No. Marvel makes cheap, safe, by-the-numbers movies, and people love them for it. Well, let me break it to you. We will NEVER get a movie better than Spider-Man 2 with Marvel. With Sony, we had a chance.
While I understand there is a lot to hate about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I never quite understood why people hated it. Wasn’t it a movie with much potential? People didn’t seem to like stalker Spider-Man or the back-and-forth between Peter and Gwen, but those were my favorite parts. Forget the action scenes I already saw in the trailers. This is what I want to see from Webb!
I mean, what was your favorite part of the movie? The graduation speech at the end? Gwen Stacy’s death? And why would we even care about those scenes? Isn’t it because we became invested in Gwen’s relationship with Peter? Aren’t those scenes contributing to that relationship?
For as much as I am unhappy about Sony’s collaboration with Marvel (another reboot? sigh…), I think I understand it. When you make movies that builds an emotional core off of performances like Garfield and Stone’s and you have still have people who HATE your movies, then I think there’s something more than just the movie that’s ticking people off. I think people hated The Amazing Spider-Man 2 because it represented the future line-up of films to come from a company that had refused to hand the rights back to Spidey’s home company, Marvel. Perhaps its fatal flaw is that it advertised too much for the Spider-Man spin-off movies.
So here’s my sympathetic farewell to the franchise. I will miss Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, but especially as Spider-Man. And I will miss Mark Webb’s strengths as a director. But here’s to the Sony/Marvel future! Let’s hope they prove me wrong and bring out the best in each other.