Saga Review: Spider-Man

I love movies. Comics I’ve never given time to, and as far as Spider-man is concerned you’ll have to forgive some of my ignorance; I’ve heard a lot of theories and followed lots of arguments about why Spider-man needed a reboot or about why the reboot ruined everything.

I can only give you my opinion, as someone who loves film, storytelling and creativity first and foremost… with a little dash of nostalgic traditionalism.

(I don’t care whether or not Spider-man has organics or web-shooters.)

It was great fun to watch the old Sam Raimi movies, and honestly I have to insist people watch them again! Spider-man came out twelve years ago. TWELVE. Even if you are eighteen when this post is made and claim The Amazing Spider-man is better, try to remember that you were six when it came out originally! Go and watch it again. Right now. Then watch Spider-man 2.

With that said, a message to Sony:
With Great Franchise Rights, Comes Great Responsibility.

Spider-Man (2002)

(pause for a moment: this film was released twelve years ago… oh god, I feel old)

Back in the days when films could be under two hours long, they could be bright, exciting and have pop songs associated with them, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man remains to this day a pulpy, comic book romp that is both entertaining in its goofiness and its theatrics.

Young teen Peter Parker is bitten by a scientifically created “super spider” and becomes the athletic, web-shooting titular hero. While he struggles over his affections for Mary-Jane, the love of his life, his best friend’s father Norman Osborne becomes corrupt through a dangerous military experiment and becomes Spidey’s nemesis the Green Goblin.

You know, looking back at this film, you can harp on about what’s wrong with it; Raimi has a very distinct style in his movies and it isn’t always going to agree with some people, but gosh darn it I like this movie. I really do. Why? Well, principally, it’s fun! God, remember when films were just fun? They aren’t murky and loaded with grim subtext and don’t feel like franchise machines? Raimi did what few directors manage: bring a comic book to life with a unique creative vision.

I like Toby Maguire as Peter Parker, I like the film’s heavy roots in family values and how the screenplay twists this into a cruel destiny for him and those around him. Parker’s family is almost wiped out, and Norman and Harry Osborne are like brother and father to him respectively (tell me, how often do you see a hero and arch nemesis sitting around a thanksgiving table??) and this becomes wonderfully complex as the film develops. I love the heart this film has, asides from the clear family values, I love how it sparks a community spirit; Spider-Man protects the people, and the people give back in kind. YES, I liked the part were New Yorkers start throwing things at the Goblin. Forget any possible subtext, I think it’s rewarding to see in a genre that’s so dark and depressing now.
And how can you not like Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborne? He tears the scenery apart, virtually born for the role. Or J.K Simmons as the Daily Bugle editor Jonah Jameson, instantly memorable and instantly entertaining!

Okay, okay, there are problems with it… Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane is pathetic; she’s kidnapped or attacked, literally, every thirty minutes, so that’s a lot of screaming she belts out in 110 minutes. It gets old really fast. The rooftop talk between masked Goblin and Spider-Man is a little hard to take seriously… but even Raimi himself said it was hard to make completely convincing.
The CGI is not great, neither are the composite shots; give this film five more years and it will be unbearable to watch. But you have to understand, Spider-Man came out in 2002, a lot of this was revolutionary at the time.

What with the reboot out, I insist this version not be forgotten about! I maintain that Sony have done nothing but spin money and forget some actual gold they already made. Raimi gave us a memorable, colourful and characterful Spider-Man. Dare I say this film is like Spider-Man’s answer to Tim Burton’s Batman!

(but was that a Macy Gray cameo? … Okay? I guess? Films have changed a lot!

Additional Marshmallows: I couldn’t help but sense parallels with other future films while watching this. Remember Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne doesn’t get the girl at the end? Funny, Spider-Man did it first. Iron Man proclaiming to himself that “He is Iron Man” all the time? Spider-Man got there first. Makes you think.

Spider-Man 2

Sweet, delicious consistency. I love it.

