You are not allowed to call Spider-Man 3 a bad Spider-Man movie unless you’ve seen this TV movie. I am SO glad I was high for this.
Spider-Man Strikes Back
Ok but seriously what is with the whole thing where old “superhero” movies are just murder mystery movies but with the detective dressed in his pajamas?
You simply do not get the unstoppable juggernaut of the modern superhero movie scene if it isn’t for Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, but despite any surface-level similarities and causal relationships these movies could scarcely have less in common with the relentless Marvel/Disney engine spewing out three to four largely interchangeable movies a year.
These movies defined the way a generation saw Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and all the other characters in their orbit, but if somebody tried to bring their own weirdness into the proceedings to this degree today they’d get Edgar Wrighted. Admittedly, I think Edgar Wright is severely overrated and that not enough people are talking about the fact that the man CANNOT WRITE WOMEN, but somehow I don’t think the studio that propped up Joss Whedon and took almost three Phases to get to a female-led flick and fridged Black Widow gives a damn about that? Pretty sure it was the whole wanting to make a movie that was recognizably his thing that was the sticking point. And, you know, in spite of the extremely famous studio interference in the third and final act, wow, these movies are so recognizably Raimi’s.
These movies made me care about superhero movies. That passion couldn’t survive my increasing political education opening my eyes to the fact that the MCU-led modern superhero movie landscape is an evaporating layer of paint over the most blatant U.S. imperialist propaganda this side of Radio Free Asia, but watching these really does take me back to a more innocent time.
It’s also impossible to really go back, though. And while that observation is often made wistfully or mournfully, that’s… very much not the place I’m coming from. Because gods, I do not want to go back to not noticing that it’s pretty fucking weird that this movie wants you to sympathize with Peter when after watching M.J. chased out of her front door by her drunk father’s shouted abuse, he trails after her and bemoans his inability to approach her and try to chat her up??? Not to ask, you know, whoa, hey, are you okay??? But to ask her if she fucking wants to go on a date??? Yeah. YEAH. Do not want to be blind to that shit anymore, sorry.
Look, much like Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi’s movies having their own personality doesn’t mean I always like the personality they have. His Spider-Man movies are the movies of his I mostly like, though. I never cared for the Evil Dead movies, and I didn’t like the few smaller horror movies of his I’ve seen either. I just… don’t really go in for gross-out horror? It’s never been my taste. But seeing the weirdness and quirkiness and blunt showiness of his style applied to something as clean and broadly entertaining as fucking Spider-Man??? Yeah. YEAH. That’ll WORK!
It doesn’t hurt that these things are just fucking pitch perfectly cast. Mary Jane is tragically underwritten, but fuck if Kirsten Dunst doesn’t make you believe this dumbass twink would walk through fire for her. Are you kidding me? Of course he would! And speaking of that twink, Maguire is a perfect choice to play a guy that goes everywhere from nerdy loser to earnest hero without straining credulity to its breaking point.
But probably the biggest asset in the acting department for this first film is Willem Dafoe. Gods. GODS. His scenery-chewing Gobby and his Aw Shucks Trying So Hard dad/surrogate dad are both just… YES! Yes.
Anyway, yeah. My eyes are much more open to their flaws now and I’ll never uncritically love them to the extent I used to, nor will I ever assign them the kind of importance I used to, but as highly disposable forms of entertainment go you can do a lot worse especially in this genre.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Soooooo yeah this used to be my favorite movie of all time and it isn’t especially difficult to see why. And, yeah, it does hit me right in the nostalgia. I mean. I owned the soundtrack, and listened to it often. I owned and read the novelization for crying out loud. (Admittedly, Peter David KICKS ASS at media tie-ins. His Star Trek: New Frontier series was a favorite of mine back in the day.)
I’m higher on Spidey 3 than a lot of other people, but heck, we were so spoiled with the villains in these first two Spidey movies, it’s really easy to understand why Spidey 3 felt like such a letdown. Seriously. I’m now of the opinion that Dafoe’s Gobby is actually a better villain than Molina’s Doc Ock, but that’s like saying that I like ice cream better than pie. I mean, it’s true, but WHO GIVES A FUCK, I’d fuck either one up and there will be a not inconsiderable number of days when I really would prefer a slice of pie.
