Looking Back at the Spider-Man Films
(Originally written on August 25, 2019)
UPDATE: Sony and Disney/Marvel Studios worked out their differences, and another film starring Tom Holland will release in 2021.
“With great power…comes great responsibility.”
Spider-Man (yes, with a dash) is the most recognizable and iconic character from Marvel comics. I like to think fans love the character not only because of his heroics and quirky personality, but because of how relatable he is. The person behind the mask is just another human being (albeit with super-human abilities) trying to figure out how to navigate life, much like us.
With Spider-Man: Far From Home, there are now eight films in total about the wall crawler (not counting movies where he only appeared briefly). The character has been rebooted twice with the latter connecting more with audiences. They all share similar themes, but also contrast in various ways too. However, the future of Spider-Man films is becoming more uncertain.
News broke recently of how Disney (who owns Marvel Studios) and Sony Pictures (who owns the movie rights to Spider-Man) are at an impasse regarding negotiations surrounding financial staking and profits from the films, with all signs leaning toward Spider-Man being out of the MCU. It’s an unusual situation which I won’t get into, but I’m sure you can find a plethora of online articles already discussing it.
For now, let’s look back at the Spider-Man films.
Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3
The original Spider-Man film trilogy always gives me nostalgia. It was one of the first major introductions to the character for me (along with the awesome 90’s cartoon). This and the original X-Men trilogy ushered in a new wave of comic book movies in a time when they weren’t as big as they are now. Despite minor criticisms, these films were entertaining and you grew to care about its characters. Also, the musical scores composed by Danny Elfman are Legendary. He created iconic themes, particularly for the villains (something I didn’t realize until after I revisited the movies).
What I appreciated is how we’re shown a Peter Parker struggling with common everyday problems. He ends up with these abilities and takes on the responsibility of doing what’s right (fighting crime in the city), but it takes away from other areas of his life. His university grades drop. He barely gets by financially. His relationships become complicated, especially with his best friend Harry. However, all this turmoil allows for good character growth throughout Peter’s journey and encourages him to persevere.
Out of all the Spider-Man movies to date, I like the Peter-Aunt May dynamic from this trilogy the best. It portrayed such a loving relationship between family, as well as showing how inspiration and motivation can emerge from the most simple of circumstances. Gotta give props to English actress Rosemary Harris for her excellent performance as Aunt May.
We can’t talk about heroes without also discussing villains. It’s a common theme in some Spider-Man stories how some villains are directly tied to Peter in some way. They do that justice in these films with Green Goblin (Peter’s best friend’s father) and Doctor Octopus (aka Otto Octavius, someone Peter briefly meets and looks up to). Even Spider-Man 3 (which I still enjoyed though many despise it) manages to follow this trend, but more so with Sandman than Venom.
While Spider-Man 4 and 5 were planned, everything ultimately fell apart due to constrained production schedules. The cast and crew even agreed they wouldn’t be able to produce something worthwhile and decided to move on.
The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel
With Sam Raimi and the previous cast having left, Sony Pictures made the decision to reboot Spider-Man. They hired director Marc Webb, coming off his directorial debut for (500) Days of Summer, to reinvigorate the franchise. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were then cast as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively. These films brought a different tone and updated the characters to fit more with modern times, which was interesting to say the least.
I thought the first movie was a fresh take on Spider-Man. The core elements remained, but presented in a way that re-imagined the world. Even Uncle Ben’s iconic speech about responsibility was changed (for better or worse). The idea of science was uniquely heightened, even including Peter being more hands-on and creating his web shooters (which Sam Raimi changed for his version). As well, they introduced a subplot involving Peter’s parents and the mysterious circumstances surrounding their deaths.
Though not perfect, I still kinda enjoyed this film and Andrew Garfield’s performance. However, I also thought it tried too hard to be edgy or cool at times.
I always felt the crux of these two movies was the relationship between Peter and Gwen. It’s undeniably a significant part of the story (much like Peter and Mary Jane from the previous films). They have great chemistry and Gwen isn’t simply a damsel in distress. She is fully capable and helps Peter when she can, whether it’s with saving the city or when he needs emotional support.
