Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Drama The “Spiderman” Trilogy

The “Spiderman” Trilogy

 

In 2002, Director Sam Raimi delivered the most exciting, profitable and widely popular Comic-Book adaptation to date with Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man. After struggling Batman, and Superman franchises had long pulled up there stakes in hollywood, Marvel struck with the surprising hit Blade and followed that with the even more successful X-Men in 2000. To state that Spider-Man became a cultural phenomonom would be grossely understating things. Spidey was everywhere, and fan-boys worldwide rejoiced. The film was all the buzz in the summer of 2002, and even beat out the much-anticipated second Star Wars prequel (Attack of the Clones) at the box office, grossing $403.7 million here in the U.S. alone. It still sits in the top 10 highest grossing films here in the states at #7. It would spawn video-games, toys, two sequels (so far), and help to not only launch a small army of Marvel Comics films, but help reinvigorate an interest in comic books in general. Spider-man is the very definition of a blockbuster, and here I will take a look back into the trilogy of films, analyze them, grade them, compare them and discuss the overall story line that runs thru the three movies. 

***Disclaimer: Spoilers everywhere. You’ve been warned.***

 

Act 1: The Set-up

Spider-man (2002)

The film: Peter Parker is a shy, but brilliant student at Midtown High and has a not so secret crush on long time neighbor, Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). During a class trip to a experimental laboratory, Peter is accidently bitten by a genetically engineered “super-spider” and given strange abilities overnight.

Using his new strength and abilities, and in efforts to impress MJ, Peter decides to enter a wrestling contest to try and win $3,000 to buy a car. After winning the contest, Peter is cheated out of his winnings by the bookie and then allows a robber to get away moments later to get even. Tragically, Peter soon learns that his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) has been shot and car-jacked. Uncle Ben dies holding Peter’s hand and Peter then runs off in pursuit of the car-jacker. After tracking him down to an abandoned warehouse, Peter learns that the car-jacker is infact the same crook he allowed to get away earlier. Peter fights the crook, who trips and falls out a window to his death.

After mourning his uncle, Peter graduates high school and remembers his uncle’s last words to him (“With great power comes great responsibility”), using them as motivation to become Spider-man and begin fighting crime in New York City. Peter also moves in with his best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco) and begins college. Soon he is heartbroken to learn that Harry is now dating MJ and that he has been hiding it from Peter. Harry’s father, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), is also a brilliant scientist, who in desperation to save his company performs a deadly experiment and unwittingly transforms himself into the Green Goblin. Fueled by anger, the Goblin begins striking out at those who threaten Osborn and his company. Spider-man is now the only thing standing in his way, and must stand up to defend the city against the Goblin’s evil schemes.

 

Analysis: As a comic book fan, words can’t describe how wonderful it was (and still is) to have seen this film done so accurately and with such love for the source material. Sure, there are changes and some of them are a bit head-scratching, such as replacing the Gwen Stacy character with Mary-Jane and essentially turning the MJ character into Gwen for the first film.  Also, the look of the Goblin is kinda…well, its damn wierd. Other than that, and despite them infact, the film is a delightful and faithful translation of a character and story that many have loved for over 40 years. Tobey Maguire sells this movie. He is likable and the story revolves around him. The film moves along very quickly, and the action is amazing. Rarely has a film captured the imagination as well as this film. To see Spider-man actually swinging from building to building, and with such ease and to have it look so damn good is more than any geek had a right to dream it would look like. A truely special experience.

Did you know?: In the comics, MJ doesn’t come into the picture until Peter is in college and it is infact Gwen Stacy who first wins Peter’s heart during high school. In a now epic storyline, Gwen is captured by the Goblin and dropped from the bridge top, similar to how MJ ends up in the first film. The major difference, of course, is that Gwen dies in the comic and MJ assumes the love interest role for Peter.

