I feel like I bear my soul too much on this website and that this site just ropes me in to embarrass myself over my film tastes.
Kids these days have more superhero movies to choose from than there are to shake a stick at. Is that bad thing? No, not at all! Let’s be honest, it’s a grim world for kids these days and superheroes are the ultimate in fantasy and escapism. Even so, Marvel has absolutely bombarded me with movie after movie to the point that I am sick to my back teeth, yet I remain foolish enough to throw my money at the cinema attendant each time. A decade ago, superhero movies were the major blockbuster event of the year; it was genuinely exciting, especially considering how infrequent they were (these days there’s like 5 superhero movies a year).
Despite my whinge just there, yippee-yay, it has just been announced that a Venom movie is in the works! And to be fair, this is pretty big; the last time we saw Venom was in “Spider-Man 3” (2007) as one of the spooks in the cavalcade of villains; so I bet a lot of Spidey fans will be very happy as many regard the final movie in the original trilogy as abominable.
Now, here comes the bombshell of humiliation.
I really love the original Spider-Man trilogy and I genuinely enjoy the third Spider-Man movie. I have to admit, I have a very soft spot in my heart for Sam Raimi movies – they fall under one of my obsessions, not that I’m the obsessive type *kisses photo of Bruce Campbell * – as I feel everything that Sam Raimi does radiates his infectious humour, and I cannot dislike people who make me laugh. I also cannot help but to respect the guy as he is the epitome of the grassroots movie-making success story: going from making low-tech horrors with his mates from school to becoming the director of the major blockbuster trilogy of the last decade. Most importantly, he has retained the same spirit and style throughout his filmography: you can see a Raimi film a mile-off, as distinctive as Kubrick, Spielberg, and …eeerrr…. Bay(?!) And; what is the essence of his movies? Shameless, grotesquely nerdy, completely goofy, dorkiness.
With the likes of dark and brooding Wolverines, Dark Knights and even surprisingly sombre Supermans that all bring sophistication and edge to the array of comic-book works, what place does this geeky trio of Spidey movies have in this domain? What is their clique? Well, I might just be brave enough to claim that they are one of the most important of all contemporary comic book movies; and the best big-screen adaption of Spider-Man.
Yes I will actually argue these points.
First, Tobey Maguire’s performance as Peter Parker absolutely blows Andrew Garfield’s out of the water. Yes, Garfield’s is better –looking, cooler, grittier. But, Peter Parker is in fact none of these things. He is a loser! He is an anorak with a hopeless crush on a girl who is completely out of his league. He just so happens to be gifted with powers which he got completely by accident. And, despite these wonderful powers, he is still a loser. As Spider-Man’s eminence/infamy grows, Peter gets tossed downstream shit creek without a paddle. There are moments of calmness and happiness but life repeatedly slams its fist into Peter’s gut throughout all 3 movies: his uncle is killed; he gets rejected by MJ on several occasions; his social life dwindles; he is alienated from his friends; his grades suck, and; through it all he has to put up with his Aunt May who seems to be living in the 19th century. I can’t deny that Garfield’s Parker is more angsty, and I’m not saying that the Original Trilogy doesn’t wrestle with the major character crises as the Amazing Spiderman movies do, but Garfield’s arc is much more of an obvious attempt to portray darkness. However, it is still so much easier to get behind Maguire’s Peter Parker for tragedy hits closer to home when portrayed through comedy, for is it not the small evils of life that slowly chip away at the soul. All the comical slaps in the face, the bullying at school, his encounters with Bruce Campbell (!?), and his doomed quests in love all make Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker more believable: an ordinary bloke with a shit life, trying to make the best of the extraordinary circumstances he has been shoved in. And all those menial trials and tribulations (and Tobey Maguire’s ugly crying faces) makes it so much easier for the audience to place themselves into the role. Thus Maguire’s Parker is more relatable and therefore beloved.
Secondly, the overall goofiness of the movie makes the serious moments far more dramatic in comparison. In movie one, the first act introduces us to the hapless hero and then we are hit with the genesis of the Green Goblin and Willem Dafoe’s scenery chewing, and you are left feeling “is this movie fucking serious?” But no, Uncle Ben’s death comes as a sharp sting which jerks you awake and makes Peter’s resolve to use his powers for good more believable. Peter’s crush on Mary-Jane comes off as a bit losery and even creepy (hello! Unsolicited photos?!) which makes his sacrifice to keep her at arm’s distance at the end of the movie an admirable move in our eyes. It becomes even more tragic in the second movie that despite all of the slapstick routines as Peter tries to maintain a healthy relationship with his friends, his cock-ups mean he nearly loses MJ to a rival. Then, yes, the last movie is way over the top – there is an actual risk of dying of second-hand embarrassment throughout the whole “Bad-Peter” subplot. But poo-pooing that story means you will miss a hugely important point, and this is where Sam Raimi does shine: concealing darkness in the laughter. As Venom digs its claws into Peter’s psyche during the movie, it seems everyone involved in the screenplay and direction had a brain-fart. Surely they couldn’t believe the audience to be dumb enough to accept the portrayal of Peter’s inner demons via guy-liner, an emo fringe and a swagger? Scratch a little deeper though and you can see how terrifying Venom truly is. Peter Parker is undeniably a sweetheart, but once Venom comes on to the scene he does really nasty things like deliberately getting people fired, pushing people’s buttons regarding family life, etc. just to get a rise out of them. Although the “Dig on This!” scene is possibly the corniest in movie history, upon reflection you then realise what Peter is doing: using a woman to get beck at an ex who has lost her dream job. It is so disgustingly vindictive; I mean if my ex did that to me after we broke up I would have probably cried. Think hard and Peter truly appals you in that moment.
Finally, these movies came at a time when people needed them. It is well-known that these Spider-Man movies came out after a tragedy that shook the entire world to its core, but the rest of the world cannot comprehend what it must have felt to be a New Yorker at that time. Of course, a few dumb movies are a drop in the ocean of what could have been done about this whole terrible incident, but this trilogy is undeniably an absolute joy to watch: so funny, so cheesy, the over-acting of the villains, Tobey Maguire’s face, the Saturday Night Fever routines; they can’t help but to cheer you up. Fifteen years on, the patriotism may seem over-the-top but, to be honest, I think it’s a wonderful testament to the spirit of New York: people from all walks of life who stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of adversary. There are plenty of flag-waving moments but one scene stands out. In Spider-Man 2 (the best of the trilogy) Spidey faces down Doctor Octopus who distracts him by setting up a sub-way train to crash. Spider-Man saves them all by stopping the train by his own strength, leaving him in a dead faint. He is caught by the passengers, who pass his limp body back into the train. His mask fell off in the struggle and all the passengers who see his face are left aghast that their saviour is “just a kid”. Still, they all promise to keep his secret. When Doctor Oc comes back for more, all of these ordinary men, women and children put themselves in the way to protect Spider-Man. I can honestly say that in all of the superhero movies I have seen since X-Men (2000), that this is my all-time favourite scene of any comic book movie, even after 12 years. It leaves me misty-eyed and with a lump in my throat, and I hope that New York is proud that one of the best superheroes movies of all time pays tribute to the goodness of her people.