Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. One good movie, one great movie, and one movie we don’t talk about. Or is there more to it than that? In anticipation of the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Kambole and Steph sat down to revisit all three of them…
Kambole: So this still holds up better than I could have possibly imagined. I mean I love the current slate of Marvel films and a lot of what Marvel Studios does to create their releases, but Sam Raimi’s fingerprints are all over this and it makes for something that really can’t be beaten. It’s just so weird, in the best way possible.
Steph: It is so weird! Especially in its use of body horror during Peter’s transformation – those fingertip spiky hairs and his ability to fire webbing straight out of his wrist are pretty disgusting when you stop to think about it, and it makes his transition into Spider-Man even greater to watch as we see him deal with some nightmarish body modifications on top of trying not to look like a freak at school.
Kambole: It’s never been matched. Speaking of school, it’s great how small-scale this film feels even with all the action – the majority of it is Peter dealing with his place as an outsider, trying to get a job, struggling with his relationships with his cobbled-together family – complete with psychopathic uncle Norman. It makes all of the fights feel a lot more personal. And with regards to Norman, god is that guy insane. Willem Dafoe didn’t need a mask.
Steph: Willem Dafoe crouching over his scientist assistant wild-eyed and hissing will haunt my dreams for a long time yet. There’s some great all-out villainy in this film, with an honourable mention going to Macho Man Randy Savage (aka Bone Saw), in the cage match scene where Parker gets to test out his new skills in an arena where showmanship is key. We get to witness the witty comebacks that Spider-Man is famous for come into play to torment the admittedly terrifying yet hilarious Bone Saw.
Kambole: BONE SAW IS READY! I love that scene with all my heart. But yeah, it’s clear that Sam Raimi has a lot of love for the golden age Spider-Man comics, and it really shines through in the spirit of the film – it’s a big mixture of camp (the cage match) and sincerity (everything with Aunt May and Uncle Ben), with a surprisingly dark story driving it all – that fight at the end in particular.
Kambole: There are some signs of growing pains, but it’s an amazing (spectacular?) debut and it’s easy to see why superhero cinema blew up in its wake (and why Tobey won the prestigious MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss). 4/5
Steph: While a few of the special effects don’t hold up quite as well now, it’s an original and personal film that’s bound to stay in our hearts for a long time yet (along with that Nickelback song). 4/5
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Kambole: So, everyone’s favourite, and mine too. Basically takes everything I love about the first, and improves everything. It’s darker, funnier, and still cuts right to the defining element of Spider-Man: his struggle with being Peter Parker. I swear, for most of this film it’s agonising being Peter – he’s broke and failing to be present for his friends, and present for everything else, as his responsibility as Spider-Man begins to consume his life. Harry hates him (kinda), Mary Jane has moved on, Aunt May has financial problems – it’s a lot of human problems that are amplified by superhero problems.
Steph: I love that we get those more personal, everyday moments in this film as well. It’s great diving into the world of Peter Parker again in this sequel and feeling like we get to know more about him as he goes about his everyday life as well as continuing to fight crime. It makes him feel more like a complete person than an untouchable hero on a pedestal.
Kambole: Exactly! And what’s even better is that the same goes for the villain. Willem Dafoe is fantastic as Osborn/Green Goblin, but Alfred Molina is a series high note – Otto Octavius is such a tragic character, completely undone by his ambition and hubris. He has a great time portraying the monstrous side of Octavius, but he’s often heartbreaking to watch as well.
Also in terms of action his character opens the film up to newfound verticality and inventiveness with the fight scenes – while most of the fights in the first one took place on solid ground, here Doc Ock and Spider-Man tangle on the sides of buildings, trains, whatever. It really takes advantage of the abilities of the two, culminating in the absolutely breathtaking train scene, which set the highest bar possible for superhero fights – I’d say it hasn’t been beaten yet.
Steph: We see a lot more of Sam Raimi’s love of horror coming through in this one. The scene when Doc Ock’s metal arms wake up is so reminiscent of the Evil Dead series; we see the arms from their perspective as they sneak up on the doctors and take them out, which is a great callback to the popular horror series.
Kambole: There’s so much of Raimi’s horror roots in this series, and I love it. And as with the last ones, Raimi understands exactly what makes Spider-Man stories and the characters within them tick. His interpretation of Octavius is different from the comics, yes, but he understands the hubris at the centre of his actions – here presented as a very human flaw that costs him everything. And he’s also a great monster. Alfred Molina kills it.
Kambole: An all-time classic (and a personal favourite) that shows Sam Raimi’s true understanding and respect for the source material without being slavish to it, adding his signature style to a blockbuster film that seriously raised the bar for superhero movies. 5/5
Steph: It’s got all the charm and humour of the first film, and really hits its stride in creating its own style of superhero film. 5/5
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Kambole: That was… better than I remembered.
Steph: Peter cries a lot, it’s quite healthy.
Kambole: Tobey Maguire is a great Peter and a great Spider-Man, and people need to respect that. He’s vulnerable, very likeable, brings the pathos (he’s the most adorable Spider-Man and you’re wrong if you disagree) and the quips when necessary. Him (and everyone else, really) inspire a lot of sympathy. But yeah, Spider-Man 3 isn’t quite the abomination that it’s often made out to be. Sure there’s things wrong here and there… but there’s a lot to like.
Steph: It’s definitely more likeable than I remembered it being. This is the first time that I’ve felt like I have to work to keep up with all the separate storylines though, which got a little frustrating. The previous films have worked so well by sticking to one main villain and exploring the effect they have on Peter and his relationships, so this time the extra villains left it feeling spread a little thin. Still plenty of comedy moments, though – I love seeing Bruce Campbell pop up in each film.
Kambole: Bruce Campbell, along with J.K. Simmons, is this series’ secret weapon. His cameos are just wonderful, and he always plays off of Peter really well. Also his line “I am French!” killed me. But yeah, Raimi is very willing to take time to explore the relationships of these characters, even in the midst of big fights – I’d be lying if I said Harry and Peter’s whole thing didn’t get to me (despite Harry’s X-treme flying snowboarder costume). The problems in paradise with Mary Jane and Peter are pulled off pretty well too, with neither side necessarily right or wrong – though it’s a little too easy to paint MJ as the villain, which is unfortunate because 1) she isn’t and 2) Kirsten Dunst deserves better!
Things are a little darker in Spider-Man 3, but there’s a lot of silliness too. The infamous walk down the street and the dance in the jazz club might be the most ludicrous scenes in this whole series, nay, franchise – while they’re hilarious in the moment, they feel a bit out of place. I think Raimi leaned too far into that.
Steph: While I do agree that it’s quite a change in tone, it is weirdly satisfying to see Tobey Maguire playing such an asshole. It’s also a nice break from the action, which towards the end begins to feel a bit like the 30-minute big boss fight conclusions that seem to be getting more and more common in superhero films at the moment. In the effort to tie up all the loose ends that film built for itself, it started to feel a little dragged out, which was a shame because usually these films feel pretty tight.
Kambole: It’s SO satisfying – and Tobey Maguire looks like he’s having the time of his life. That fight with Harry is excellent. Speaking of Harry, James Franco looked like he was having some fun being an evil schemer. I’ll agree that the final fight was beginning to push it, but it still felt more inventive and efficient than plenty of superhero films today (here’s looking at you, Batman v Superman).
Kambole: Much better than I remember it to be – still bloated and a bit of a mess, but not terrible by any means. 3/5
Steph: There is far too much going on. But this was still a lot of fun, and the dance scene is going down in history. 3/5