The Cast: The characters are dead on from the comics. The relationships, in particular each character to Peter, is flawlessly translated. Sam Raimi has effectively and brilliantly created a full Spider-man universe for our web-slinging hero. We see all sides of Peter, and we empathize with him. We feel his pain in letting down his uncle, and the grief after he is killed. We feel his nervousness whenever he talks to MJ and root for him both as Spider-man, and as dutiful nephew to Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). The supporting cast is what ultimately makes this film special. Yes, Tobey Maguire rocks the house down as nerdy Peter Parker and witty Spidey, but without his supporting cast the film is lost.

 

Kirsten Dunst is amazing as MJ, and I swear when she smiles she looks like a John Romita drawing. If you read the comics, you know what I’m talking about. She portrays MJ with great balance, striking the right tones as both insecure girlfriend, struggling actress and independent young woman. Her sweetness is ultimately what made me melt watching these movies. Her chemistry with Tobey Maguire is awe-inspiring and you feel each emotion with them and can believe they’ve known one another for years. James Franco portrays angst-ridden and rebellious Harry Osborn perfectly, and you can almost find yourself rooting for him at times. He also does a great job of making you believe that, although he is kinda the cool kid with all the money, that he would be friends with Peter and looks out for him.

Rosemary Harris is the perfect Aunt May. I want an Aunt May now. Man is she adorable and kind and just a sweetie. Which is exactly how she should be and is portrayed in the comics. You feel the level of love she has for Peter and her desire to see him succeed. Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of both Osborn and the Goblin is legendary. I’m serious folks. The levels of creepiness he got to, especially with his voice and facial expressions is amazing and sent chills down my spine. He plays the complexity of a Marvel villian quite well, in that Marvel villians are rarely cut and dry villians. They usually are tragic figures who believe they’re doing the right thing. And of course I must mention the great performance by J.K. Simmons as Daily Bugle editor J.Jonah Jameson. Wow. Thats the best word I can attach to it. He is just great, and even looks like him down to every manureism. Simmons knocked it out of the park and is a great addition to the movie.

 

Favorite moments: Perhaps my favorite moment in the film is the kiss. That damn kiss. That awe-inspiring, beautifully cinematic and brilliantly schemed kiss. Whoever came up with that idea is a god-damned genuis. I don’t think another kiss will ever top it in a movie. Of course, what I’m talking about is the upside down alley kiss, where Spidey is hanging upside down after rescuing MJ in the pouring rain. After some flirty banter, MJ asks “So, do I get to say thank you this time?” and then proceeds to slowly fold down Spidey’s mask enough to kiss him. Its such a wonderful moment and such a geek dream come true to see something like it on screen. Aside from that I love the chase by Peter after the car-jacker and also when Peter first uses his webbing and attempts to swing. Looking down and then across the vast distance he has to travel, Peter softly mutters to himself “Tallie-hoo” and then swings across and straight into a wall. Priceless comic gold.

How does it work as Act 1 in a bigger story? Very well. The film is an almost flawless telling of Spider-man’s origin and sets up his entire universe with great effect. All the supporting characters are well established, and the audience is left salivating and wanting more. Obviously the film ends on somewhat of down-note and its up in the air what will happen. After rescuing MJ from the hands of the Goblin, Spidey is thrown into a life or death final battle. The Goblin is defeated and accidently killed by his own hand. New Yorkers are beginning to somewhat trust him. MJ may’ve begun to figure out Peter is infact Spider-man after sharing a kiss with him and professing her love. Peter, not wanting to let her get too close and possibly hurt, rejects her and walks away. Harry vows to hunt down Spider-Man and get vengeance for his fathers death, setting up tension between him and Peter in the second film, as Peter is forced to hide the truth from Harry.

Individual film Grade: A-

 

Act 2: Mix things up

Spider-man 2 (2004)

The film: Some time has passed since the events that concluded the first film, and our main characters have all moved on to there own things. Harry has taken over his fathers company, Oscorp, and has begun experimenting with an unstable energy source called Tri-lithium with renowned scientist, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). MJ has come into great success on Broadway, and Aunt May struggles to afford to pay the bills in the absence of Uncle Ben. Peter has all but isolated himself from his friends and Aunt May, wanting to keep his distance to both protect his secret and keep them safe. He has moved out from the apartment he shared with Harry and into a rundown 1 room apartment run by an eccentric landlord, Mr. Ditkovich (Elya Baskin). He has problems getting to his classes and to his job(s) and basically, his whole life is one big mess.

