Rewind Reviews: The Spiderman trilogy
In anticipation of New Spider Dude 4 coming out this Tuesday, today we will relive the greatness of the very underrated Spider-Man trilogy. These movies combine excellent acting and amazing special effects (and, for the first two at least, clever story arcs) to the end result of excellent superhero movies. Basically:
Spider-Man > Batman
How controversial! But we’ll discuss Batman when the time comes.
Right now it’s Spidey’s time. I’m not quite sure when I’ll see NSD4, because it randomly comes out in the middle of the week and I’ll be away until Saturday. So look for the review… sometime?
Also, I just want to quickly add that while Abraham Lincoln had my very best publication date with 135(!) views, Brave disappointed with barely over half of that. This is partially my fault, because I wasn’t around to advertise it as much as I normally would have. If you haven’t already read it (or even if you have 😉 😉 😉 ) make sure to click the link and check it out:
Anyway, it’s still Spidey’s time. Astute but socially hopeless nerd Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) lives with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). He has a crush on red headed girl-literally-next-door MJ Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who aspires to become an actress as the end of their senior year approaches. Peter’s only friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) is the son of genius CEO of Oscorp Norman (Willem Dafoe) but inherited none of his intelligence. Peter and Harry work in symbiosis; Harry defends Peter from the bullies at school while Peter defends him from failing.
I merely summarize the first two movies, but make sure to read my take on the third, in which I suggest alternate routes the writers could have taken to make it as good as the first two.
The high school is taking a field trip to a genetic discovery museum. Peter chases the bus there (he always misses the bus because he’s silly) and learns about recent experiments to genetically improve spiders. One of the spider mutations escapes and bites him on the hand, but that scene doesn’t really seem to have any relevance to the plot. Anyway soon Peter goes home and turns into Spider-Man.
(I just wanna take this moment to point out that Peter and I have many similarities. We both have kinda the same hair and we’re both nerdy and we were both on the school newspaper. I’ve been deemed Peter Parker before. Not really sure why I’m writing this but it makes me feel good.)
Peter learns he can now crawl up walls like they were coated in glue, shoot webs, swing from building to building, no longer has need for glasses, etc. He uses these newfound abilities to stand up to the school bullies. Wishing to impress MJ with a new car, Peter enters a wrestling tournament for $3,000, which Uncle Ben insists on driving him to, thinking he’s going to the library. Before Peter leaves the car, Ben addresses his change of behavior.
Uncle Ben: Remember, with great power… comes great responsibility. Holy crap that guy has a gun.
Indeed he does. Peter rightfully won the prize money, but it was a scam. In instant karma’s finest moment the scam artist is robbed as Peter leaves, and Peter lets the guy go out of angst. Unfortunately, it turns out the thief shot Uncle Ben during his escape. Peter uses his spidey powers to hunt down and kill the thief.
Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe’s character becomes da foe of the film, the Green Goblin. An experiment goes horribly wrong, and Norman develops a deranged second personality. Using technology developed by Oscorp, the Goblin attacks New York in a fit Norman does not remember. Spider-Man arrives just in time to rescue MJ from falling to her death. Seems like MJ nearly dies a lot, because Spider-Man saves her life again a few minutes later, and they share a romantic upside down spider kiss. But she’s dating Harry!! She is doing that, by the way, but not for long.
Peter gets a job at the local newspaper The Daily Bugle photographing Spider-Man under irritable motormouth James Jameson’s (J. K. Simmons) rule. Jameson uses the paper to paint Spidey as a bad guy, declaring him a ‘menace’ to New York.
Norman discovers Peter is Spider-Man at one of the most awkward Thanksgiving dinners to ever happen and attacks Aunt May. Realizing she is literally invincible to everything, he switches targets to helpless damsel MJ, kidnapped her and tying her up really high somewhere (not the last time this happens to her). Spider-Man comes to the rescue, saving MJ and a cable car filled with passengers. Spidey and Goblin duke it out in an abandoned tower, where Norman’s identity is revealed. Peter hesitates, as Norman is like a father to him. But the Goblin personality defeats Norman, and he tries to saw Spidey in half with his glider. He jumps out of the way at the last second, and Goblin is impaled with his own glider, killing himself and Norman.
Spider-Man tries to return Norman to the Osborn mansion, but is discovered by Harry as he flees. Harry believes that Spider-Man killed his father, unaware of his Goblin personality, and vows revenge. At Norman’s funeral, MJ reveals her love to Peter, but he must protect her by keeping her far away from his life and hiding his identity from her. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.
Peter’s full time job as Spider-Man is beginning to take a toll on his personal life, as he has no time for school, friends or family. He can’t even deliver a pizza on time because two kids playing in the road had a death wish! MJ now stars in a Broadway play, and try as he might, Peter is never able to arrive on time to watch it, distancing himself from her.
Replacing Norman as CEO of Oscorp, Harry introduces Peter to genius Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) and his beloved wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy). Oscorp and Octavius have teamed up to harness the power of fusion and create infinite energy. Octavius has invented four extremely creepy, artificially intelligent claw-arms to help him control a replica of the sun he invented. The experiment goes horribly awry, but Octavius refuses to (literally) pull the plug. A wall of the building collapses into the sun’s magnetic forcefield, crushing Rosalie and destroying the chip that kept Octavius in control of the claws. Under the claws’ influence, Octavius (deemed ‘Doc Ock’ by ever-witty Jameson) reeks havoc on the city in hopes to successfully complete the experiment.
