Spider-Man has always captured the hearts of both comic readers and TV viewers alike. Who remembers the late 60's cartoon series, or am I just showing my age? Presented here by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, The Quick and the Dead, Darkman) we are naturally introduced to all of the characters that populate Spider-Man's world.
Spider-Man - Brief synopsis.
Peter Parker (Tobey McGuire) is a guy graduating from high school, he's a bit of a nerd - instantly appealing to all those who read the Spider-Man comics as opposed to being out playing football! Shy and retiring he has a crush on a fellow classmate, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). The closest he comes to admitting his feelings to her is asking for a photograph whilst on a school trip visiting a genetics laboratory. It is during this excursion that a red and black backed spider lowers itself onto Peters hand and vampire like sticks it's fangs right in. The following day we again meet Peter but this time he has changed. A more defined, toned body, perfect eyesight. Shortly afterwards Peter realises that these might not be all the changes and he finds he can scale vertical walls bare handed and also a web gooey substance can be fired from just below his wrist. "Go web go!"
Thinking that his newly developed skills are a sure fire way for him to make money as masked wrestler The Human Spider, he ventures downtown and enrols to fight. Wining the match but not gaining as much money as he was led to believe, the wrestling's back office is plundered and Peter lets the guy escape even though it would have been a simple matter for him to apprehend the villain. After all, it's not his problem! Unfortunately fate is a fickle mistress and it comes to pass that said villain during his getaway murders Peter's Uncle. In Peter's arms he dies. Raging he peruses the robber to an abandoned warehouse and bangs him to rights.
Remembering something his uncle told him earlier in the day Peter then decides to use his newfound powers to fight crime, help the needy and no doubt rescue the odd cat out of trees. Very convenient then that Norman Osborn (Willem Defoe) decides to self test his new experimental human enhancement formula. It works as well as can be expected for a budding madman; he comes out smarter and physically far superior. Alas for both Norman and all who stand in his way, he's gone a bit insane. Norman happens to be the father of Peter's best friend, Harry (James Franco). Harry now happens to be dating Mary Jane. So the movie set's itself nicely up for confrontations, both emotional and physical, from different characters each with their own motives.
Spider-Man 2/2.1 - Brief synopsis.
Spider-Man 2 takes off where Spider-Man 1 left us hanging. We continue apace with the same core characters, fortunately played by the same actors. Even those we had come to know but had been killed off sometime come back from the dead to ensure their words or taunts do not fall on deaf ears. With the introduction of the major characters now well out of the way Spider-Man 2 can jump right in and devote all of its screen time to plot development and action. It certainly wastes no time.
To protect the ones he loves Peter realises that he cannot commit his heart to Mary Jane. He solidly battles crime, she meanwhile not only is on stage she also has a new man in her life; JJ Jameson's son and astronaut, John Jameson (Daniel Gilles). After the death of his father, Harry Osborn now shoulders the responsibly for R&D over at Oscorp and all which that entails. Not knowing his father's secret identity, that of The Green Goblin, Harry believes Spider-Man to be responsible for his innocent father's death and bitterly wows revenge. Peter again balancing his life between seeing MJ as and when he can in her shows, defending both himself and Spider-Man towards his increasingly hostile friend, Harry. Finally on top of all this he has to continue his education and help Aunt May as and when he can.
It is through his education and connection to Harry that he is introduced to Dr. Otto Octavius, a brilliant scientist about to release upon the world the concept and practical generation of energy by fusion, unlimited power. Why is it that threats to society always want unlimited power in some form or another? For the purposes of his experiment Doc Ock has to temporarily graft 4 intelligent metal flexible arms to his body. Power may corrupt in politics but so it does here also. In his zealousness to prove his lifelong work will achieve what he has stated Octavius continues one particular experiment way beyond its safe boundaries. Something goes wrong Doc Ock's wife is killed. Once the experiment goes astray these additional limbs find themselves permanently fused to Doc Ock's spine. Their intelligence no longer contained by inhibitor chips, they manipulate Doc Ock for their own ends. Driven mad by the death of his wife and the incessant 'chatter' of his new metallic friends he submits. He acknowledges his best way forward is to reproduce the experiment, bigger and better and to show the world that he was right all along. For this he needs two things...money, lots of it, and Tridium the element used in creating the fusion reaction.