The moment where an unmasked Spidey and M.J.’s eyes meet and she’s grinning with a combination of radiant joy and “I fucking KNEW it!” as the music swells… yeah, that’s an all-timer for me.
Actually, that moment kind of encapsulates how I feel about the movie as a whole… Peter has a lot of rough edges, especially in how he deals with his feelings for M.J…. but for that one beautiful, perfect moment, all that goes away. All she sees is the heroic, deeply caring boy she’s always known he was. When this movie soars, it soars. And it’s easy to forget all the times it falls short. Even if just for a moment.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I’ve always been higher on this than most people. Basically I kinda used to flat out ignore all the Venom stuff because I know the studio strongarmed him into including him and his heart just blatantly wasn’t in it? Now, I’m way more torn. Maybe it’s just because we’ve actually seen good Venom movies now? But I think Raimi bore some level of responsibility to tell the studio, “Look, I’m not the right director to do this. If you would rather have Venom than have me, I understand, but I’m not going to do this justice.” That’s just my largely uneducated opinion, but there it is.
Then again, the ill-fated X-Men 3 might give us a pretty good idea of what’s behind Door Number 2, so it’s entirely possible there was just never going to be a happy ending here.
I… also really can’t stand how shortchanged Harry’s story ended up getting as a result of all of this. I used to defend this bit because of how genuinely emotionally moving his death scene is, it makes me cry every time… but watching it again I’m forced to admit the movie just really didn’t earn it.
I know all of this is largely just me coming around to the general consensus, so it’s not really worth belaboring any of it, but yeah. I guess the one thing I really can say is that I do still mostly enjoy the experience of watching it? Like… it’s a disappointing Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, but it’s still a Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie? So regardless of its shortcomings it’s probably still one of the, say, 50 or so best superhero movies of all time? So like. The question of whether it’s good or not just kinda depends on what you’re using as your measuring stick, I guess.
If I had come around to these opinions back when I took superhero movies more seriously maybe I’d be up in arms about Spidey 3 right now? But now that I see this genre as a whole as nothing more than disposable (extremely disposable) entertainment that frequently engages in materially harmful propagandizing, I guess it’s just kinda hard to get worked up about it?
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I liked Peter and Gwen a lot better this time around, but I still don’t especially care for Garfield’s version of Peter Parker. The stuff about Peter’s parents is aggressively dumb. I just don’t care and I can’t imagine anyone else does either. Martin Sheen is badly miscast as Uncle Ben, it’s so distracting.
Probably the worst part is the visuals? They range from “eh whatever” to genuinely detracting from the proceedings. Especially when Spidey is doing epic webswinging stuff and you just can’t fucking see what’s happening because it’s lit so strangely and there’s no color saturation. I kind of wonder if it’s a side effect of how blatantly this movie was made to be seen in 3D… but like, James Cameron’s Avatar is considered one of the best 3D movies of all time and it looks fine in 2D? Obviously this isn’t an area I have a lot of knowledge about, it just feels worth mentioning.
On the polar opposite is James Horner’s score, which absolutely carries this movie. I still think I prefer Elfman’s scores in the Raimi movies, but I think Horner’s work here is pretty easily the most memorable thing about the movie.
And, you know, I kinda relate to Lizard wanting to turn everyone into scalies! I get it! But wow is his design ugly??? He doesn’t even have a muzzle??? I know you don’t want to be an obnoxious commissioner, but you gotta send that one back for revisions, man. You deserve a hot scalie fursona!!! I believe in you.
On the whole… it’s fine. I liked all of Raimi’s (yes, even 3) better, but it’s fine. It’s completely… fine. I don’t get bored watching it. It’s… yeah. It’s… extremely okay.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
I don’t think I’ve seen this one since it was in theaters, and at the time I took superhero movies way too seriously, so basically any big picture thing about one being bad ruined the entire movie for me… and this one has more than one big picture thing that’s bad.
… but aside from the things about it that are very, very bad… it’s actually kinda… good???????????