At the bank, the recently bankrupt Aunt May requests refinancing of her house and a free toaster, but Doc Ock rudely interrupts by stealing bags of money, and her. Spider-Man arrives to save the day, and Doc Ock flings Aunt May up the side of the building. She stunningly reveals that Peter did not gain all of his powers from the spider, as she latches onto the building with her umbrella. Spider-Man and Aunt May manage to fight off Doc Ock… for now.
Once Peter discovers that MJ has moved on from him and is engaged to a football playing astronaut, he tosses the spidey suit in the garbage and moves on with his life. Jameson quickly gets his paws on the suit, and declares he has run Spidey out of the city, despite the incredible crime rate spike. Peter is able to get his grades back up, but is still unable to repair relationships with MJ and Harry.
Doc Ock goes to the now-drunkard Harry for tritium, an element he needs for his experiment. Harry demands Spidey for it. Doc Ock and Spider-Man fight to the death on a moving train, which is going to run right off the tracks! Spider-Man is able to stop it, but his mask is ripped, revealing his identity to hundreds. In silent mutual agreement the passengers decide to keep his identity secret, but they are no match for Doc Ock. Harry trades him the element, and is shocked to discover that his ex best friend is the superhero who killed his father. Harry lets him go to rescue MJ, who has been kidnapped (not the last time this happens to her), but their friendship will never be the same.
Doc Ock begins his experiment in the dilapidated remains of his laboratory, creating a second sun replica. Spider-Man saves MJ as the building starts to collapse again, holding up an entire wall. Doc Ock is temporarily able to subdue the claws and realizes his mistake. He sinks the sun along with himself and the claws while Spidey swings to safety. Still missing his mask, MJ sees that Peter is Spider-Man, and they fall in love upon his web.
MJ gets cold feet and walks out on (read: joyously flees) her wedding with the space guy, running to Peter’s apartment. Peter figures, hey, there’s no way her life can be even more endangered than it has been these past two movies, and they begin to court. In a drunken stupor, Harry is contacted by Norman, who shows him the secret lab where he kept the Green Goblin suit.
This is where the series goes wrong. There is too much jam-packed into this movie, and too little lives up to its two predecessors.
I’m going to sum things up quickly. A black goop from space arrives on earth and, as chances would have it, attaches to Peter’s bike while on a date with MJ. Escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) is genetically fused with sand during his run from the cops. Harry becomes the New Green Goblin and attacks Peter, but then turns good, but then turns bad, but then turns good. MJ gets fired from her Broadway play and gets jealous of Gwen Stacey (the criminally underrated Bryce Dallas Howard) when she and Spidey kiss. She breaks up with Peter, but not because her life is horrible, because Harry makes her. The black goop poisons Peter, turning his suit black and making him a horrible(ly dorky) person. The goop then infects his newspaper rival Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) turning him into Venom, who teams up with Sandman and kidnaps MJ (not the last time this happens – oh wait). Spider-Man teams up with New Green Goblin during one of his good moods. All superheroes do battle.
The movie’s problem is that too much goes on. It would have benefitted from dropping a baddie and saving him for the next movie (it was assumed there would be a next movie at the time). They probably should have cut the Sandman, who, despite having a relevant backstory, a believable motive, and awesome CGI, still failed to leave a lasting impression.
My biggest disappointment is that, after two full movies building up to it, Harry’s appearance as New Green Goblin still somehow felt spontaneous and unexciting. Peter is casually riding home on his scooter, and then… wee, here I am!, chortled the goblin. And that was pretty much it. Harry’s character, so dynamic and believable in the first two films, was shoved to the side during the first half of his most important role of the series. My favorite scene of the film was the fight between Harry and Peter in the Osborn mansion. No costumes, no collapsing buildings or scorching infernos, just two friends (albeit super powerful, deadly friends) fighting over their lost friendship. This is what deserved to be the focus of the movie.
Even though Venom grew into a fascinating villain, it needed at least some semblance of a back story. The fact that it rose from a meteorite that just happened to land close to Peter and MJ is vomit-worthy. With the Sandman cut from the script, the writers would have had a lot more time to give him an actual story and an arc that doesn’t suddenly appear when the movie switches bad guys halfway through. I thought of many alternatives the writers could have used, with the Sandman gone. What if the goop had infected Peter’s engagement ring to MJ? That’s where I thought the movie was headed, anyway, when we see Peter hastily shove the ring in his pocket, and see the goop squelching over his jeans later that very same scene. It would have been exciting to see MJ, fueled by anger of being replaced on Broadway and by her jealously of Gwen, finally do something besides get kidnapped and suspended dangerously high in midair. Poison MJ could have behaved like Poison Peter did, publicly humiliating Peter and Gwen, and somehow seeking revenge on Broadway. And then the trio of friends, Peter, MJ, and Harry, could have duked it out with their powers… sigh… what could have been.
Or Venom could have spread like a disease through the town. If the movie wanted a climactic 2 vs 2 battle so badly, why not have Venom infect more than just Brock? Have Spidey and Harry face an entire army of Venoms! But the challenge is discovering a way to defeat the Venom without harming the innocent citizens it takes over. A giant blob of Venom could have easily replaced Sandman in the last battle.
I digress. The movie still had a few excellent moments, but was not consistently good like the first two. To me it hit its stride along with Poison Peter as he obnoxiously walked down the street, randomly snapping his fingers and dancing to no music. Too bad it took half the movie to get there.
I feel like the first two had an established comic book atmosphere around them. Their little New York world felt familiar and distinctive. The third sacrificed that in exchange for more action.