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  1. #1
    Mighty Member Hybrid's Avatar
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    Default Retrospective: What did you think of the Spider-Man Trilogy?



    I did a topic like this for Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and felt it was appropriate to do one for the Spider-Man Trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and directed by then cult horror icon Sam Raimi. Let's discuss and share what we think of the Spider-Man Trilogy, looking back after nearly twenty years have passed since the first movie came out.

    For me, there are many aspects I like, and positive things about it that the movie did for superhero cinema that no one can deny, yet on a more nitpicky level there are things I don't care for, and some moments are rather cringeworthy. Back when I was a kid I absolutely loved these movies, and I still enjoy them (well, the first two) even though there are flaws. I'll talk about the good stuff first before I get to what I don't like. I remember being like 7 when the first movie came out. It was a big event, my classmates were all dying to see it, and I remember seeing it after school the day it came out and it was incredible! I'll never forget the experience of seeing superhero action like this on the big screen, especially from a child perspective.

    It really can't be overstated that this movie was crucial to superhero movies as we know today, as it essentially gave way for the MCU to exist. The movie featuring Spider-Man with a (mostly) accurate portrayal of his powers, fighting crime and the Green Goblin, was actually something different for its time. Only the X-Men movie prior was comparable. Back then, most superhero movies either featured badass normals or enhanced individuals in action movie like scenarios, or the Superman movies with the flying brick set. In the case of Spider-Man, his action scenes are examples of unique power sets, from Spidey's agility, webs and spider sense, and Green Goblin's glider and weapons, creating scenarios you wouldn't normally be able to see back then. A lot of the performances were great, from Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn, Tobey Maguire as Spidey himself, and of course, J.K. Simmons' legendary performance as J. Jonah Jameson. A lot of the side character felt like real people in many cases.

    The movies takes place in a weird anachronistic representation of New York City, done as a deliberate stylistic choice to give it a feel of its own. Very few references to using internet, the elevated train battle literally couldn't happen today due to there no longer being elevated trains in NYC, the costumes and visuals are based on the '90s and aughts, Peter's job as a photographer is maintained in an old school representation of the Daily Bugle, Peter's idea of being cool in SM3 comes from Grease, the streets have high crime in a manner similar to pre-gentrified NYC, Mary Jane's focus is to make it big in Broadway as an actress, as opposed to the more contemporary Los Angeles, yet it's still set unambiguously in the aughts (if only due to the 9/11 references and the use of then-contemporary pop/rock music). Also, there's schizo tech involved even further when you factor in the futuristic Goblin Glider, Doctor Octopus' arms and death machine, the thing that gave Sandman his powers, the alien parasite, and of course the genetically engineered super spiders. I guess it does to this as to what Batman: TAS did with its setting. It definitely contrasts both TASM and MCU, which are undeniably modernized Spider-Man stories. I do like the effect, to be honest, especially given that it's an isolated world where the other heroes don't exist.

    Tobey Maguire did a great job playing Peter, even if it's not the Peter we usually see (being much more subdued than the snarky one), he portrayed the character as the director intended. Overall, he's likable, you often want to see him succeed and you feel bad when the world feels like taking a collective dump on his life. In the end of the first movie, when Spidey gets that extra boost of willpower when Green Goblin said he's going to kill Mary Jane after he kills him, and then proceeds to kick his ass, it was so satisfying. In fact, I was bummed such a scene didn't happen in Homecoming. Instead, Spidey there only got his ass kicked by the Vulture.

    Spider-Man 2 was also a great follow-up to the first movie. It was a great study portraying both the struggle between Spider-Man and Peter Parker, which again is something I should stress -- movies just hadn't done something like that up to that point, making it a unique thing. Doc Ock was a great follow-up to the Green Goblin, as a sympathetic and yet undeniable dangerous adversary, helped by the charismatic portrayal of Alfred Molina. The train battle is still iconic, and something that hadn't quite been done before, and the effects really came together here to portray some great cinematic action.