All the stuff about Peter’s parents continues to be aggressively dumb. No one cares. And this narrative dead end ate up way more screentime and written even worse because of course it was, one of the screenwriters is literally, famously a conspiracy theorist. So like. The first thing you do to fix this is just cut that all out.
I kinda love Electro’s design but they do that Dr. Manhattan reforming shot so many times and it’s so distractingly a ripoff and I really wish they hadn’t even done it once let alone as many times as they did? But much worse is the fact that the way he’s written is kinda super racist? Like, he starts out as basically comic relief, flips a switch to Angry Black Man… and honestly he’s super right but the movie doesn’t really seem to know he’s right??? And it squandered several glaring opportunities to make it obvious that it knew that, not the least of which is when Spidey is doing a pretty good job of deescalating the standoff between Electro and the police but a trigger-happy cop takes a shot, but aside from Spidey yelling “no!” this isn’t followed up on at all, and I’m sorry but if your movie features a standoff between a black guy in a hoodie and the police you’re going to need to make it pretty damn clear which side you’re on otherwise you’re pretty effectively on the side of the cops.
Yeah, I know, shocking that the biggest problem with an Orci/Kurtzman-penned blockbuster is the, uh… writing.
Okay, that’s harsh, but when the shoe fits please step on me. Er, wait, sorry, got distracted. And yes, to be completely fair they did inherit the whole Peter’s parents thing from the previous movies, but it’s a conspiracy plot involving someone’s completely irrelevant tragically dead parents (hi George Kirk), hopefully there were some copies of the script that didn’t have Orci’s drool all over them.
I finally figured out what it is about Andrew Garfield’s Spidey. I do not like his Peter Parker at all, but I love his Spider-Man. Like, I think I might like his Spidey better than Maguire’s! (It’s a near thing one way or the other.) Maguire is still better overall because his Peter Parker is miles better than Garfield’s, but still.
Garfield’s Peter is just… too cool, basically? Not different enough from his Spidey. Like, you really don’t get the vibe that this kid has ever been bullied (his conflict with Flash in the first movie was literally Peter getting beat up because he was trying to stop somebody else from getting bullied), so you kinda lose a big part of the character’s enduring, cross-media identity imo?
But his Spidey is pitch perfect. A bit childish, wise-cracking, but just so damn genuine and good-natured in all his interactions with his adoring public? One thing both movies have in common is he spent his entire first encounter with both villains not really directly fighting them, but running around frantically saving people from harm’s way. And in this one, he actually tried to directly deescalate and empathize with Electro, and did a damn good job of it honestly! Yeah. I just love him as Spidey.
Meanwhile, I loved Paul Giamatti as Rhino??????? Yeah, their design for Rhino sucked, but I kinda don’t care because IT’S PAUL GIAMATTI AS RHINO???????? That’s just wild.
Maybe the biggest movie-wide improvement was the visuals. It was really nice getting to see, you know, color. And actually being able to see Pete when he was swinging around being awesome was much appreciated, considering that’s kinda the entire point?
Also, the two fights with Electro (or rather, the one non-fight fight and the one fight fight) were incredible. Just. Dang. They looked spectacular, and Electro playing Itsy Bitsy Spider on tesla coils while knocking Spidey around and Spidey saying “I hate that song” made me giggle way too hard.
And I LOVE THAT PETER WAS WILLING TO GO TO ENGLAND TO BE GWEN’S BOYWIFE, and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is one of the best things about these movies. I really wish they hadn’t been in such a hurry to kill her off.
… which, yeah, okay, I guess gets us to… sigh. This movie’s take on Harry is honestly kinda fine… untilllllll they’re in such a damn rush to get him on that damn glider. And his design sucks. It’s just… it’s just butt-ugly. And that whole subplot also shows us that apparently Doc Ock’s arms and Vulture’s wings and I forget what else are just… sitting in the basement at Oscorp, and I just… I just hate it. It’s such bad storytelling, if the series had continued it woulda made the villains so boring and interchangeable, I honestly don’t know what anyone involved was thinking.