Harry Osborne takes up his father’s mantle and funds a scientific project of one Doctor Octavius to develop a fusion reaction, but there is an accident and the good doctor is infused with his mechanical arms, turning him into a delirious villain of the city. Meanwhile, Peter Parker struggles with the duality of his life, so much that his powers begin to waver and fail. He will lose everything if he cannot decide on the course of his life.

Spider-Man 2 remains one of my very favourite comic book movies, even more so than the first and mostly because of Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Octavius, aka Doc Ock. I simply love the good guy-turn-evil premise (see Harvey Dent also) and not only is Molina excellent for the part, but the filmmakers did an excellent job bringing the character to life; the CGI and (more importantly) the physical effects with the mechanical arms remains especially good! Sure, there’s a few shots with an uncanny valley CG-Molina, but it is in forgivable action  sequences.
Speaking of which, asides deja-vu with a burning building scenario, the action sequences are incredible! Unlike the first films rather “staged” feel, this film has battles on the sides of buildings and a prominent battle on top of a moving L-train. Everything feels dynamic and high speed.

Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane is more bearable now; at least she is only captured once an hour instead of every twenty minutes. Though the constant back and forth “will they, won’t they” between her and Peter gets old after a while; Peter’s overriding guilt about Uncle Ben’s death is more than enough fuel to keep the development afloat (as well as the growing anxiety with Harry Osborne!) without bleating over and over with their relationship.
I love how much they involve Aunt May in this film too. She gets entangled with the action and had a lot of moving words of wisdom to share with not just Peter but with the audience too.

The film feels better paced and more consistent than the first film, Doc Ock provides all the momentum it needs to progress without getting in the way of our lead characters’ developments. James Franco’s Harry Osborne stews and seethes in the background, his character perhaps loses out; a foreboding of things to come…

Honestly there’s so little I find wrong with this film. But I’d say Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead style shows a little too much here and there… what is with all the screaming women?? Seriously, I thought it back in 2004, and I still do now. Way too many screamers, as much as I like the ridiculously dark scene of Doc Ock awakening in the hospital.

Clocking in still under two hours, with an excellent villain (I love my villains) and maintaining its great entertainment and bright theatrics, great soundtrack, Spider-Man 2 promises the franchise will run and run.

Oh… if only it did…

Spider-Man 3

Oh boy, Spider-senses are tingling: a big review coming up.

A complacent and over-confident Peter Parker, his life seemingly perfect with a city of Spider-man fans and preparing to marry the girl of his dreams Mary-Jane, finds himself under the influence of a parasitic organism from space that corrupts his suit. In the meantime, a fugitive named Flint Marko is changed by a freak accident into The Sandman. Peter soon realises that Flint had something to do with Uncle Ben’s death…

Funny how the film to introduce the black suit Spider-man would be the black sheep of the franchise, but having only seen it once before (in cinemas) I have to admit there’s a lot to dislike about the film, but reluctantly so; there’s all the makings of a good final act… buried deep down.

First off, the screenplay is completely shattered beyond repair, all of the consistency and integrity of the first two movies is blown out the window. Not only do we have the black suit (aka Venom) appear first and then disappear until later, not only do we have the Sandman’s ridiculous origin (Flint falls into a particle physics experiment by accident, seriously?) and the resurgence of Uncle Ben’s death (I’ll get to that) but we also have the anticipation of Harry Osborne’s ascension as the New Goblin curbed by him being immediately concussed and forgetting everything that happened to him!
Let’s pull back a second. Spider-man 2 was about Peter and Mary-Jane’s struggling relationship, the back and forth and its resolution, but here we are right back to square one; Harry is back to normal and going after Mary-Jane. Why? Just to add some tension onto Peter. Flint/Sandman’s plot exists solely to aggravate Peter’s story too. Why then do you need both of those disparate story elements? Harry’s story flips halfway through the film too; he reverts back to being evil and hurts MJ and Peter all over again. Why then did you need to have him concussed? To give Peter more reason to feel complacent? He already IS complacent! Just have Harry evil and playing our two heroes against each other! There’s no need for continuous backs and forths!
The screenplay is horribly convoluted, and every single character suffers from it. Harry’s resolution feels haphazard with the way he yo-yo’s from one alignment to the other. The Sandman comes across as completely unnecessary and could have been cut from the film entirely, while Venom (probably the most interesting aspect for developing Peter’s character further) is bloated with… with Peter’s “emo” fringe and crazy bump-and-grind dance moves.