    Spider-Man 3, unfortunately, just doesn't hold up. It had a lot of cringey moments, too many things going on at once, an inconsistent direction, and wasted potential. Harry as the Green Goblin (or "New Goblin"), Sandman, and the Symbiote, are at odds with each other the whole way through. Harry is a psychopath looking to avenge his father after learning Spider-Man is Peter and thinking he killed him, Sandman is an anti-villain who gains powers after an accident and is trying to cure his daughter, the Symbiote is actively corrupting Peter and making him into something he isn't before going to Eddie Brock. All of these things could carry a movie on their own, but are going against one and other and fighting for time. Plus, just things like Emo Peter, the dancing, Mary Jane continuing to be helpless, Eddie Brock's massive adaptational villainy making him basically Carnage in personality (and little presence of Venom in general), and a lot of things are badly written if only for a lack of time (such as Sandman's daughter having some incurable phantom illness to justify making him a bad guy or Harry learning Peter didn't kill his dad thanks to his butler only just now telling him). When I was a kid, I loved the movie. It just doesn't hold up from an adult perspective.

    Other than that, for things I don't care for as a whole, things like some effects (especially in the first movie) don't hold up, the music from then also seems aged badly (Macy Gray and Nickelback?), Green Goblin looking like a Power Rangers villain despite the charismatic portrayal of Willem Dafoe, a lot of the cheesy moments and dialogue, Mary Jane being completely helpless and a damsel always needing saving (going against the comics portrayal as a tough civilian who could take care of herself), Peter being a little too much of a doormat with no agency of his own at times, and (I know this might be controversial) the organic webbing. I think Spidey shouldn't have organic webs, and the webshooters help show he's more than just his powers. I think them coming out of his body is disgusting. I also hate how it's given ammunition to the people who want organic webs, going "well, the Raimi Trilogy did it!".

    But yes, without this series, we wouldn't have gotten superhero entertainment as we know today. Blade and X-Men may have set things up for superheroes, but Spider-Man completely proved that the genre had legitimacy as a cinematic medium, thus giving way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh, and here's a fun fact: There were actually plans back in 2008 to retroactively integrate Maguire's Spider-Man into the MCU, but fell through when Raimi and the crew had a falling out leading to TASM. Just imagine that one!

    Anyways, I've gone on long enough, but I think I covered all the points I wanted to make. I hold the series dear, even if it had flaws that can't be overlooked, because they're core to some of my best childhood memories and they were important to superheroes as a genre outside the comic books.

    What do you think?

  2. #2
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    I don't think these movies are perfect, not even my favorite of the bunch which is Spider-Man 1. So I don't think people should put these movies on a pedestal because that can be harmful (see for instance Superman where the pedestal they put Richard Donner's movies on has utterly destroyed every attempt at a follow-up).
    -- Spider-Man 1 (2002) is the single best live-action Spider-Man movie (overall tied with ITSV) ever made. Everything came right in that movie which it really didn't in Raimi's own sequels, the Garfield movies, the MCU movies. It got the origin right, it got the villain right, it got the romance right, it got the fight scenes right, and from beginning to end it's a solid movie. It's plot structure is also quite original, it makes the hero and villain connected without directly tying their origin together. So for instance Peter would be Spider-Man without Norman, Norman would be Goblin without Spider-Man. Spider-Man 1 does have a couple of major weaknesses, one is Harry Osborn, a character that ultimately ruined this trilogy, on which more later, and the other is the final moment where Peter says no to MJ. The latter is only a problem from the perspective of later films and not when considered as standalone. On the whole Spider-Man 1 is the only completely satisfying movie of the character, in the same way that A New Hope is the only completely satisfying Star Wars movie ever made.
    -- Spider-Man 2 is a good movie, but it's got a few major strike against it. It attempts to tell a story about Peter Parker by having him without powers for the entire middle duration of the movie. This is what Superman II did as well. And it's always a cheap trick to do in any superhero story. Peter Parker doesn't make a conscious choice to go "Spider-Man No more" as in ASM#50 or any of his other attempts, rather his powers start fading and stop working. So he doesn't really make a conscious choice to quit being Spider-Man. Dramatically that cripples the character of real depth and agency. The romance between Peter and MJ in Spider-Man 2 feels quite dry and dragged on in the worst sitcom sense. Doctor Octopus ends up being a meat-puppet to an AI controlling him. The entire movie reaches an emotional climax at the end of the train scene, and the rest of the movie is a huge let-down by comparison.
    -- Spider-Man 3 has had defenders lately. But I am sorry the movie's a total mess. And the primary person responsible for the failure of Spider-Man 3 is Sam Raimi himself. Sure, the studios forced Gwen Stacy and Venom into the movie against his intentions. But it was Raimi's own ideas to make Sandman the killer of Uncle Ben. He has screenplay credit on 3 which he didn't have on the movies he did before. Likewise, Spider-Man 3 bets the bank on Harry Osborn being a major character and I have to say James Franco's Harry Osborn ultimately sunk the trilogy because a good part of the movies revolves on his character development more than Peter's and MJ's, and in some sense he is the true protagonist of the trilogy, if taken as a whole. Franco's Harry lacks any of the nuance and element of interest and poignancy that comics!Harry had. Sandman is just a waste. That sob story of "i have a daughter" is the cheapest of cheap melodramatic cliches. People keep bringing up Venom whenever they talk about Spider-Man 3 and yeah Topher Venom sucks, but to those who argue that outside of the symbiotes, outside of Venom, there's a good movie in there...I am sorry that's just not true.