But, like… that’s the kind of stuff that used to be enough to shape my entire opinion of a movie? And now that I don’t care way too much about superhero movies, I can just enjoy the things about them that are good and shrug off the things that are bad, because honestly at the end of the day who cares? And to my genuine and delighted surprise, I think the things that are great about Amazing Spider-Man 2 outweigh the things that suck.
So, I guess basically: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” “It RULED omg”
And then there’s this fucking guy.
There’s a throwaway line from Stark towards the end about Pete being a “working-class hero,” and that does definitely describe most versions of Peter Parker, but that guy is nowhere to be seen in these movies. This guy goes to what appears to be a prestigious private school. This guy is bankrolled and watched over by a billionaire superhero. This guy doesn’t have any time to come into his own because they had to cram him into an MCU that was well past superheroes having any kind of individual story before they have to find their place in the larger scheme of things.
Yes, Spidey has plenty of entanglements with the larger Marvel world in the comics, but that’s never been what his whole damn story is about. And by the time he was doing a lot of that, he was already an adult. But all of these movies have to be commercials for each other so here’s your high school kid whose story has more to do with Tony Stark than it does anyone else, and that’s only gonna get worse as the series goes on.
Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker is disarmingly great, which makes it even more the pity that he didn’t have a less Disney/MCU-friendly script that’s more interested in getting the #brand over than bringing something resembling the source material to the screen. Admittedly, I was among those who thought bringing yet another Peter Parker to the screen was just extremely unnecessary at this point and for heaven’s sake let’s have Miles Morales already! But, you know, given that I loved Spider-Verse and am largely indifferent to the MCU, I guess I kinda got my wish? But like… there’s no mistaking the fact that the live-action Spider-Man is gonna be the one most people think of when they think of Spider-Man.
On a plus side that we’ll get into more in the next two movies probably, Zendaya’s Michelle Jones-Watson is the best version of MJ and it isn’t especially close? Just, you know, wow.
If we had to have Tony have as large of a role as he did in the movie, I did kinda like the idea of him being a father figure to Peter and trying to do a better job than his own dad did. It wasn’t executed super well, but it’s an idea at least. Though, honestly, I like it more for Tony’s character than I do for Pete’s, which given my repeatedly stated feelings for the MCU I guess kinda pushes me back into just… kinda not caring?
I hate how Tony handles… basically everything? And while the movie mostly sides with Peter, it also explicitly has Tony’s unfair berating of him as his motivation for persevering??? Which just… yeah… NO… nope. No thank you. None of that please. I will take my superhero movie without a side of borderline abuse apologism please and thank you. (Tony’s behavior does not rise to the level of abuse, but the ideology being conveyed here gives so fucking much cover for abusers, and can we please just not.)
Which kinda loops nicely back around to me not wanting our “working-class hero” to be explicitly motivated by needing to prove himself to a fucking billionaire. But, you know. Disney gonna Disney.
Say, come to think of it, you know who was working class, and fucking class conscious to boot? Fucking Vulture. They did that thing where the villain is basically completely right, which they do with basically every villain except Thanos but Thanos is the only one to inspire a bunch of weirdos to form a bizarre pop culture cult around him supposedly being right. Go figure. I think from context that this movie expects us to see Vulture as bitter or delusional or something, but he’s just kinda… right. And by putting him in conflict with a “hero” whose entire deal is sucking up to a billionaire, they basically say the quiet part out loud. Disney doesn’t want class consciousness! They want the poors to know their place and simp for the nearest billionaire. Guys I’m starting to think these movies bankrolled by a rapidly-expanding near-monopoly on mass entertainment and backed by the U.S. Defense Department might have an agenda that’s diametrically opposed to our wellbeing or something. Wild!
So, yeah, bad politics in a superhero movie details at 11. I know, I know. And honestly this movie is fun to watch in a mindless entertainment kinda way if you can get past that, which for some reason I can. But it’s funny that a lot of people saw this as a marked improvement from the likes of Spidey 3 and the Amazing Spider-Man movies when it’s basically… the same? A movie you can enjoy largely in spite of itself if you ignore the many (many) infuriating things about it. Seriously, weren’t we just here? Maybe that’s the Homecoming they’re talking about in the title. I guess that makes sense.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Peter just trying to have a fun vacation and ask MJ out but the MCU just won’t leave him alone for two seconds is such a fucking perfect metaphor for how I feel about these movies as a whole.