Okay! I have to address this, since I’ve mentioned it. The film has a lot of silliness in regards to Venom’s influence on Peter as a person, but viewers should remember it is stated that the parasite causes the very worst in the host’s personality to come out. Peter is a geek, a goof. Isn’t it fair to assume then that if he were “influenced” he might act with absolute selfishness? Especially since he is at a high point in his career as Spider-man?
Honestly, the emo fringe flicking aside, the film’s overall mess of a screenplay is a much greater sin.

It is a sad mess of a movie, because the soundtrack is still great, the visuals are still great (the Sandman is a walking testimony to visual effects!) but it could have been a much, much simpler and far more effective conclusion! Peter, Harry and Mary-Jane are your main characters! Don’t confuse it all with Gwen Stacey, Eddie Brock and Flint Marko!

There was a lot of production disagreements between Sony and Sam Raimi, and it shows. But despite all of that, Spider-man 3 was the highest grossing film of 2007. That’s up against Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Not too shabby.

But worst of all… Spider-man 3‘s legacy is a general public opinion that Sony’s rebooting of the entire franchise is valid. As haphazard as Spider-man 3 was, there’s never validity to rebooting a series only five years after its supposed finale. Especially when you have so little creativity to give such a reboot…

Speaking of which.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Five years after the original trilogy we have a reboot of the franchise, critics claim it is Sony’s desire to hold onto the rights after Marvel Studios conception and success and… when you get down to it, I agree with them. While there is future promise from this film, the film itself is overall lazy and uncreative.

It is back to the beginning: we see a recluse and mumbling Peter Parker begin his journey trying to learn more about his parents and why they left him. His journey directs him to on of his father’s work colleagues, Oscorp’s Dr Curt Conners, a scientist researching gene splicing. Specifically looking into reptile and human DNA…

There’s a lot I like about this film, but there’s a lot I dislike too, which makes it hard to explain (unlike the universally unlikable Spider-Man 3 or the highly favoured Spider-Man 2). Andrew Garfield takes over as the lead role, and bends into Parker/Spider-man as well as the script allows him to, but Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey is dynamite; frankly she’s the one thing this new film gets right over the original series ten times over. I feel as though there’s a lot of potential with these two and the overall look and effects provided to this film. The sequels have a lot to live up to!

But, if there’s one thing that this film irks me most on… is its nature as an origin story. It almost feels labored with it! The first act is dull as dish water; unlike Raimi’s colourful, honest and memorable experience that rattles by with energy, this film drags its heels through the not With-Great-Power-And-Responsibility speech again. It goes through the same motions as the Raimi film: “Quick reflexes”; “Did you humiliate that boy?”; “You could have stopped him!”, “That’s not my policy”, not only does it lack the first film’s heart (its focus on family and respect) it uncreatively rehashes scenes.
While watching it again I found Curt Conner’s visual transformation into The Lizard more appealing, it is still a lame villain (up there with the first Iron Man and Hulk films) if the film hadn’t been an origin story and just continued the franchise, The Lizard could have been fleshed out to the level of Doc Ock from SM2. Or… if the script wasn’t so mindlessly cliche and completely unmemorable.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but just compare the Raimi films scripts to this one, this one is boring; relying on cliche and convenience to get where it needs to go.

As someone who clearly has issue with the film, there’s a lot I do like. If I treat this as a continuation of the franchise (like it could easily have been) it promises a lot for the future; Spider-man as a character is still intact, the mystery about his parents is intriguing, the effects are amazing and the action sequences are still gripping. Battles between him and The Lizard are creative and exciting!
But it just sits in this unhappy place in my heart; a place that screams “Sony wants money and the franchise rights, so they’ll just repeat everything!”

