Comic Book Movie Rewatch: Spider-Man

I’ve decided to go back and watch a bunch of movies based on comic books. No real reason, just something I thought would be fun. This time it was the 2002 movie Spider-Man.

spidermanSpider-Man

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 89%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 67%

My Rating: 7/10

I’m not quite sure where to start with this one. It’s an excellent movie, and it’s held up pretty well. I enjoy the movie, but it’s lost a lot of the appeal it had when it first came out. One of the big things I noticed this time around was how it’s not really the traditional, classic Spider-man, but it’s pretty close. The most notable change for me was having Mary Jane be a part of Peter’s life from the beginning. I’m pretty sure this was pulled in from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, but it made me wonder why they didn’t include more pieces of that storyline that would have made Spider-man a little more modern and relatable.

The special effects in the movie are good, but obviously old. I didn’t find it very difficult to spot where live action transitioned to CGI, especially near the beginning, when Peter’s still just wearing a sweatshirt.

One thing that I wish had been tweaked was the humor. In the comics, Peter talks through all his fights. He’s witty and obnoxious. In the movie, though, he’s mostly silent. He takes care of business and moves on. Rather than hurling quips at the villains he’s fighting, whether that’s the Green Goblin, or a petty criminal, this Spider-man saves them for Jameson, if he makes them at all. It was really sad, because that’s where so much of the character’s humor originates. To make up for it, it seems like Raimi tried to make Peter Parker more amusing, but it didn’t quite work and I felt like rather than being genuinely funny, it devolved into melodrama.

One of the things that the movie does really well, however, is letting small moment shave a big impact. The first that struck me was when Peter is first introduced to Norman. Mr. Osborn mentions that Peter’s parents must be proud, and Peter, without missing a beat or looking uncomfortable, mentions that he lives with his aunt and uncle, and that they are proud. That small bit of dialog showed a lot about Peter’s character and his relationship with Ben and May.

Speaking of Ben and May, the side characters in the film are outstanding. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco are all fine. Willem Defoe is great, as are Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris, but J.K. Simmons steals every scene he’s in and was a brilliant as J. Jonah Jameson.

spiderman2Spider-Man 2

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 93%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 81%

My Rating: 7/10

Since this movie didn’t have to deal with Spider-man’s origin, the story is much better than its predecessor. Especially since it focuses so much more on the internal struggles of both the hero and villain, rather than their physical battles. A lot of things are better than the first movie, but the problems with this movie drag it back down to the same level.

Aside from the story, the visual effects in this movie are far better than the first one. While there are still moments where the characters are obviously CGI, the fight scene on the train is an amazing sequence and holds up really well over a decade later.

I’m a little conflicted about the portrayal of Doctor Octopus. Alfred Molina does a fantastic job, but the character is so different from what’s in the comics. It was nice to have a sympathetic villain, I just think that a villain other than Doc Ock would have worked better.For me it comes down to the arms. Having the arms be the force that’s driving Octavius to crime seems a little bit of a cop out. It was a nice change from the Norman Osbourne/Green Goblin villain, who was completely unsympathetic, but I would have preferred something with a little more substance than ‘the machine made me do it.’

The biggest problem with the film is that the humorous melodrama from the first movie is not only still present, but starts moving closer to camp. The first scene after Parker gives up being Spider-Man is the worst offender. Playing the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” while showing Peter reverting to his nerdy, clumsy self was more painful than funny.

I also thought that it was a little odd that Peter revealed his secret to so many people. The train scene gives a reason, but it still seems odd since Peter repeatedly emphasizes his need to distance himself from Spider-man in order to protect his loved ones.

spiderman3Spider-Man 3

IMDb Rating: 6.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 62%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 51%

My Rating: 5/10

Where to begin… this movie is a train wreck compared to the first two. One of the biggest problems here is the reliance on CGI. There were just too many visual effects, and they somehow seemed worse than the previous movie. I don’t know if the studio switched effect teams, or what, but the CGI was more noticeable and more prevalent than before and it really distracted from the movie. Some of it may have been due to the villains, Sandman and Venom are both more effect driven characters than Doc Ock and the Green Goblin.

Speaking of villains, there were too many. Not only did Spider-man have to face the Sandman, but Venom is thrown in, and then Harry as the new Green Goblin as well. Jumping from one villain in each of the previous films to three villains in this one was too big a jump. None of them got enough screen time to really flesh out, and all of them ended up being much weaker than they should have been. Any one of the three could have been great, even two may have been doable, but having all three just needlessly complicated things.

The writing in the movie was sorely lacking, and a lot of it had to do with Sandman. He was easily the most intriguing of the three villains, but he had some problems. The biggest was his retcon into Uncle Ben’s death. That was the most obvious bit of bad writing. It was just a lazy way to establish an emotional connection between him and Peter. The other issue with Sandman was that he was a bit of a rehash of Doctor Octopus. A villain who was made sympathetic by losing a loved one. I think if a little more effort had been put into his story he could have been an excellent villain, instead he was just a small piece.

There are other issues in the movie. The inclusion of Gwen Stacey (for no real reason other than artificially creating tension between Peter and MJ), emo Peter Parker (and the infamous dance scene), Harry’s butler randomly having a crucial piece of information, etc. That’s probably what makes this movie so bad. It isn’t just one particularly bad error, it’s that all of the small issues add up.

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