To these ends he ultimately meets with Harry. Harry promises him the precious Tridium he requires as long as Doc Ock, complete with new menacing sunglasses, promises to Harry to deliver the body of Spider-Man.
Spider-Man 3 - Brief synopsis.
Over the previous two films we have seen Peter come to terms and accept who he is. He now manages to balance his life between the people he loves and the responsibility he constantly feels as Spider-Man. The people of New York seem to finally have taken Spider-Man to their collective bosom. Obviously Peter enjoys this final sense of worth, MJ on the other hand becomes a little jealous of it.
Under this icing there are always the darker forces growing. Continuing on from the last film Harry Osborn has taken on the mantle of his late father and resurrected The New Goblin; intent on harming Peter/Spider-Man. We are introduced to Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) who, whilst on the run for the authorities, falls into a huge sand pit, an experiment for a particle accelerator. Before you know his very atoms have been bombarded with sand particles. Now he has the ability to turn to sand and to reconstruct himself at will. If this is not enough to contend a meteor lands and a blob tar like substance emerges. Steve McQueen eat your heart out!
It's not long before Marko, bad guy persona Sandman, is up to his old tricks stealing and comes into confrontation with Spidey. Using his new transformation powers he proves to be a difficult catch. Peter learns shortly afterwards that it was in fact Flint who was responsible for this uncle's death. Meanwhile the tar blob symbiotically bonds with Spidey's costume. Gone are the deep red and blue, in this season is pitch black. Whilst obviously more fashionable, Peter also finds his powers increased... at a price. Sandman strikes again and Spidey finding his powers increased by the negative revenge feelings he's obviously now carrying around for Flint seems to get the better of him. Peter finds that he is becoming consumed with dark feelings more and more and obviously realises it's his new suit which is causing all of the problems. After a dramatic fight with MJ he finally manages to free himself from this addiction, removing his suit in the bell tower of a church. Unbeknown to Peter though as he discards this black symbiote it latches onto fellow embittered photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Venom is born and Peter's problems are only just beginning.
It's always difficult to bring a any comic character to the screen with any degree to credibility. Three things are required. First - a director who understands the source material with a passion. Secondly a cast strong enough to immerse themselves in roles not immediately guaranteeing them Oscars or general awards. Finally good enough effects so you really do believe a man can fly. In the past we've certainly seen movies presented to us which have achieved 2 out of 3, Superman for instance. We've certainly seen too many examples of zero out of three, The Amazing Spider-Man (1978). Now with the advent of CGI we have the prospect of all three being fulfilled. Raimi here delivers in spades.
He's taken a number of important adventures from the original comics, manipulated them ever so slightly and come up with a wonderful piece which both introduces the myriad of characters contained in this specific genre and a story arc which is both faithful to the original comic and spine tingingly engaging for the general movie going public. The casting for this film is inspired. Tobey McGuire, previously admired in Pleasantville, gives a sterling performance as our friendly neighbourhood web slinger. Kirsten Dunst certainly fills the boots of Mary Jane Watson well even though as imagined here she comes across as someone who's not quite the party girl, but still desired by all. Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Peter's Uncle and Aunt respectively are superb as Ben and May Parker; Peter's adopted parents. May especially comes across well from the comic franchise. Willem Defoe plays it straight enough as Norman and camps it up beautifully as The Green Goblin. James Franco adds a teenage brood to Harry. Finally and certainly by no means least J.K. Simmons (The Jackal, The Mexican) plays the part of James Jonah Jameson as I think no one else could have. To say that he's perfect for the part is a great understatement.