A very generous 3 cocoa cups; mostly for special effects, future promise and Emma Stone!

Additional Marshmallows: As someone working in a cinema when this released, I remember hearing a boy talking to his mother when the first posters for the film appeared. The boy, only about nine years old, wasn’t impressed by the idea of a reboot: “But I already know what happens with Spider-man”, he argued.

Give that boy a cookie.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (3D) (2014)
Sony Entertainment’s reign of average, acceptable film making continues. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shakes off its predecessor’s shackles of the origin story and has some great moments, but suffers from some old, overriding problems.

Peter Parker has his work cut out for him protecting the city of New York from criminals, but when a fan of his named Max Dillion suffers a terrible accident inside Oscorp tower and becomes Electro, a being of pure electricity, his greatest challenge emerges. Meanwhile, Peter searches for answers about why his parents left him.

I’m going to say it… and it isn’t a pleasant thing to say, but this film reminds me of Spider-man 3 (minus the jazz club dancing).

Oh snap I’ve done it now!
The Amazing Spider-man 2, as cliche as it is to say in a review, suffers from having too many villains. I’m sorry but it is true. We have an angry Russian who nicknames himself Rhino, we have Harry Osborne summoned into the series after his absence in Part 1, and we have Max “Electro” Dillion. Why is Rhino an angry Russian? Because he is Russian… and he is angry.
Max, played by Jamie Foxx, is excellent though and desperately wants to be the core focus of the film, and if it weren’t for Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield maintaining their good performances, he might have stolen the show. One of the film’s greatest moments is when Max finds himself with his new powers and face to face with his idol, Spider-man; it is a unique scene that challenges the way we perceive heroes and villains and even starts to weave a different relationship between our hero and his nemesis. It is truly remarkable.
It is a shame that Electro’s character never returns to this purgatory of self… once he goes into the deep end of villainy the screenplay never allows him to resurface again.

Why? Because we need to push Harry Osborne into the story. Played by Chronicle‘s excellent Dane DeHaan, Harry unfortunately feels rushed and not enough of the film’s ridiculously long 140 minute cycle is given to his development. We must accept that Harry and Peter are life-long friends, why, the film gives us a whole entire scene for it!

Here’s my problem. A villain inspires and challenges our hero to change and to adapt their personality, but here, everything is so crammed with stuff (most of it deemed only for sake of convenience) that nothing feels connected or genuine. Plot threads are just tossed at us: Oh yeah, Peter works for the Daily Bugle now, that’s his job now (which he’s never actually shown doing, ever, we never see the Daily Bugle). Oh, without any outside influence, Peter is going to go crazy and start looking for his parents suddenly. Oh, because we have the city under threat (100 minutes in) we need to establish that Aunt May is in fact, a nurse at a hospital.
They have all the characters doing what they should be doing, but there’s no setup, there’s no build up to anything, its like watching a magician pull a rabbit out of his hat without showing the rabbit disappear first!
Harry Osborne is the definition of this issue… he gets no build up outside of a single scene, and when a story starts doing these things you find yourself not watching characters but watching the gears and gizmos controlling them.

Sigh. I really wanted to like this film more, but in today’s over-indulgence of superhero films you have to start looking for uniqueness, or at least integrity. The special effects are very good, Spider-man’s suit actually looks superior in this film compared to all previous films (I think its the white eyes) and Electro does bring a lot of gravitas to the proceedings.

There are scenes that are extremely good, Electro should have had the film all to himself, but once again… a film studio that isn’t Marvel Studios feels like its rushing to get stuff done.

Additional marshmallows: The 3D of the film is almost entirely during the web-swinging scenes, everything else is regular 2D near enough. If you are a fan of Rhino, you will be disappointed; he may as well have been cut from the film.

MOST of the action sequences Sony released in the millions of trailers feature in the last fifteen minutes. I’m not even kidding.

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