Spider-Man/Spider-man 2 - Hindsight is 20/20
| To my surprise,upon rewatching Sam Raimi's first 2 Spider-man films, I found they really didn’t hold up. While the second is definitely an improvement on the first, the both have quite a high cheese factor to them that I didn’t notice when I first saw them amongst the hype of opening weekend. Also, the narratives are a bit weak. There are certainly strong things but they are deeply flawed movies in the way that X-men, Superman and Batman (at least those without “forever” and “robin” in the title) are not.
The good stuff is the stuff dealing with Spidey’s story itself. The set up for the spider bite, his uncle’s death and his struggle to be a hero when J. Jonah Jameson’s rag is bashing him at every opportunity, are classic. Tobey Maguire is perfect casting as is the wonderful Rosemary Harris. Each do a great job of really creating the characters, especially Harris,. They don’t fall back on this being a comic book story, they sell it and make it believable. Let’s not forget the suit looks terrific. Even the special effects of Spidey swinging through the air, which can at times look a bit animated, mostly pull it off.
My favourite bits of 1 are Peter Parker’s attempts to learn how to use him power and deal with the changes he is going through. This is teen angst allegory for crying out loud. Spider-man nails that with all the awkward glory of a real teenager from his coming to terms with his new body to his struggles to find romance.
Having studied it again, I can say that the first film really falls apart with its villain. The Green Goblin, as portrayed in this film by Willem Defoe, is a silly mess. The costume looks ridiculous, his Snidely Wiplash villain laugh is, well… laughable… and not in a good way. And his plan seems Dr. Evil stupid. Every time he’s on the screen the film looses credibility.
This makes 2 vastly superior to 1. Doc Ock is way more fun and far less ridiculous (as far as superhero villains go). Plus he’s much more menacing. His “arms” are wonderfully rendered and they inspire real fear. His relationship with the wounded Harry Osborne is wonderful melodrama that Spider-man 2 exploits very well. 2 is a soap opera and like Superman Returns focuses more on the feelings and motivations of the characters than the action. It’s effective and the action thrown in, even the ridiculous runaway train moment, is fun. Compare that to the silly cable car scene in 1 and you see how much they have improved.
Director Sam Raimi is, and always will be, a B-movie director. You can take the director out of the B-movie but you can’t take the B-movie out of the director. Therefore you get a lot of monster movie clichés like running crowds screaming. Most of this goes too far over the top in 1 but in 2, Raimi seems to embrace this more and he runs with it. Instead of laying it on too thick, he seems more self-aware. The whole film feels more inspired and the melodrama and schlock feels intentional.
The major thing that bugs me about both movies is how much they rip off the original Superman series. There are moments in Spider-man that seem to be exact copies of Superman the Movie. The biggest examples are when Spider-man first rescues the falling Mary Jane. I thought she was going to say “You’ve got me, whose got you?” Then there is the crime stopping spree montage. If he had pulled a cat from a tree there could have been copyright infringement.
2 is almost as guilty. What’s the main plot thread in Superman II? It’s Clark choosing between his power and responsibility and trying to lead a normal life to be with the woman he loves. Substitute “Peter” instead of “Clark” and you have the plot summary of Spider-man 2.
Okay, so the Spider-man films don’t live up to my memory of them. They are still decent films and there is much to enjoy about them. The worrisome thing is that 3 is often the film where the series starts to go wrong. Think Superman 3, Batman Forever, X-men 3. Sure, Harry Potter finally found his groove in his third instalment but he’s not a comic book superhero. Let’s hope Spider-man 3 will be the best yet and he can break the curse of the threes.