Retrospective Reviews #12: Does Whatever A Spider-Man Does

This summer’s Captain America: Civil War will feature a great many characters. Captain America and Iron Man will face off directly, with Ant-Man, Black Widow, War Machine, Vision, Black Panther, and Scarlet Witch caught up in the heated battle. But we’ve seen them in Marvel Cinematic Universe movies before. Someone we haven’t seen in that mix is a hero we’ve ironically seen multiple times on the big screen: Spider-Man. The web crawling Peter Parker’s MCU debut will be brought to life by Tom Holland, the third (and youngest) man to wear the blue and red spandex & crawl around New York City. But before getting involved in a war amongst heroes or whatever the hell Andrew Garfield became tangled in during his limited run as Peter Parker, there was Tobey Maguire bringing the character to life under the direction of insane horror film veteran Sam Raimi. Before we see where Parker will be now, let’s see how he was back in the days when superhero movies were just making their comeback.

04/23/16: Spider-Man (Re-Watch)

spider-man-2002

Sony Pictures

Spider-Man is the Superman: The Movie of its time. Taking an auteur known for genre filmmaking and applying his aesthetics to the broad strokes of a beloved comic book character, the original 2002 film pretty much created the blueprint for how do to a modern superhero origin story on film. Sure, this would yield mixed results when applied by lesser filmmakers, including those who would attempt to reboot the character a decade later for Sony. Yet, despite some elements that feel very much of its time like Green Goblins’ Power Rangers suit or the random appearance by Macy Gray, the core facets of the mythology are left intact, taking the time to develop Peter Parker’s nerdiness through familiar yet endearing actions. He’s not really the quipping Spider-Man of the comics – he’s honestly at his worst when he attempts to be – but Tobey Maguire still manages to create such a likable earnestness to him that’s on level with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman. The supporting cast ranges from the sublimely well suited Kirsten Dunst, Cliff Robertson or Rosemary Harris to the all out mad scenery chewing of Willem Dafoe as Norman Osbourne’s Green Goblin. The aforementioned mentioned plastic toy suit aside, Dafoe’s gnashing voice and bombastic physicality elicits the right amount of menace and hilarious overacting that has made Dafe such a treasure, putting him in line with Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor as an almost kabuki theater level madcap insanity. The action built around these characters by Sam Raimi is at its best when Peter is on his own, either working out his skills or simply swinging around trying to save others. Once we get to the Goblin heavy elements, the early 2000s CG shows & over edited fight scenes show their ware and tear. Yet, the rough element don’t outweigh the sincerity Raimi and crew have for the character & gave mainstream audiences a fun if occasionally laughable introduction to the character onscreen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 “HEARTS, OSB0RNE! FIRST WE ATTACK HIS HEARTS!”

04/25/16: Spider-Man 2 (Re-Watch)

spider-man-2-train

Sony Pictures

Sam Raimi is a filmmaker who knows how to up the ante with a sequel. Following the ground work of his first Spider-Man film, Raimi decides to contrast the wondrous sense of discovery with a harsher crash of reality that weighs down on our hero as he realizes what it means to juggle being a superhero with real life responsibilities. Much of it hinges on the flaws of the characters getting in their own way, whether it be Peter Parker’s progressive lack of confidence and time management hurting both his normal life & powers or Doctor Octavius’ lust for scientific progression being what corrupts him under the influence of the arms. The psychosomatic nature of his powers leaving him can be a bit inconsistent at times, but the emotional consistency of Peter struggling with his life and even considering a world where he doesn’t have to be New York’s protector manages to ground the webslinger. He’s more than just the dork from the first film, evolving him into a young man looking for purpose and realizing how crucial the resolve & gumption of Peter Parker is to the heroics Spider-Man, which Tobey Maguire displays with relatable frustration and optimistic resolve that shows how Spider-Man appreciates the people of New York and how grateful they can be to him. Spider-Man 2 doesn’t forget about the side characters either, giving Kirsten Dunst a more engaging forward progression as MJ, Alfred Molina a tragically flawed take on Doc Ock and Rosemary Harris one of the endearingly heartbreaking moments to bring home Parker’s resolve. Even J.K. Simmons’ J Jonah Jameson has a few moments of genuine doubt… before his brilliant comic ego settles back in. If anyone suffers, it’s James Franco’s Harry Osbourne, who goes on a much more one dimensional sort of bitter display of rage for the death of his father that finally culminates towards the end, but only leaves things open for… what’ll happen next. It helps that these more impressive moments of character growth are surrounded by some of the best action sequences in superhero history. Sam Raimi’s extreme camera work was already shown to work perfectly for Spider-Man’s webslinging, but he completely tops himself with moments like the train sequence or Doc Ock’s transformation that feels like it was ripped straight from an Evil Dead entry. Despite the mistakes Sony would later make with the character, Spider-Man 2 is still a crowning achievement in crowd pleasing entertainment that actually cares about its characters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Doc Ock Arms

05/02/16: Spider-Man 3 (Re-Watch)

spider-man-3

Sony Pictures

Following up Spider-Man 2 isn’t an easy feat for anyone. It doesn’t help that Sam Raimi was ordered to shoehorn in a popular villain by producer Avi Arad that he wasn’t even that big a fan of. The results are clearly muddled and lackluster, but not for the reasons people often complain about. The biggest sins of Spider-Man 3 on a more public scale tend to be related to Peter’s cheesy actions while under the influence of the black suit, particularly his fancy dance moves. That honestly isn’t that out of the question for a dork like Peter Parker to think something that silly would be edgy. The issue is that the actual progression of Peter from this dancing cool cat to beater of his girlfriend is so rushed, much like the rest of the film’s several plot lines. Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman has a decent enough motivation, but disappears for a solid thirty minute chunk of the movie before returning in any form to make his motives feel that investing. Harry Osbourne’s amnesia stunts any meaningful development for his character for most of the first and second act, feeling like an exercise in time wasting and James Franco face making. Even the Peter/MJ relationship has strong moments that are destroyed by a contrived lack of communication. Seriously, so much of this plot would be resolved if people had the common sense to talk to each other, which was sort of the progression after Spider-Man 2. At any time, Peter could tell MJ about his initial fight with Harry, Mary Jane telling Peter about her losing the Broadway play, Mary Jane telling Peter – the incredibly experience superhero crime fighter – that the inexperienced Harry was holding her basically at gun point to say things, Harry’s butler telling him that convenient exposition about his father YEARS ago. Any of that would easily lead to a resolve of these problems that seem more petty and moronic than anything else in execution. This lack of decent progression is what destroys so much of Topher Grace’s potential as Venom, leaving his creepy storyline of following a non-character version of Gwen Stacy to wither on the vine as all these other things happen. Yet, with all of these problems, there are glimmers of a solid Spider-Man movie to be found. The action sequences are still top notch, moments of comedy (mainly centered around J.K. Simmons and Bruce Campbell) are still uproarious and the effects work on Sandman manages to hold up wonderfully despite nine years having past. Even some of the resolves to these bigger moments feel wonderfully executed. The bigger problem is just that this story doesn’t deserve to have them. Spider-Man 3 is clearly a mixed and disappointing note to end this trilogy on… but I’ll still watch it over Amazing Spider-Man 2 any day.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 James Franco Faces… seriously, look at these faces!

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