Cool Papa E Reviews the Spider-Man movie series

On July 3, 2012, the newest incarnation of Spider-Man spins its web on the public.  Some people, including me, think its a little too soon to be coming up with a reboot of the Tobey Maguire / Sam Raimi blockbuster series, given that the last one was released just in 2007.  Whether the new one works or not, they already have a second one on the way.

For now, let’s revisit the first 3 to see what went right, what went wrong, and what it is we’ll miss the most.

Spider-Man – 2002

Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Elizabeth Banks
Screenplay by David Koepp, Alvin Sargent (uncredited)

Review:

An excellent mixture of comic book sensibilities and genuine acting skill.  Tobey Maguire steals the show as one of the super heroes with whom most can identify.  Peter Parker, orphan boy taken in by his beloved Aunt and Uncle (Harris and Robertson).  Life’s hard enough watching his beloved Mary Jane (Dunst) from afar, but when his Uncle Ben is killed due to his misunderstanding of the message his Uncle had given him (“…With great power…”), it’s almost too much to bear.  Taking his last message as inspiration, he cleans up the town of all petty criminals.

Dunst adds a realism to the dreaminess of the woman that everyone loves.  Dafoe as Norman Osborne, a.k.a. Green Goblin is a stroke of evil genius.  He is able to play concerned friend and crazed scientist in a seamless fashion.  Franco perfectly plays Parker’s best friend and Norman’s son, Harry.  J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jamison has aged better than it came across initially.  A young, but still perky Elizabeth Banks is a surprise as Betty Brant.

What went right:

Just about everything in this film breaks right.  The directing style of Raimi is the best example of what went right in the film.  Spider-Man feels like a comic book and a movie simultaneously.  So many iconic shots in the film, yet it feels fresh with every viewing.

What went wrong:

The mask for the Green Goblin is just a tad goofy.  The rest of the series proves it.  The “you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us” line even felt weird after 9/11, and now it just seems odd.  Peter breaking up with M.J. at the end of the film…no way in hell any red-blooded male does that.

What we’ll miss most:

The camera angles presented throughout seem like they could only have been achieved by a spider.

Rating: (****1/2 out of *****)

___

Spider-Man 2 – 2004

Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Same as above, plus Alfred Molina, Dylan Baker, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent

Review: The intensity in the fights between Doc Ock (Molina) and Spider-Man is a flawless sight to behold whenever the two share the screen.  Peter spends much more time literally grounded by reality in this one and spends much of the first hour and a half moping, pining, starving and looking for a reason to carry on.  So much screen time is devoted to the should he/shouldn’t he and the fruitless romance between he and Mary Jane, that the film lags in the center.

Conversely, the scene with the train, where he loses his mask in his attempt to save all the commuters is as touching as any super hero scene ever made on film.  Instead of the forced 9/11 message of the first film, we have a genuine moment.

Doc Ock is well-played by Molina, once he becomes the monster.  Until then, the idyllic portrayal of he and his wife, played by Murphy, is about as touching as a coffee commercial.

There is a good, crisp film in there somewhere.  It’s just filled with bits and pieces that add an unnecessary 1/2 hour.

What went right: Doc Ock is an inventive bad guy.  He looks cool, does mean stuff and does not waste time with tons of exposition.  The effects are seamless and do not call undue attention as loud and overly spectacular.  J.K. Simmons has only gotten better in what at first seemed a throwaway role.

What went wrong: The middle part of the film is almost a direct and unnecessary rip off of Superman 2.  The losing of his powers is not explained fully and really just seems a plot contrivance.

Rating (**** out of *****)

___

Spider-Man 3 – 2007

Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Same as above, plus Topher Grace, Thomas Haden Church, Theresa Russell, Bryce Dallas Howard
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Sam and Ivan Raimi

Review: Such was the fatigue surrounding this film by all involved, that there was almost no way it could have been considered successful.  I am pretty sure that no one is considering it’s $800 million gross a disappointment, but word of mouth in the critical arena speak about it, even today, of having “too much muchness.”  In essence, there are too many bad guys, even if the bad guys fluctuate back and forth between good and bad.  This, to me, should be considered a hallmark of good script writing.  Bad guys who weren’t all bad have been a consistent theme for each movie of this series.  This time we have a good guy who isn’t all that good.  Nice mixture.

Sandman, Flint Marko (Haden Church), is so nice, he ought to come with a gift card.  The script goes out of its way to make sure that we know that Marko’s intentions are good, even if the result is the occasional stolen vault, dead Uncle Ben, etc.  Using this plot derivation from the first film, they add the mysterious black goo that falls inexplicably from space (the way we like it, and we have the way to paint the bland, clean character of Peter Parker from white to…off white.  Even being attacked by his old buddy (and new Goblin) Harry Osborn had not been enough to turn him until that stuff arrived.

Meanwhile, they keep the M.J. (Dunst) storyline from becoming too boring by…kicking her to the curb.  Gwen Stacy (Howard) arrives to be a wrinkle in their bliss.  While I have never been a fan of Opie’s daughter, I think she would have had to work pretty hard to mess this up.  Eddie Brock (Grace) is the lucky guy who is with Gwen to begin with.  He’s also a sleaze bucket, who is willing to do anything for a photographer’s job with the daily bugle.  When that goo gets to him, we get our film’s most nefarious (and most underused) villain.

As much as I would have loved to see more of Venom, the plot as is holds up.

What went right: The script is stronger than it is given credit for.  Franco’s performance of Harry is nuanced and shows his growth as an actor.  Maguire gives a good performance as well.  Venom looks great and so does the Goblin.  The scene with Gwen hanging off the building is pretty darn cool, too.

What went wrong: Flint Marko’s Sandman works for the early part of the film, but his reasons for being around at the end (does he really want to “kill” Spider-Man?  No.) are quite weak.  So he just sits there in the final scene, like the first round boss of a bad video game.  Then, to have M.J. in peril during the climax, for the 3rd straight movie?  That is definitely a sign of creative drought.  Oh and Jamison buying that camera off of the kid was telegraphed using equipment from the 1800’s.

What we’ll miss most: Repeated viewings of this film have held my attention as much as anything else in the series.  This entry has really held up more than expected, despite what you see in print.  It is easy to see why any group of filmmakers would be fatigued after 3 huge blockbusters, but even as it were, the principals (read: Sam Raimi and everyone who would follow him) were ready to make 3 more.  Even if they did not, I am thankful for their reason: to avoid over-committing to a time frame when the script could not satisfy the director.  Even with groundbreaking special effects, it has always been the writing that made Spider-Man more interesting than other series that withered on the vine, like The Fantastic Four.

Rating (****1/2 out of *****)

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