[Discussion] A Brief History of Spider-Man Films

Let me tell you something guys, I am incredibly excited for Spider-Man Homecoming. It hits theaters in the United States for the public July 7th and man is it the Spider-Man film I’ve been waiting for since The Avengers first hit the big screen. In fact, leading up to my Spider-Man Homecoming review on Friday we are going to be posting trade reviews of different Spider-Family series to celebrate (starting with Spider-Gwen Volume 0 tomorrow)! But before all of that, I feel it is appropriate to sit back and take a brief look at Spidey’s cinematic pedigree until now. After all, Spider-Man Homecoming is not the first, but second reboot of the character in cinemas. Not to mention that the previous two series he helmed spawned a grand total of 5 films in 12 years, so it is only natural that people will compare the new incarnation to those that came before it.

To begin this web-slinging timeline, we travel all the way back to 2002 with the release of Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi. For some wonderful context, I was in 4th grade at the time and computer labs were still a novel concept. Now I’m a senior in college and we carry smart phones in our pockets with far more power than anything I made Powerpoints on back then. Helming the beginning of the modern era of comic book blockbuster after comic book blockbuster, this film was fantastic. Starring Toby Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as love interest Mary Jane Watson, it told the origins of his powers, his growth into a proper hero (with great power comes great responsibility) and his first conflict surprisingly well. Willem Defoe absolutely killed it as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin, and an early career James Franco did a great job as Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn. Sure, the movie did have a few issues. Most notably, while it did a decent job handling just how much bad luck Peter Parker has in his day to day life, it made the Spider-Man persona a little too serious for some people’s taste. Furthermore, it wants us to believe that all of these adults wearing children’s backpacks are supposed to be high school students? For myself at least, these problems are eclipsed entirely just by the final confrontation with the Green Goblin, a visceral and bloody brawl full of intensity the whole way through. There’s a reason the 2002 Spider-Man broke so many box office records in its time.

Coming off of such a smashing box office success a sequel was inevitable, and in 2004 Spider-Man 2 swung into theaters. With the entire cast returning and introducing Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2 is considered by many to be the penultimate Spidey film (at least until we can all properly compare Homecoming) and one of the best superhero films ever made, period. Having gotten the origin story out of the way, the film could spend its entirety on shaping the conflict between Otto and Peter, and it definitely paid off. The accident that mutilated Octavius and killed his wife was poignantly tragic, Peter’s trouble balancing his personal life with that of a super hero was spot on, and the minds between the action set pieces truly outdid themselves. Spider-Man 2 truly stands the test of time, and it is very easy to turn it on now and enjoy it as much now as 13 years ago. It is at this point that I would like to say the other three movies were just as high quality, that Spidey couldn’t end up in a bad film if he tried. Unfortunately, I would be bold face lying to you. We cannot always have nice things.

And thus, we arrive to the black sheep of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, Spider-Man 3. The disappointment this movie embodies is better understood with context. When the promotion began, a massive portion of it focused on the film’s inclusion of Venom. Venom, of course, is probably the indisputable most popular villain in Spidey’s history. He’s Spider-Man’s antithesis, similar to the Reverse Flash, the Joker or Lex Luthor. There is no way a movie headlined by Venom could possibly go wrong right? Oh man did it. I don’t mean to say Spider-Man 3 is the worst Spider-Man film to date (boy we’ll get to that), but the main villain of Spider-Man 3 was actually Sandman with Venom having a miniscule 10 minutes or so screen time during the finale. It should be mentioned that Sandman was actually handled really well, with an emotional backstory tied directly to Peter Parker’s own meant to give his conflict a sense of ambiguity. Furthermore some of the interpersonal issues with Peter and those close to them were handled pretty well, and the action sequences continued to look consistently awesome. But does that excuse emo-goth Peter Parker disco dancing his way through New York City? Or one of the best comic book villains ever being treated as utterly disposable (being destroyed in the finale instead of being left for possible sequels)? For DaCrowz it does, but Spider-Man 3 is the only Spidey film he likes for some reason so we’ll ignore him.