In the beginning of the film we see Peter struggling to balance his life as Spider-man with his paying job of delivering pizzas, and he is fired for being unreliable. Peter drives by large billboards of MJ advertising her play and reminding him of what he walked away from. He comes home to find a surprise birthday party by Aunt May, MJ and Harry. We immediately feel the tension between everyone and Peter. As MJ helps May set up, Harry asks for Peters help finding Spider-man, to which Peter quickly changes the subject. We also see MJ taking long looks at Peter, clearly still hung up on him, which Harry points out to him. After the tension decreases, Harry offers to introduce Peter to Dr. Octavius, a hero of Peter’s and the subject of a paper of Peter’s for school. After the party, MJ and Peter talk in the backyard and MJ asks why Peter hasn’t come to her play yet. Peter promises to come the next evening, and then is crushed to learn that MJ now has a serious boyfriend, John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), son of Daily Bugle editor, J. Jonah Jameson.

Naturally, Peter misses the play because of his duties as Spider-man, and upsets MJ further. Peter meets with Octavius and the two immediately bond over science and poetry. Octavius tells Peter of the experiment he is running for Oscorp and Peter points out the potential risk, which Octavius rejects quickly. During the experiment, something does go wrong, a meltdown occurs and Spidey barely saves the day. During the overload, the four large mechanical arms become fused to Octavius’ spine, transforming him into “Doc Ock.” He quickly comes under the persuasion of the mechancial arms and begins a crime spree to help rebuild his machine and attempt the experiment again. MJ becomes engaged to John and Peter mysteriously begins to lose his abilities as Spider-man. He decides that the pressures and the sacrifices being Spider-man are now too great and leaves the costume in an alley trash can, and gives up being a hero in order to get his personal life in order and try to win MJ back.

 

Analysis: How often can you honestly say that a sequel surpasses the original in every concievable way? Spider-man 2 does just that, and actually nearly grossed as much as the original. With the burden of the origin and setting up the universse and characters out of the way, Sam Raimi was able to just launch into a story that is twice as engaging and twice as action packed. The emotional storyline of Peter’s problems and the attempts to balance his personal life with that of being Spider-man is done very effectively. MJ and Peter are at odds with one another for most of the movie, and we feel that tension because of the amazing chemistry they had in the first film. We root for Peter, even when he makes mistakes (and he makes a lot of them) and we hope MJ comes around by the end. Doc Ock is breathtakingly cool on screen. The train fight scene is one of the coolest things we’ll ever see in a movie, and the final few minutes of the film is as emotional as any oscar winning drama.

 

Did you know?: Kirsten Dunst wore a wig for the first film, a wig which was noticably darker red hair, and in this film actually died her own hair red.

The Cast: The returning cast all steps it up to another level in this film. In particular, Rosemary Harris is wonderful as Aunt May again and adds some gentle humor and a truely touching, heartwarming speech to Peter about heroes, only giving a small hint that she may know his secret. The chemistry Tobey Maguire has with most of the cast is special, but nothing tops his chemistry with Kirsten Dunst and the ups and downs they go thru in this film are felt by us each step of the way. James Franco goes to another place entirely in this fiilm on his inevitable journey to villian in Film 3, and plays the complex emotions quite well. J.K. Simmons again provides great comic relief and plays the part of Jameson perfectly.

 

The newcomers, mainly Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, are all amazing and step into this universe seemlessly. Molina brings an intelligence and humility to the role and the first hour or so, in particular his scenes with both Peter and his wife (Donna Murphy) sell him as a good guy who just takes a wrong turn. We don’t want to believe he has truely gone evil, but at times he goes to places where we must believe and that is a great villian. In smaller roles, Mr. Ditkovich is humerous and his daughter, Ursula (Mageina Tovah), is adorable with her pet crush on Peter. The scene where she brings him milk and cake and is just staring at him is just adorable and melts my heart everytime.