It’s a shame the sequel focused too heavily on expanding the universe rather than delivering a good story. The ideas were intriguing, but they were crammed into the film sloppily in my opinion. Even this incarnation of Harry Osborn (played by Dane DeHaan) appears out of the blue, and audiences were seemingly forced to accept he’s Peter’s best friend without being shown any of that friendship beforehand (the rule of “show, don’t tell” comes to mind).
This reboot didn’t quite resonate with some viewers and critics, though it still has fans. With the MCU now having been established by this point, many wondered if Spider-Man would ever find himself swinging around in that universe.
Spider-Man: Homecoming & Far From Home
It wasn’t long until a new version of Peter Parker appeared, and within the MCU no less. The current Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) first appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but now younger and still in high school (to many peoples’ delight). It helped how his origins didn’t need to be fully explored. All it took was one heartfelt moment of Peter describing how bad things can happen when someone with his abilities does nothing to prevent it. Sound familiar?
Homecoming symbolized a return of sorts to what fans enjoyed about Spider-Man. He’s quirky and fun, but also undergoes tough choices and humbling experiences. The film was more lighthearted and excellently showcased a ‘friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man’ (pictured above), and the teenager who just wants to prove himself. It also provided real danger not only for Spider-Man, but for Peter Parker as well. The scene where he goes to pick up Liz for the homecoming dance — whew — I genuinely didn’t see that coming.
Far From Home was great too, but not without its flaws. I thought it (and to some degree Homecoming) leaned a bit too heavily into trying to make Peter the next Tony Stark. It was clever how they initially set up the relationship between the two, but I’d have preferred seeing Peter stepping out of Tony’s shadow more instead of him being categorized as the next ‘Iron Man.’ I also kinda missed the New York setting, but everything else was great.
While The Amazing Spider-Man villains didn’t make much impact, that problem was rectified in these films. Homecoming introduced us to Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture), a man who does whatever it takes to achieve his goals, but also a father wanting to provide for his family. The sympathetic villains are the most interesting, aren’t they? Quentin Beck (aka Mysterio) is also a fascinating character, but I didn’t consider his motivations as compelling as Toomes’ in my opinion. He was still a menacing threat though.
The only issue I have with these two characters is how they are both led to do evil acts because of how Tony Stark may have mistreated them in the past. I get that it’s the MCU and all, but some detachment from it would’ve been nice. That aside, casting Michael Keaton and Jake Gyllenhaal makes up for any complaints. Excellent choices!
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
I think it’s impressive how one of the best Spider-Man movies is an animated one. Into The Spider-Verse implemented new ideas not only for animation, but also with how to handle multiple versions of a character. It expertly balanced drama and comedy while also delivering a heartfelt story about newcomer Miles Morales learning to step into his role as his dimension’s new Spider-Man.
As I mentioned in my review of the film, Spider-Verse is a celebration of different kinds of animation. It also celebrates ‘Spider-Man’ with all the different iterations. The film introduced new characters, particularly Miles, while also embracing what came before. There’s not much more to add apart from what I’ve already written about it.
So how does the future of Spider-Man films look moving forward? Judging from what reports have been speculating and statements made by Tom Holland and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, it seems like the character won’t be appearing in the MCU anymore. That also means the MCU won’t have much presence (if any) in the remaining solo movies for Spider-Man. This is upsetting, but there is a silver lining.
Not being directly tied to the MCU could allow for Sony Pictures and the crew to have less restrictions with the Spider-Man stories they can and want to tell. Marvel Studios certainly deserves credit for creating an expansive universe, but the underlying stipulation is how everything needs to be connected. Removing that limitation can allow for Spider-Man to come into his own as a character without relying on Stark Tech or other things.
Am I angry about this whole situation? Just a little annoyed, really. At least we’ll be getting two more films with Tom Holland and director Jon Watts (if those reports are accurate), and Sony Pictures will probably build on its animated Spider-Verse with sequels.
- A. Shin