Spider-Man at the end of the day is just a teenager growing up. Although he's ultimately determined to fight for the disadvantaged he has all the other usual mundane duties to perform. Change light bulbs, see to an education, try and catch the eye of the pretty girl. With his time taken up more and more with Lycra he finds that as his life expands as Spider-Man, it withers as Peter Parker. Soon he's also vilified in the press so ultimately he cannot win either way. This has always been the story of Peter Parker and one that the Goblin is more than happy to point out... "This is why only fools are heroes - because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice. Let die the woman you love... or suffer the little children. Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded." We know as a personal promise to his Uncle and himself he'll always fight. We also realise that he needs to go out, have friends, and keep a job. Ultimately Peter cannot win. This has always been the point of the comics and Raimi succeeds in bringing this simple premise to the big screen.
Dialog is at times as camp as The Green Goblin, but it suits. The acting, whilst never bringing any awards other than those over at MTV, are pitched at the right level here. Special effects, whilst on a couple of occasions seem blatant, are pretty good all round. Certainly the pathos of the Parker/Spider-Man character is fully explored, as it should be. The CGI of fast shots as Spider-Man weaves or bounces his way in and out of the metropolis are seamless so you're never looking at the special effects per se. Usually they just are like any other shot, just there... never an issue.
Sam Raimi has produced a sequel that is one a few select breed, a sequel that matches - if not surpasses - the original. To these ends it's in good company sitting alongside Godfather II and Empire Strikes Back. As Raimi knows, what drives the Spider-Man comics is the constant turmoil which Peter constantly finds himself in. Touched upon in the first film here Raimi takes it that step further exploring Peter's internal struggle for a contented life. Sure he wants the bad guys to get caught, sure he wants the affections of MJ and sure he wants to devote more of his time to his education. In his desire to fulfil all of these as best he can he comes to realise that he is unable to lead a 'normal' life whilst devoting so much of his time to scaling vertical buildings. You can see the pain and guilt in McGuire's face and eyes as he sees his world around him slowly collapse. Again Raimi is showing us the true pain of Peter Parker. Spider-Man commitments mean he runs late missing appointments. Due to this he loses friends and his job. People are still wary of Spider-Man, one guy early on thinking he stole a set of pizzas. Peter cannot win no matter which way he turns. This feeling of teenage angst is amplified here, runs deep throughout the comics and is presented to us on screen perfectly. Both McGuire and Raimi must be praised for getting this across.
The story arc of Doc Ock and his sunglasses is purely as a vehicle to show the current turmoil in Peter's life, as this filler and by no means the main story arc. Alfred Molina (remember him all those years ago as Indiana Jones' guide?) is suitably cast for his part. First showing not only a brilliant scientist, but also a man full of passion for his wife and for his life's ambitions. It is this passion however which proves to be his undoing. Society always progresses and where once in the 60's the big thing was radioactivity in this new fangled age we have the desire to find alternative, renewable, energy sources. It is welcomed then that Raimi had updated the original reason Doc Ock produces these additional limbs. From radioactivity to fusion, nice touch.
It's always pleasing to see the original actors reprise their roles. Obviously this greatly contributes to the feeling of consistency. Easily putting the audience at rest they don't have to worry about who that new face is or if they played a role better than their predecessor. All are played as well as they were in the first film, again James Franco bringing up the rear a little. J.K. Simmons, JJ, obviously relishes his role and again pulls out another astonishing performance as the Daily Bugle's all controlling publisher.
CGI and special effects have been improved here somewhat. In the original I thought that they were a little too obvious, a little too wooden at times. In Spider-Man 2 we have none of this. The overly dramatic shots of Spider-man as he swings his way through New York suit perfectly because that's what we have been seeing in the comics for years. The structure of the chase sequences through New York initially and on a train later on are choreographed with pure precision. The storyboarding and/or animatronics which must have been used must have been extensive to say the least.
There's more tongue in cheek amusement here than in the last. Spider-Man still giving out the one-liners as he swings from building to building or confronting his latest foe. There are also nice references to Peter having a comic collection which his Aunt gives away much to Peter's chagrin. Multiple appearances of the Asian violin-playing woman with the original Spider-Man animated theme tune brought a smile to my face as well as a cringe from Peter. Peter's back to life attitude to the dulcet tones of "Raindrops keep falling on my Head" had me in stitches at times.