Favorite moments: Bruce Campbell as the ticket taker at MJ’s play was priceless. Spidey riding the elevator back down to street level was hilarious. Peter mixing his costume in with his whites in the wash is just a great touch, and makes Peter more human. The main three things I love though are when Peter first gives up being Spider-man, and is dancing around and being all happy with the weight of the world off his shoulders. Playing in the background is the classic “Raindrops are falling on my head,” which is just perfect for the scene and the character. Then there is the amazing train fight sequence, which is just jaw-droppingly cool. ‘Nuff said. Finally the entire relationship between MJ and Peter, mainly the very end of the film, just melted my heart and made me happy inside. I was always a Gwen Stacy fan in the comics, but I respect and cherish the MJ thing too, and to see it come together as it did was truely great and inspiring to a long time comic book fan.

How does it work as Act 2 in a bigger story? Oh my god does it work perfectly! An ideal sequel will mix things up, put the main characters in some sort of crisis and at odds with one another and raise the stakes to the point that we, the audience, actually have doubts as to how it will turn out. This film does that and more. Harry learns that Peter is infact Spider-man and learns that his father was the Goblin and finds his father’s secret lab-room. MJ professes her love to Peter, who tries to deny his own feelings again, but then does tell MJ in the end after rescuing her from Doc Ock, who sacrifices himself in the end to help Peter. MJ also learns that Peter is Spider-man, but Peter tells her its impossible for them to be together. Moments later, Peter sits alone in his small apartment, when MJ suddenly appears in his doorway in her wedding dress, having left John at the altar, and professes her love for Peter once and for all. The two share a passionate kiss that is interrupted by sirens wailing in the background. MJ smiles and says, “Go get ’em Tiger,” and watches as Peter/Spidey swings away to help the city. The final frames are of MJ, first smiling and then slowly realizing the life she has just chosen.

Individual Film grade: A

Act 3: The Payoff (?)

Spider-man 3 (2007)

The film: Life is now finally going well for Peter Parker. The city has accepted his alter-ego, Spider-man, and worships him as a hero. He is succesful at work, and has a serious and fulfilling relationship with the love of his life, Mary-Jane. Things are going so well infact that Peter tells Aunt May that he wants to propose to MJ, and she gives him her blessing and the same ring Uncle Ben used to propose to her many years earlier.

Then things start to go awry for our favorite web-slinger, starting with a sneak-attack from Harry, now assuming the role of the Goblin. After a long brawl, Harry is seriously injured and hospitalized. He loses his short-term memory and forgets that Peter is Spider-man, and that he was involved with his father’s death. MJ soon has her life fall apart as well, as she is fired from her broadway job and feels like she can’t turn to Peter for support. Peter barely acknowledges MJ and seems to be wrapped up in the pending ceremony honoring him for rescuing Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of a NYC police captain. When Peter is caught up in the spectacle and shares the same upside down kiss with Gwen that he first had with MJ, she is furious and turns to Harry for comfort.

Meanwhile, escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden-Church) accidently falls into a top secret experiment and has his molecules transformed into sand. He then turns to a life of crime to try and get money to help his ailing daughter (Perla Haney-Jardine), and becomes the Sandman. Captain Stacy (James Cromwell) calls Peter and Aunt May in to inform them of Marko’s escape and that he may’ve been involved in Uncle Ben’s death. Peter becomes furious, and soon begins giving into his anger. About this time is when a mysterious black substance from a downed asteriod bonds itself to Peter’s costume and turns it black and grey, and gives Peter more strength and helps fuel his darker emotions. Thrown into the mix is also reporter Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), boyfriend to Gwen Stacy and rival for Peter at the Daily Bugle. All these forces begin moving towards a collision course in this “final chapter” of the Spider-man saga.