In this installment our “working-class hero” inherits a multibilliondollar mass surveillance/drone strike network from everybody’s favorite dead benevolent billionaire (who has a multibilliondollar mass surveillance/drone strike network). The peril this time is that he gets tricked into turning said network over to The Bad Guy, not… y’know… the fact that it exists at fucking all.
These movies’ mouths must just constantly taste like boot leather. And like, you know, I get it, believe me I do, but maybe pick someone better to simp for than the U.S. empire? Just a thought.
All the Peter/MJ stuff (and Peter/Ned stuff, and Ned/Betty stuff, and school trip in general stuff) ruled, and I didn’t hate Spidey and his friends vs Mysterio when it was just Spidey and his friends vs Mysterio. Honestly, this was a really fun and good movie aside from the parts that sucked and were terrible. So, it was a live-action Spider-Man movie made after Raimi’s first two movies.
Circling back to what I really liked about this, Zendaya’s MJ is so good, fuck. I’m so glad she has such an expanded role in this, basically becoming the deuteragonist. Because she just knocks it out of the park. She pretty much makes this movie worth seeing by herself.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Store-brand Spider-Verse. Diet Spider-Verse. Spider-Verse Lite. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Spider-Verse. We have Spider-Verse at home. Oops! All Peters.
But also, Spider-Man: Days of Future Past. Spider-Man: Generations. Spider-Man: The Force Awakens. Spider-Man: Afterlife.
It’s funny how you don’t have the whole Peter 1/Peter 2/Peter 3 problem when you don’t only do the most missionary position version of Spider-Man over and over, with the most recent incarnation even losing many of the features that make that guy worth a damn as a protagonist. But I’m saying this like I didn’t shriek like a little kid when all three of them were together on screen. And I did love how the three of them interacted. I just… you know… I want the damn Spider-Verse sequel already. Put it in my damn eyeballs.
On that note, having Electro tell Garfield’s Spidey that he always figured he was black because he fights to protect poor people was a nice touch if Jamie Foxx ad-libbed it but kinda infuriating if it was in the script because you guys can literally do something about that instead of making a joke about it, fuck. You literally had at least one very bankable black actor who woulda been perfect publicly lobbying to be Spider-Man.
But, yeah. This would be the best live-action Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2 (but much more narrowly than you might think) if not for the hot take I’m about to drop. And that’s that the Venom movies are drastically better than any MCU Spider-Man is ever gonna be. @ ME.
But seriously. I did enjoy the heck out of this one. The villain family reunion ruled. So did the fact that Spidey genuinely wants to help people and will go through great personal risk and sacrifice to do so.
There were some genuinely infuriating things about this. I’m a little conflicted about how I feel about Aunt May’s death basically being a beat-for-beat reprise of the various versions of Uncle Ben’s death. On the one hand, it’s nice having her be the parental figure that Spidey has the most feelings about. On the other hand, having to give her a beat-for-beat reprise of a male character’s death to make her important is… telling. Like I said, conflicted.
The whole “everyone forgets Peter” thing is something I more unambiguously hate. It was dramatically effective in that it made me sob like a little baby, but it still feels like really dishonest storytelling. Yeah, maybe it’ll create some distance between Spidey and the rest of the MCU which is obviously something I’ve been wanting, on the other hand there’s some saying about babies and bathwater that comes to mind? And like. Spidey’s relationships with Ned and MJ, and this version of MJ in general, were the best things about these movies and it feels like they’re all now in jeopardy of not continuing to be a part of them, or at the very least it’s going to take some amount of time to reestablish them and just… I don’t know, guys. I think just leave well enough alone with the things that are actually working about your movies. Just a thought.
But, yeah. The reason butts are in seats is to see three generations of Spider-Man take on two generations of Spider-Man villains, and that… yeah. That worked. 9/10, would Spider-Man again.
I just might skip the ending the next time I watch it.