    To me it doesn't make sense to think of the Raimi Spider-Man movies as a trilogy because I don't think these movies really work best when seen together. Unlike Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy where you really have character growth, development, changes, and payoffs movie-to-movie, the Raimi movies don't have that. Peter Parker for instance doesn't change as a character in any of these movies. He changes at the end of Spider-Man 1, and after that he becomes a ball tossed around by the ping pong melodramatic plots, without any real agency and active choices driving his story. The ultimate tragedy of the trilogy is that Sam Raimi put together the most iconic screen versions of Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, he got good actors for Robbie Robertson too, and ultimately the older actors didn't get a good conclusion or a deep character arc.

    Ultimately though, Sam Raimi's movies have stood the test of time. It's going to be 20 years since SM1 in 2022. The first two movies are definitely classics, and the third movie is pretty memorable with a lot of moments that have stuck around. The impact of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies is such that we haven't heard the phrase "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" since Spider-Man 2 (2004), think about that
    . Since then, Sony haven't dared to feature it in any of the live-action movies, they either try and rephrase it or not allude to it.

  3. #3
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    I respect what they did for pop culture and I think they get some aspects of Spider-Man right, but I don't care for them.

    I'll start with the positives. I love the cinematography, the Elfman score is really good (even if I prefer what Giacchino did with the MCU movies), many of the performances from supporting actors are perfect, the action sequences are excellent all around, and I think Doc Ock and Green Goblin are both pretty well handled. Finally, Raimi clearly understands the ingredients for a good Spider-Man story (regardless of whether or not he used those. ingredients effectively every time). However, I have a ton of gripes with all three of them. Some of these gripes are nitpicks admittedly, but I've seen these movies so many times that I can't help but notice all of the smaller details.

    For one, I think the relationship between Peter and MJ is horribly handled in all three films, which is a shame because it's the crux of the trilogy. It's a horribly written romance that feels like it belongs in a cheesy teen drama show like Smallville. Both characters frequently act unreasonably and I have a hard time being invested. Again, if this was just a subplot, I could let it go, but I would bet that almost a third of the running time of the trilogy as a whole is in someway devoted to this relationship, so I think it is a nearly fatal flaw.

    I also take issue with how Maguire's Peter is written. He doesn't have much in the way of a personality beyond being shy and awkward and "nice". His interests in science and comic books are paid lip service to but never play a role in the plot and he lacks the charisma and charm that makes the Comic Book version of the character so likable and fun to read. This is why I HATE the removal of the mechanical web shooters. It isn't just because it's not exactly like the comics, but because showing that Peter is inventive and clever enough to design gadgets like that makes him more likable and proactive. This Peter not very proactive at all, to be honest. We never see him actively hunting down villains and criminals or anything like that. He just keeps stumbling across plot points while he mopes through his personal life, and I don't find him to be a particularly compelling character.

