If you’re reading this, you most likely already know that SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME drops exclusively into theatres on Thursday, December 16, 2021. In anticipation of the movie that broke most online ticketing sites, I thought now was a great time to review the history of Spider-Man on the big screen over the last two decades.
It all started with Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN in May of 2002. The 2000’s resurgence of superhero films had begun in 2000 with THE X-MEN. The 4-film BATMAN series that started in 1989 was wildly successful, and now it was Marvel’s turn to jump into the game. My Spider-Man fandom dates all the way back to the early 80s when as a small kid, I loved the show THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, which often featured Spider-Man right out of the comics. The Raimi films have always felt special to me. I remember the anticipation of their release and wondering if Raimi was the right director to bring our friendly neighborhood superhero to the screen. After all, most folks at that time mostly knew him from THE EVIL DEAD film series. SPIDER-MAN 3, be damned, the original SPIDER-MAN trilogy is still an absolute delight for me. The first is a wonderful introduction to the characters, but SPIDER-MAN 2 remains one of the best Marvel films to this day. Doc Ock was the perfect foe to Spidey, while Peter Parker navigated the world after high school, his love for Mary Jane, the fall-out of the events in the first film, and how they affected his friendship with Harry Osborn. Not to minimize Willem Defoe’s turn as the Green Goblin in the first film, both he and Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in the second remain some of the best Marvel villains put to screen.
Having recently revisited this trilogy, I found myself hating on 3 less than I used to. Sure it’s cringey, but when you think of it, Peter Parker has always been pretty cringey when he tries to “be cool.” And the Sandman is a really intriguing villain, far better than Venom was. The 3rd film suffers from what a lot of sequels do – trying to cram too much into one film. I wonder if the film was re-edited to completely remove the Venom storyline if the film would be better overall. Sandman deserves more time – his personal connection with Peter Parker and Uncle Ben needed to be a bigger focal point. This could have worked as a mirror to Peter working out his issues with Harry as well. But instead, the Eddie Brock/Venom plot is really forced upon us, and it doesn’t work at all.
Five years after the conclusion of Raimi’s trilogy, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN hit cinemas with Andrew Garfield in the titular role. I admit I was never a fan of this film even before my rewatch. I never hated it, I just thought – and still do think, it pales in comparison to the Tobey-led films. Upon revisiting, it’s probably a better film than SPIDER-MAN 3, but it’s so middling and easily forgotten. Garfield is fine, but woefully miscast. Rhys Ifans, who is usually fantastic, is misplaced as the villain, Lizard. He looks more like a teenage mutant ninja turtle without a shell than a lizard. Both of the “amazing” Spider-Man films suffer from badly written antagonists. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 was a film I’d never made it through without falling asleep until my most recent watch. Much like its predecessor, the good characters (Spidey, Gwen Stacy, Aunt May) are all decent, but the villains, Electro and The Green Goblin, are just atrocious. It’s a testament to these two films’ blandness that this one sets up what could have been a cool third act that never got made.
That brings us to the MCU phase of the Spider-Man saga. I’ll skip CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, which introduces Tom Holland as the newest Spider-Man, and jump right into SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. I really like Holland as Peter and Spidey. Maybe because Tobey did it first, I still feel a strong affinity for him, but I can’t deny that Holland was a wonderful casting choice. When HOMECOMING was first released, and I saw it in the theatre, I absolutely loved it. I’ve seen it a few times since though and I’m not sure it completely holds up for me. I still very much enjoy it, but I’ve come to pick it apart a bit more. I love Michael Keaton, but he’s just not very interesting as Vulture here. Perhaps it’s a nod to the times we live in, but Keaton’s Vulture is basically just an evil capitalist hell-bent on getting more money & power. That probably makes him slightly more realistic, but as a decent foe to Spider-Man? Meh. One of my favorite things about the newer SPIDER-MAN films is the update to Flash. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite b-characters in the MCU.
We interrupt this review of the live-action Spider-Man movies to talk about SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, Sony’s 2018 animated feature that is the absolute best Spider-Man story on film so far! I dare you to not fall in love with this thrilling spectacle. SPIDER-VERSE, which brought home an Oscar for Best Animated Film of 2018, could have and should have been nominated for Best Picture. And while there’s a lot of liberties that animation can take that don’t translate well to live-action, at the heart of this film are incredibly well-written characters that we don’t want to leave when the story is over. Miles Morales couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into the Spider-Man saga, and if there’s ever a live-action Miles, I hope he’s at least half as charming as Miles is here. While the Raimi trilogy and the MCU Spider-Man films have mostly stayed away from Parker family drama, and the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN series needlessly dipped into father Parker’s past, SPIDER-VERSE captures the best internal struggle that Miles Morales experiences with his family for better and worse. And as the title suggests, the multi-verse that this film opens up brings us endless possibilities to future films and characters. Plus, this film is just absolutely gorgeous to look at.
Back in MCU-Land, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME dropped the next summer and just after AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Between 2017-2019 it felt like there was an MCU film every few months….because there was. And A LOT of folks were feeling superhero fatigue. I was still running on the high of ENDGAME, admittedly, and loved to see Spidey back in action. I recall a lot of my friends at the time were more in the “quality over quantity, please!” phase and dispatched FAR FROM HOME to the middle of the MCU pack. So it was nice to go back and watch it with fresh eyes – it had been a couple of years, and unlike HOMECOMING, I ended up enjoying this one even more.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio really makes the movie for me. He’s got a compelling and plausible (within the confines of the MCU) background. He’s smarter than many of the other villains we’ve met along the way in the Spider-journey because even if he ends up being defeated by our hero, he still has a backup plan. Basically, every other foe we’ve met along the way has gone full-throttle toward one big plan and if it didn’t work – well, then failure. But not Quentin Beck/Mysterio… in case he can’t get his way, well then his backup plan might be even better. FAR FROM HOME also has one of the best and most thought-provoking post-credits scenes in the MCU.
Mysterio’s Plan B seems to have set in motion the events of SPIDERMAN: NO WAY HOME, which, as I said way back in the beginning is playing exclusively in theatre!
SPIDER-MAN (2002) 😊 streaming on Peacock
SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) 🤩 streaming on Peacock
SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007) 😊 streaming on Peacock
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) 😊 available to rent or buy most places
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) 🤮 streaming on Fubo and FXNow
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) 😊 streaming on Spectrum
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)🤩 streaming on Fubu and FXNow
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) 🤩 available to rent or buy most places