Analysis: Way too many Villians, way too many new characters and way, way WAY too many subplots. They just tried to do way too much in this movie. This film seems like it was written by twelve people, and none of them could agree, so they just did it all. How they took the marvelous first two films and got to this is anyones guess. Parts of the movie are okay, and the end battle is extremely entertaining, but there is a good hour or so of this movie that is just painful to watch. Why have Peter Parker do a Saturday Night-Fever impression on the streets of NYC sporting a bad Jared Leto look? WHY?!? Also, Harry’s lost puppy routine becomes old after a few minutes and stretches on for way too long. Most of the big reveal moments are just horribly written, and poorly thought-out. Mainly the reveal to Harry about his father’s death by the butler. Are you kidding me??!?!! Visually a spectacular film, the Sandman portions are great, but ultimately the film suffers the same fate as the Batman movies did in the 1990’s…too many villians. A disappointing end to a great trilogy. Now I just hope the rumors of Black Cat in Spider-man 4 are true…maybe forget this one ever existed. Anyone with me?

Did you know? Kirsten Dunst is a natural blonde and dies her red to portray MJ, while Bryce Dallas Howard is a natural red-head dying her hair blonde. Go figure that one out.

The Cast: Honestly they all seem lost most of this movie, it goes in some wierd directions. Even the great chemistry between Tobey Maguire and the other returning actors seems gone in this installment. Even in important and emotional scenes, such as MJ breaking up with Peter, come off as goofy and silly the way they were done in this film. Rosemary Harris does her best with her few scenes, but manages to only creep the audience out with mental images of her in a bathing suit, ruining an otherwise poignant scene between her and Peter. The newcomers are mostly equally lost, if not more so. Topher Grace is horribly cheesy and uninteresting as Eddie Brock, and don’t even get me started on the Venom look. Thomas Hayden-Church does quite well with some of his scenes, but in others seems lost in the whole green-screen process. James Cromwell is a veteran actor, and an extremley good one at that and even he seemed bored with his precious few scenes. Bryce Dallas Howard was wasted in this movie. She is the only gem in the newbie bunch, and does a great job playing perky Gwen Stacy. She is simply adorable in the role. Now, where the plot chooses to use her is another story…hence the waste.

Favorite moments: Hmmm, hard to choose a few favorites when most of this movie was a wash, as far as I’m concerned. I did like the end battle, at least the visuals of it, even if it did seem like Spidey had wandered into The Mummy. Also loved the skyscraper rescue of Gwen, and Spidey squirming his way thru debree and glass to save her. Sandman’s origin scene is hauntingly beautiful, and the visuals are among the greatest ever created on screen in that scene. The look of the black costume is great, but nowhere close to the coolness of the one in the comics, which was disappointing. Mainly it seemed like they didn’t trust the mainstream audience to buy into a completly different suit, so they just darkened the existing one instead.

How does it work as Act 3, and the concluding chapter in a larger story? It’s hit and miss, mostly miss. Again, this film was largely disappointing to me, and finding any silver lining is hard. It does resolve the Harry-Peter-Spidey-Goblin story arc nicely, and does complete Peter’s journey to being a hero. The first film was about him becoming a hero, the second about reconsiling with that choice and this last film was about balancing that choice with the rest of his life and not taking shortcuts. In that, it did an okay job. Take out 1/3 of this movie and its okay, and mainly its the middle chunk that is horrible. Mostly it introduced a lot of characters, and had to devote a lot of time to stretch out those plot lines and merge them into the pea-soup that was the plot of this movie. I thought they missed a great opportunity with Gwen, and hope she is back in future films. They did a horrible job with Venom, and I was glad to see him die in the end. Sandman became largely pointless in the film, and his overall journey would’ve been better served as the central villian of a film, and not as a one-act villian sharing the movie with two others. As for Peter and MJ, its up in the air and kind of depressing where it leaves them. It does leave the window open for future films to either get them back together or introduce new love interests for them both.

Individual film grade: C

Over-all Trilogy grade: A-

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