    Yes, I realize that Comic Book Peter can be pretty mopey and whiney too, but I feel like he's mopey in a more humorous, self deprecating way that makes it easier to read. I also realize that other Spider-Man stories have Peter coincidentally stumbling upon villains in his personal life, but the Raimi movies do it so much that it becomes a problem in my opinion.

    However, my biggest problem with this version is something that some might feel is a major nitpick, and that is that Peter more or less kills the mugger that killed Uncle Ben. I feel as though it is disingenuous to have Peter basically kill someone and then have the movie sweep this detail under the rug and act like Spider-Man is a hero that the kids in the audience should look up to. Yes, Peter doesn't technically kill him, but the guy falls to his death after Peter advances on him and we get a shot of Peter looking at the guy's dead body with a really vengeful look in his eyes, and that feels too close to murder for me.

    Yes, Spider-Man 3 kind of addresses that point, but it does so in a really mishandled way that doesn't really fix my issues with it. Speaking of Spider-Man 3, I am baffled at how the movie has been semi-vindicated in recent years. I think it's still one of the worst live action superhero movies ever made. Nothing in that movie really works on a story level and I think its retconning of the origin is unforgivable and kinda permanently damages that version of Spider-Man going forward.


    So, all in all, I'm not a big fan of these movies. I have nostalgia for them and I think they all have some really iconic moments (something the MCU Spider-Man movies could use more of), but I don't think they hold up that well.

  4. #4
    Kinky Lil' Canine Snoop Dogg's Avatar
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    They're good movies aside from 3, they're all a treasure trove of memes, they gave us several kino castings like Toby, Willem, Alfred, J.K., etc., and overall they've had a tremendously positive impact on the IP.

  5. #5
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Parker View Post
    I think they all have some really iconic moments (something the MCU Spider-Man movies could use more of)
    This I agree with.

    Quote Originally Posted by Snoop Dogg View Post
    They're good movies aside from 3, they're all a treasure trove of memes, they gave us several kino castings like Toby, Willem, Alfred, J.K., etc., and overall they've had a tremendously positive impact on the IP.
    Yeah. I mean it's not perfect by any means but it was pretty good at its best. It's good that Raimi's movies haven't become pedestal-ized as Donner's movies have. The backlash it had after "3" and so on was good in the long run, so now you can appreciate them for what they are.

    And few superhero movies had such a real impact on popular culture in terms of catchphrases, lines and iconic scenes. You could hardly throw a stone after the first movie came out without seeing the parody of the sketches of costumes montage, the upside-down kiss, or J. K. Simmons "asking for pictures of Spider-Man".
    Last edited by Revolutionary_Jack; 01-23-2020 at 01:21 PM.

  6. #6
    Mighty Member Hybrid's Avatar
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    One thing I got to give credit for: The people behind the movies actually had an idea of what Spider-Man is.

    A major problem with superhero movies for a long time, which sadly can still be found today, is that they're made by corporate suits and elitist who actually don't care for or even despise superhero comics, and thus have no idea of what the source material is. Bryan Singer hated the X-Men comics, banned them from the set, knows nothing of them, and wanted to "elevate" X-Men as a legit story. It shows in the movies, considering that they don't really feel like comic book movies and were often devoid of charm or consistency with the source. Likewise, the Burton Batman movies is an example, as Tim Burton once said "Anybody who knows me knows I would never read a comic book", leading to his movies to just make up dumb things (though admittedly some caught on, inspiring BTAS).

    It's just a product of people back then not growing up on comic books, but seeing the profit in them. Today, superheroes have ascended as a genre because the comic book readers are now making movies.

    Leading me back to the main point, it's impressive that they've managed to distill many elements of the Spider-Man mythos, from Lee-Ditko, Lee-Romita, the '80s and '90s, and even the Ultimate comics which were extremely recent back then. Peter's personality is more akin to Lee-Ditko, his appearance based on Lee-Romita, Doc Ock's portrayal took cues from Tom DeFalco's expansion of him, The costumes were inspired by the '90s versions, Spider-Man's origin being genetic rather than radioactive, and Harry's friendship comes from Ultimate. The Symbiote of course, comes from the '90s, borrowing elements from both the Alien Costume Saga and even Spider-Man: TAS, and so on. That doesn't get into the many iconic moments that were recreated in the movies, either.

