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Revisiting Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" Trilogy

Benjamin Wollmuth is a writer who loves to express his opinions on literature, TV, film, video games, and other media.

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The Trilogy

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved Spider-Man. If you have read my reviews for Homecoming and Far From Home, then you know by now how much of an impact Spider-Man has had on my love for superhero stories. I read the comics, I watched the 90s animated series, and, of course, I watched Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films. I remembered all three of Raimi's films very fondly, but it had been a few years since I had seen them in their entirety. So, with a more developed critical eye, I decided to take off my rose-tinted glasses and revisit the trilogy.

After watching them all again, I have to say that my opinions have slightly changed, but not by much. I still think the films (well, the 1st and the 2nd) are nearly perfect classics within the superhero genre that has now grown to feel quite bloated at times. However, I ran across some issues that I would love to talk about, and they are not just in the 3rd movie. Let's talk about them, shall we?

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"Spider-Man" (2002)

Honestly, the major issues I have with the trilogy don't really appear in Maguire's debut film as the wall-crawler. I mean, the film introduces viewers to the amazing score composed by the legendary Danny Elfman, including Spider-Man's theme, which would appear in variations across the entire trilogy. It also introduced viewers to what I now conclude as my favorite live-action Spider-Man suit. It's slick and it looks real. As much as I love Tom Holland's iteration of the character, I do think that Marvel leaned a bit too heavily into the CGI area of things in regards to the suit. While there are many moments where Spider-Man is a fully CGI character within this trilogy, Raimi takes the time to include as many shots of a real person in a real suit as possible. Even Green Goblin's suit, while not completely comic-book accurate, looks real and pretty badass. Speaking of, Willem Dafoe plays Norman Osborne masterfully, and I'm so excited to see him reprise the role in No Way Home.

Yes, there are issues with how old these supposed high schoolers look, but it doesn't really take me out of the film. I can say the same about some of the visual effects that have not aged well. For 2002, they look great, and while I laugh at them now, they don't ruin the film for me. Spider-Man is a fantastic film that still stands as one of my favorite comic book movies today. If this was the only Sam Raimi Spider-Man film to ever see the light of day, I wouldn't complain. But since it's not, I should probably move on.

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"Spider-Man 2" (2004)

For many, Spider-Man 2 is the best film of the trilogy, and I can see why they think that. The action is slick, the suit still looks great, and Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus is a cinematic villain that will go down in history as one of the best (alongside Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin). With that being said, on this rewatch I discovered something that made me look at the film a bit differently: Mary Jane Watson sucks. No, I'm not talking about Kirsten Dunst. She does a great job with the character she was given. Sadly, the character she was given is poorly written. Much of the trilogy centers around the relationship between Peter and MJ––a relationship that, in the comic books, is supposed to be well-developed. I don't think it's well-developed here. In fact, I––and the friends I was watching the film with––spent most of the film wishing Peter would just stay single or find someone else. MJ is manipulative, she plays mind games, and she acts as if she needs to be the main character. Why would Peter want that? She gets a new boyfriend but still proceeds to flirt with Peter. She gets engaged and tells Peter it is all his fault, when, in reality... she's just a bitch. I would have preferred the film to end with Peter and MJ not getting together. I mean, that's where it seems to be going until she ditches John Jameson at the altar because she has finally made up her mind. All it took was rejection. By the end, I'm sad, both for Peter and John. I mean, John did nothing wrong, and the filmmakers expect us to cheer?

I wasn't cheering.

I still love this movie, but MJ's character made me wish I wasn't watching it at times. And I hate saying that.

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"Spider-Man 3" (2007)

I think the general consensus among film fans is that Spider-Man 3 is the weakest of the bunch, and I agree. Out of all the films, this one has the most glaring issues. For starters, the film feels bloated with too many villains. Thomas Haden Church's Sandman is fine. James Franco's New Goblin (Harry Osborne) is not as fine as Sandman, but still fine. Venom, on the other hand, is... not good. He's not the big hulking creature from the comics, and Topher Grace's voice is not intimidating in the slightest. Emo Parker, as I like to call him, is cringe-inducing most of the time, but I understand what Raimi was going for. Mary Jane is still extremely dumb, though her reactions in this film are a bit understandable because Peter has become sort of an egotistical asshole (thanks to the symbiote). It still has a bumping soundtrack, and the action, while weaker than it was in the other films, is still fun to watch. It just isn't as good. While the other films have scenes that have been turned into memes, Spider-Man 3 just feels like one big meme, and I don't think that's what Raimi was going for.

On the bright side, the film does manage to wrap up the trilogy's storylines fairly well. Uncle Ben's murder is finally solved. Peter and Harry's issues are resolved. Peter finally tells MJ to screw off (well, not exactly, but that's how it goes in my headcanon). It's far from perfect, but it's not the worst way the trilogy could have ended.

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The Verdict

So, yes, my opinions have changed a bit. I don't think I'll ever be able to put the rose-tinted glasses on ever again. However, I still enjoy the films. I still see them as highly entertaining pieces of comic-book filmmaking. I still consider Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 to be some of the best of the genre, even today. I may have hyperbolized just a teensy bit in regards to my issues with the films, but I think it's worth talking about. No film is perfect, not even the ones we remember being perfect when we were children. There are always going to be issues––it all just depends on who gets affected by them the most. I will continue to love this trilogy, but now I can at least say that I've put the glasses away and opened my mind a bit. If you haven't done the same, I'd highly recommend it, especially if you are a film fan.

© 2021 Benjamin Wollmuth

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