Despite quite a bit of critical backlash for Spider-Man 3, it still made a truckload of money and both a 4th and 5th film were put into production shortly after its release. However, somewhat mercifully Sam Raimi abandoned the project in 2010, leaving Sony (who own the film rights to Spider-Man) to decide where to go from there. Instead of just finding a new director and handing them the scripts, it was decided to scrap the franchise altogether and start from scratch. Thus in 2012, 10 years after the first Spider-Man film, the Amazing Spider-Man debuted as a reboot for the franchise. Starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy (notable for being his original love interest in the comics), it sought to both put a fresh spin on the series while also making a few tweaks to more align him with his comic counterpart. This succeeded in some areas, with the mentioned importance of Gwen Stacy and the use of mechanical webshooters instead of organic webbing like the Sam Raimi trilogy. They also made the Spider-Man persona wittier and charming, though because of this the Peter Parker half of the coin suffered. Andrew Garfield made Peter off to be a bit too cocky and sure of himself, which is a criticism I have personally but not all had issue with. They also felt the need to completely retell his original story from scratch, which sounds okay on paper until you remember we already watched his origins only ten years prior. The conflict was fun to watch, having a much more blockbuster feel full of CGI and debris flying every which way. Once again however, this backfires a bit as the fights feel less personal and visceral, with less at stake. All in all, Amazing Spider-Man was a mixed bag, but enjoyable for what it was and it set up for big things. Or so we thought.

As if summoned from the depths of hell itself, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 launched in 2014. Going off of it’s premise, a movie finally taking inspiration from the class storyline “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”, it had promise. Not that you would actually know that by its marketing, as Jamie Fox’s Electro was the primary antagonist as far as that was concerned. What followed upon walking into the screening was a 2 and a half hour train wreck. Sure, it had it’s cool flashy spectacles like the actual train crash sequence in Super 8, but with a character who has as much story to tell as Spider-Man that’s not what many wanted from a full length feature. Making a similar mistake to Warner Bros and DC, Sony saw the success of the first Avengers in 2012 and decided they wanted an entire movie universe based off the Spider-Man license. To achieve this goal, it was somehow deemed a good idea to shove as many random subplots into this sequel as possible, some of which served no purpose (Gwen possibly moving away doesn’t matter if she dies). It danced incoherently between different threads like the writers typed it all up after snorting a line of cocaine. Terrible pacing aside even, so much was done for the sake of convenience it’s insane. Oh yeah the magical mystery disease curing drug tunrs Harry Osborn into an actual goblin, alright. He lays dying on the floor next to a battle suit (and accompanying glider) that can by chance sustain his life? Go for it. At least at the end of the movie they managed to make Gwen Stacy’s death as ambiguous as it was in the comics, which gained the film a little respect. Respect that was immediately revoked by the final sequences blatantly setting up the rest of the Sinister Six as a bunch of experiments stored underneath Oscorp.

Of course to nearly nobody’s surprise, due to both the poor quality of the movie itself and consumer fatigue, Amazing Spider-Man 2 did poorly enough in the box office to once again force Spidey into a slumber. Fans harbored a grudge against Sony, who refused to allow Spider-Man to join his fellow Avengers over at Marvel Studios. A great silence fell asleep all of Sony’s planned spin-offs we’re cancelled, and Spider-Man almost looked dead in the water cinematically.

This all changed in 2016 when Sony finally formed an alliance with Marvel to debut a third Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) in Captain America: Civil War to much fandom praise. A younger, inexperienced Peter Parker with character growth influenced directly by other heroes, it seems like a dream come true.

Thus, we come back around to present day. The new Spidey leads his first film in less than a week, and first impressions online are stellar. But will it live up to the hype? I’m not sure, but at least it won’t have Electro playing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with electrical conduit, and that’s better already.

Medraut is co-pilot of Cards on The Table, a lover of B-Movies, and will play Madolche until the day Yu-Gi-Oh! dies. He enjoys long walks on the beach and staying up until 5 a.m. insisting that 60 card Paleozoic Volcanics will work.