There may be hundreds of superheroes out there, but if you ask people to name their favorite, many would say Spider-Man. This is as true today as it has been ever since following his groundbreaking debut in 1962. In fact, he may be even more popular now, thanks in no small part to his continued presence on movie screens. Just look at the intense fan reaction to the recent disagreements between Sony Pictures and The Disney Company, which may shutter the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One could argue that none of this would be possible without the first big-budget film adaptation of the wall-crawler’s amazing adventures. Though far from ultimate, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy remains spectacular — and arguably superior.
Before the Boom
It may be hard to believe nowadays, with the genre’s omnipresence in theaters, but there was a time when superheroes did not dominate Hollywood. The 1978 Superman and the 1989 Batman proved that comic book characters could make the leap with critical and commercial success. However, the failures of their respective sequels proved discouraging. While superhero movies were certainly a thing in the 1980s and 1990s, they were nowhere near the all-but-guaranteed success they are today.
By 2001, Sony Pictures held the rights to Spider-Man, which had bounced between multiple studios over the past two decades. Unlike their predecessors, they were able to land the screenplay and found a director in Sam Raimi (best known for the Evil Dead trilogy). The success of 2000’s X-Men, now commonly considered the start of the modern era, was encouraging. However, one hit does not make a pattern, and no one was certain that audiences would bite.
In the end, audiences did indeed bite, like the radioactive spider that gives Peter Parker his powers. The film became the first to gross $100 million in a single weekend — an early sign that the genre would become a box office juggernaut. What might have been a one-off blossomed into a beloved trilogy...
Our Main Characters
The three films of the series revolve around the now-overly-familiar journey of Peter Parker. In all three movies, he struggles to keep his life in balance, juggling supervillains, his love life, caring for his elderly aunt, and finding work. Actor Tobey Maguire may have been recently outshined by Tom Holland’s winning portrayal of the character in the MCU. However, he still shines as the most awkward Peter Parker to grace the screen. You can believe that this guy is barely holding himself together, wishing he could drop everything yet committing to his sense of responsibility.
The rest of the cast across all three movies is brilliant as well, bringing some large personalities to entertaining life. Kirsten Dunst does her best and makes the most of her scenes as Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s love interest and frequent damsel in distress. Even the smaller characters proved memorable and endearing (acting veteran Rosemary Harris gets some great scenes as Aunt May), and even iconic (no one could replace JK Simmons’s infectious hamminess as J. Jonah Jameson).
Of course, a superhero story is nothing without a good villain, and luckily, Raimi and co. had an astounding rogue’s gallery at their disposal. They were also very lucky with their actors. Willem Dafoe is perfect in, well, almost everything, but especially as Norman Osborn, the unstable and cruel Green Goblin. Alfred Molina brings extraordinary gravitas to Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus, in the sequel. In Spider-Man 3, Thomas Haden Church takes a similar approach to the Sandman, while Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock/Venom comes off as so wounded. Best of all is James Franco’s take on Harry Osborn, a best friend to Peter with a hatred of Spider-Man. He gets the trilogy’s most impressive character arc.
What Makes It Stand Out?
Since the release of the movie, Spider-Man has seen a few further incarnations. Andrew Garfield took the mantle for a reboot series that, in trying to create its own cinematic universe, spectacularly crashed and burned. This led Sony to negotiate with Marvel Studios, bringing the character into the MCU with Tom Holland in the role. Perhaps the best follow-up is the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with Jake Johnson’s older, more jaded Peter mentoring Shameik Moore’s charming Miles Morales. Each version stands out from the rest in its own way. On top of that, superhero movies are very different these days than they were at the dawn of the boom.
And yet, the original trilogy still holds up beautifully. Sam Raimi is both a passionate Spider-Man fan and a one-of-a-kind genre filmmaker. He imbued his distinct sensibilities into all three movies, creating a series of films that definitely live in a heightened reality. The characters are cartoony in all the right ways and the combo of the screenplays and Raimi’s directing is relentlessly entertaining. Despite this, they remain emotionally grounded. This gives us scenes like Sandman silently contemplating the tragedy of his transformation, and Aunt May monologuing about the poisonous effects of seeking revenge. For reference, those two excellent moments are both in the third film, commonly regarded as the worst in the series.
A Formidable Trilogy
The original Spider Man series ran from 2002 to 2007, ending right before the one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Iron Man changed superhero cinema forever. It feels extremely different from modern superhero films, partly because of Raimi’s emphasis on practical effects and partly because of Raimi’s personal touch in general. It may also be because rather than trying to make their own cinematic universe or integrate with another, they were designed to be their own thing.
Somehow, these films continue to resonate even today. Spider-Man one is a classic, Spider-Man 2 is widely considered one of the best films in the genre, and even the much-derided Spider-Man 3 has its fans. Even if you believe that the newer takes on the character may be better, give these another try. You may find yourself transported, delighted, and amazed.
Any fan of Spider-Man may want to check out the astounding merchandise available at your friendly neighborhood online gift shop, Your WDW Store. We have a massive selection of unique gifts based on various versions of Spider-Man, from the movies and the comics and even the Islands of Adventure ride. And remember, as always: with great power comes great responsibility.