In the end I feel Spider-Man 2 extended the Spider-Man franchise well. In my book the more in depth look at Peters constant turmoil between what he feels he has to do because of the gifts that have been bestowed upon him and what he actually wants to do as a normal teenager pips this version to the post. Another wonderful classic Spider-Man villain and add that to slightly more convincing CGI animation then Raimi has here a fantastic recipe for an ongoing series. Although obviously set up for a continuation it's actually difficult to wonder how he could better this.
The presentation here allows the viewer the choice of the original Spider-Man 2 or 2.1 which had a few enhanced or extended scenes. In the main I enjoyed the later. Certain scenes are extended filling out some of our characters a little more. The scene in the lift however after where Spidey meets a guy leaving his office is replaced with alternative dialogue and quite frankly it doesn't work. The original is in the aisle funny, this just doesn't come close.
Raimi continues at full pelt with his Spider-Man trilogy but with Spider-Man 3 has he perhaps taken it a little too far? There's no doubt that this instalment of the franchise is a good summer romp but personally I felt absolutely drained after watching it. Whilst originally only having the Sandman and The New Goblin appear he was persuaded by the powers that be to include Venom also. Now although all three are interesting characters in their own right there's just one too many for a 2 hour flick. 2 villains would have been more than sufficient for any super hero. Adding a third to the mix is just asking too much for any action man to contend with.
Apart from that Spider-Man 3 adds nothing to the franchise other than more revs, more excitement and more web slinging. High on the Hog is the action and it is unceasing. The encounters on display here between Spider-Man and Goblin/Sandman/Venom are fast paced and well choreographed. Some of the CGI work on the Sandman blends into the scene so well you sometimes double take and remember after all that it's just an effect. The thick black ooze, intelligent symbiote wanders round giving a sense of malice until it finally attacks and joins with our eponymous hero.
Raimi directs the action and actors well, showing the balance that Peter has achieved in his life. The balance between developing his life with MJ and continuing his role as Spidey. He introduces Stacey who in the 70s comics was Peter's true love, MJ only coming along after the fact. However it is the darker side which Raimi wishes to explore in this outing, revenge is the dish of the day. Consumed by feelings of revenge amplified by his new symbiotic suit we see Peter regress inwards. Whereas before we enjoyed a Spider-Man longing to serve the public good, now we only see Peter/Spidey wishing to fulfil his own desires. Consumed by revenge is Harry, finally wanting to lay to rest the ghost of his dead father. Eddie Brock once overcome by the malevolent black blob seeks revenge for the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Peter Parker.
Raimi develops the plot and characters around this raw emotion, ultimately showing the viewer that embracing revenge will only lead to your own destruction. Raimi covers a lot in this last outing and in the main he copes with this well enough. I feel it would have been interesting though to have Spider-Man 3 into two films. This one covering the deterioration of Harry's personality as he becomes consumed with his father's old adversary, the rise to fame of Sandman and the reasons for who he is. The Venom character could have waited for another day, and could certainly have provided enough material for a full-length dedicated feature. Perhaps only included here at the behest of the studios because he was 'in vogue' at the time.
Still what the viewer ends up with is a roller coaster ride of super hero proportions. Continuing the Modern Age of Comics as he did in Spider-Man 2 Raimi yet again delivers an astonishingly good action entertainment fun movie. I eagerly await his next instalment.
So a superb cast, good story lines, true to the originals, good acting, special effects so fine they could catch any fly in their web - cracking pace and depth of feeling. Only slightly let down in the thrid installment because there's too much to cover in a short time frame. The previous two allowed the emotions and history of the characters to develop but with 3 it unfortunately fails as it tries to cover way too many bases. Raimi though obviously knows the subject matter well and inbues into the films the feelings Lee was trying to get across in the original comics. Certainly the Spider-Man franchise has to be regarded as one the the best, if not the best, film adaptation from the comic genre. One of my favourite comic creations from my childhood perfectly transposed onto the big screen. Now I can hope that they apply a similar formula for one of Spider-Man's buddies... Thor!!!
Spider-Man 1 : 8
Spider-Man 2/2.1 : 9
Spider-Man 3 : 7
Our Review Ethos