    Granted, whether or not they did it effectively, is another matter. But you have to admit that they did their best to make the source material work in the context of the movies at the time, rather than just make up stuff out of ignorance like so many others did. That's actually unique back then.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revolutionary_Jack View Post
    This I agree with.
    I would like to point this out as someone who is a pretty ardent fan of the two MCU movies.

    I also agreed with your comment about Peter not growing in the Spider-Man movies. He basically spends 2 and 3 running in place. Not to turn this into a Raimi vs Watts thread, but I like that Holland's Peter is a more active protagonist who works to achieve his goals.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Parker View Post


    However, my biggest problem with this version is something that some might feel is a major nitpick, and that is that Peter more or less kills the mugger that killed Uncle Ben. I feel as though it is disingenuous to have Peter basically kill someone and then have the movie sweep this detail under the rug and act like Spider-Man is a hero that the kids in the audience should look up to. Yes, Peter doesn't technically kill him, but the guy falls to his death after Peter advances on him and we get a shot of Peter looking at the guy's dead body with a really vengeful look in his eyes, and that feels too close to murder for me.
    If little kids can still look up to Captain America despite his large body count then accidentally killing a guy who pulled a gun on him shouldn't stain Spider-Man who has never been a spotless saint. The kids watching these types of movies are ages 12 and up. They can handle death in a movie.

  9. #9
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    The burglar dying (though accidentally) gave Peter/the audience their eye-for-an-eye revenge, which shouldn't be the point. Peter having a reason to let the burglar get away didn't improve the story either, it muddied the message.

  10. #10
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    The burglar’s death in the first movie was staged as accidental almost. And he did raise a gun on Peter so it’s not exactly cold blooded murder.

    I think for story reasons in SM1, It was important that the burglar die. Remember the audience that the movie was targeting were non comic readers who at the time didn’t know Peter’s origin. It’s important to convey that transition from personal vendetta to general altruism and the quickest way is to remove the object of violence. Likewise they made the decision to keep Peter maskless n that scene do there was also an issue with secret identity. So they needed to close that book and move on. Death allowed them the simplest and quickest way to do that.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revolutionary_Jack View Post
    It’s important to convey that transition from personal vendetta to general altruism and the quickest way is to remove the object of violence.
    I think that's a terrible message.

  12. #12
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lee View Post
    I think that's a terrible message.
    From a dramatic perspective, i.e. as a quick shorthand, it's effective even if it might be too blunt and clumsy. Peter sending the burglar who killed Ben to jail will make some viewers wonder if that guy is supposed to be the main villain and so on. Especially because it happens at the end of the first half (which is otherwise not connected to the overall story).

    Remember Raimi's Spider-Man 1 is the first major introduction of Spider-Man for general audiences so you he, the writers, and other producers couldn't just assume fans will be familiar with superhero stories and stuff, unlike today. It was also coming in after Batman and Robin had screwed the pooch a few years before.

    Undoubtedly the burglar issue would have been forgotten had Spider-Man 3 not made the terrible mistake of A) Retconning it, B) Bringing that up again.

  13. #13
    Extraordinary Member WebLurker's Avatar
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    These movies are my favorites in the superhero genre. Some parts haven't aged as well as others and it is much cheesier in tone then what you'd expect today, but I think they hold up pretty darn well.

    I am one of those weird people who thinks SM3 is better then its reputation and liked the series' depiction of Mary Jane (think she's a better-written love interest character then the average), so take all that for what it is.
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  14. #14
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WebLurker View Post
    ...and liked the series' depiction of Mary Jane (think she's a better-written love interest character then the average), so take all that for what it is.
    Oh I adore Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane. I think her performance is better than Margot Kidder in the Donner movies and certainly the most interesting character in that kind of role in these movies.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revolutionary_Jack View Post
    Oh I adore Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane. I think her performance is better than Margot Kidder in the Donner movies and certainly the most interesting character in that kind of role in these movies.
    Never saw those Superman movies, although I understood Kidder was liked in them.
    Doctor Strange: "You are the right person to replace Logan."
    X-23: "I know there are people who disapprove... Guys on the Internet mainly."
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