Monday May 05, 2014
Ranking the 5 Spider-Man Movies
The first Batman movie came out in 1943 and we got the fifth one in 1992—49 years later.
The first Superman movie came out in 1948 and we got the fifth one in 1981—33 years later.
The first Spider-Man movie was released in 2002 and here we are with the fifth film—a mere 12 years later. Time keeps speeding up. Are we getting tired yet? Do we have franchise fatigue? A little. Speaking for myself anyway.
Worst (5) and best (1) are easy. But there’s a good debate to be had in the middle.
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
One of the worst ideas in any superhero movie is the “evil” version of the main character, and “Spider-Man 3,” following the lead of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, goes that exact route. It also creates a pretty tepid version of evil. Superman in “Superman III,” you’ll remember, rights the Leaning Tower of Pisa, gets drunk in a bar, and sleeps with a blonde. That’s about it. Peter Parker? Kinda the same. He struts down the street like Travolta, styles his hair like Hitler, and makes an ass of himself at a bar. He also has the Russian girl across the hallway make him cookies. With milk. But that’s not nearly the worst part of this awful, awful movie. Spider-Man’s psychological motivation to fight crime—and it’s one of the best in comicdom—is based upon the fact that he let go the man who later killed his Uncle Ben; that if he’d cared enough to stop the dude in the first place, Uncle Ben would be alive. What does “3” do with that? It actually makes someone else responsible for the death of Uncle Ben. I can’t begin to state how incredibly wrong that is. It’s as if Bruce Wayne found out that all this time his parents have been alive and hanging out in the Bahamas.
4. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
The point of most of our stories is this: What does the guy want and how does he get it? So what does Marc Webb’s Peter Parker want? In the beginning, he wants to find out about his parents but never does. Then he wants to bring Uncle Ben’s killer to justice but doesn’t do that, either. Then he wants a girl, particulary Gwen Stacy, and gets her, but she has to do most of the heavy lifting. Plus he promises a dying Capt. Stacy to stay away from her. Which he doesn’t do. But he does act like James Dean from time to time. As if that’s a thing.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
It’s not as bad as everyone is making it out to be, but it’s not quite good, either. It’s got great fight scenes and great smart-ass patter out of Spidey, but it’s overlong and unnecessarily convoluted. It’s as convoluted as the number of screenwriters it has: four. Was this movie fixable? Maybe. Lose the Richard Parker storyline, give us less Hamlet-like dithering on the Peter-Gwen romance, emphasize Harry more. Maybe lose Electro. Not only does his story not resonate, it pushes Green Goblin to the side. Which is like putting Baby in the corner.
2. Spider-Man (2002)
It’s a pretty faithful adaptation—one of the first. Tobey Maguire is your Steve Ditko-era Peter Parker, though a little sweeter, and with the ability to shoot webs out of his wrists rather than out of homemade web shooters. He calls the Green Goblin “Gobby” and M.J. calls him “Tiger.” Our hero is happy as Spider-Man and unhappy as Peter Parker, and that’s pretty much how it works. Hell, they even improve upon the origin. In Amazing Fantasy #15, when the petty thief runs past Spider-Man, we recognize that Spider-Man’s refusal to help is the act of a selfish jerk. Peter’s not us here; he’s other. In the movie, the petty thief rips off the wrestling promoter who has just ripped off Peter Parker. “I missed the part where that’s my problem,” the promoter tells Peter when Peter complains. This allows Peter, 30 seconds later, to throw the words back at him. “You coulda stopped that guy easy,” the promoter complains. “I missed the part where that’s my problem,” Peter tells him. Here’s how good that is: When I first saw “Spider-Man” in 2002, some moviegoers, who obviously didn’t know where the story was going, actually laughed. They’d been trained to expect put-down quips from their action heroes, and this was a better quip than most. The laughter is indicative. Peter’s not other here; he’s us. Thus when the horrible lesson is imparted, it’s imparted to us, too. With great power comes great responsibility. It’s a lesson our culture doesn’t deliver much.
1. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It’s based upon one of the classics of the Silver Age of Comics, Spider-Man #50, “Spider-Man No More!,” written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita and published in July 1967, in which our hero, tired of losing as Peter Parker as often as he wins as Spider-Man, dumps the Spidey costume in a back alley and gets on with his life. The filmmakers internalize this dilemma—he doesn’t reject his powers, he’s losing them—but it’s all in his head, and it’s all because he’s denying the love he feels for Mary Jane Watson. So it goes. The movie’s battles up and down the skyscrapers of Manhattan are still thrilling 10 years later, the superhero pieta inside the elevated train is still touching, and we get one of the great reveals in superhero movies. From the Scarlet Pimpernel to Zorro to Superman to Spider-Man, there’s been a girl. The girl loves the hero but dislikes, or is disappointed in, or doesn’t even acknowledge, the hero in his secret form. It’s the classic love triangle of superherodom and a solace for unrequited lovers everywhere. I.e., she rejects the nerdy me (Clark) because she doesn’t see the real me (Superman). She rejects me because she fails to see what’s super in me. The superhero love triangle plays upon our deepest, saddest fantasies. And here, in one scene, the girl finally gets it. The disconnect is connected. The two men become one.
What about you? How would you rank them?