I haven’t fully got together my thoughts on Spider-Man joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to Disney and Sony’s deal. Overall I’m looking forward to how they’ll handle everything, but I’m sad to see a few of Marvel’s movies delayed. At least the one I’m looking forward to the most, Captain Marvel, is only being delayed by a few months. Black Panther and Inhumans are both pushed back by a full year, to the point where Inhumans might as well be called a Phase 4 movie now. So without fully composed thoughts, it’s not worth talking about the deal in detail.
Instead, let’s talk about the Spider-Man movies Sony’ already released. Because this post could go on forever, I’ll mostly talk about both origin movies and what I prefer about each of them. The long and short is that there are things I like about both, and there are elements from both that really annoy me – the same could be said of all the Spider-Man movies so far. I only just watched Amazing Spider-Man 2 last night, motivated by a very nerdy talk with a co-worker yesterday. I thought the movie worked on the romantic comedy side, but the story, the three villains and everything else felt bloated. Electro felt wasted as a character, the Green Goblin felt tacked on, and the Rhino, well … why bother if he’s going to have a total of 4 minutes screen time?
My two favourites are Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 1 and I’m not sure I could pick between them. Spider-Man 2 has the least amount of things that annoy me out of all 5, but the Mary Jane plotline really turns me off at times. Peter and Mary have never been a romantic couple, yet all the sudden she leaves her fiancé at the alter to be with Peter? And yet somehow this doesn’t create any kind of rift between Peter and J.J. Jameson in Spider-Man 3? Come on!
One last thing before I get into this post’s main subject – I really hope they won’t do another full-on origin story. They’ve already done it twice since 2002 and I’m sure people get it by now. If they do about 10 minutes of flashback weaved into the main movie that would be fine (similar to Batman Begins but much shorter), or maybe a credits montage like in The Incredible Hulk. Anything more than that would be excessive at this point. It’s also probably better if they go for a new villain for the next Spider-Man movie, like maybe the Vulture or Shocker. Kraven’s better for a later movie, so don’t use him yet.
Without further to do, here’s what I like about both of the Spider-Man origin movies.
Andrew Garfield is overall better than Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, to the point where there’s almost no contest. He quips, he shows a wider range of emotions and he even looks the part. While Maguire has to blurt out scientific facts on occasion to appear smart, Garfield acts like a bit of a mad genius. You can see the wheels turning in his head when he considers his options or works on his experiments. That said, he’s too old to portray a high school student – Garfield is in his 30’s after all. He’s also a bit too confident before he gets his powers, leaving no sense of progress to be had. Maguire feels more like a wimpy high school kid at the start of his movies, but he never progresses from that. In that sense, Maguire and Garfield have the opposite problem. The best portrayal of Peter Parker would have been somewhere between the two, starting a little bit toward Maguire’s end and maturing toward Garfield’s portrayal as the series goes on.
Uncle Ben is good in both versions, to the point where it’s hard to pick which one is better. Aunt May on the other hand is better in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man than in Amazing Spider-Man. She seems like a wise lady who offers a lot of helpful advice for Peter, and at one point she even hits Doctor Octopus with her cane in Spider-Man 2. Amazing Spider-Man Aunt May just feels oblivious and somewhat superfluous, only offering a few comedic moments when Peter has to hide his Spider-Man suit. Those moments are fine and Sally Field is good in the role, but their loving connection is far clearer in Sam Raimi’s trilogy.
The way Peter was bit by the spider in Amazing is better, with how he used smarts to infiltrate Oscorp for an internship position and snuck around to the spider lab during the tour. The scene also utilizes his love for photography, another thing the movie does well. When Maguire was bit during a high school tour, it’s just a loose experimental spider which shows that the lab has containment problems. Also, experimental spiders are a bit odd to show to high school students when they’d more likely keep them secret from the public.
That said, I much prefer Peter’s transformation in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. When someone undergoes a major body transformation, of course they’d feel sick for a while. The sound editing works particularly well, with the echoes emphasizing his headache. The fact that Garfield never feels sick weakens his transformation – instead he accidentally beats up a bunch of people on the subway. It’s amusing, but it feels empty at the same time. That said it’s hilarious how Peter keeps accidentally breaking things in Amazing Spider-Man, showing how he takes a while to get used to his enhanced strength.
The Sam Raimi way where Peter confronts Flash after gaining his powers works better. He continues to struggle with his new abilities during the day, and accidentally angers Flash after a series of mishaps. How he unintentionally launches Flash down the hall is priceless, and the subsequent argument with Uncle Ben adds both dramatic weight and comedy to the scene.
“I didn’t start that fight.”
“Well you sure as hell finished it.”
The basketball scene in Amazing Spider-Man just felt awkward.
Sam Raimi’s biggest advantage in Spider-Man over Amazing Spider-Man is the way it handled Uncle Ben’s death. Peter chases down the shooter in one of the movie’s better action scenes and beats him up in a suspenseful sequence that makes great use of shadows and camera angles. For a moment, you wonder if Peter would actually go through with killing the thief, only to realize that he’s the man Peter let go at the wrestling ring. The impact is much stronger and you really feel the shock to Peter’s core. Amazing Spider-Man’s death scene feels kind of rushed and anti-climactic in comparison, but that’s not to say it’s without merit
After that, I prefer Amazing Spider-Man in almost every way. The only significant exception is the lack of J.J. Jameson. Seriously, J.K. Simmons is absolutely perfect in the role, to the point where years after I last watched one of the Sam Raimi movies in full I still hear his voice whenever I read him on page. Just thinking about him again makes me want to marathon Sam Raimi’s trilogy.
Both the Green Goblin and Lizard are good villains. The Green Goblin is the cheesier of the two, but it fits with the movie’s overall cheesy feeling. Plus, Willem Dafoe is awesome when he plays a clinically insane character. The fact that he’s failing in his business and losing confidence with his contracts and board also gives him emotional depth. The connection he has with both Peter and Harry also adds depth to the movie’s central conflict.
That said, the Lizard is the better villain. The story of him trying to regrow his arm is compelling, and his growing insanity feels more grounded in a lot of ways. The connection he has with Peter’s parents also adds depth to the movie, and his ongoing struggle with insanity never ceases to be interesting. The action is simply better with the Lizard too, and also leading to Stan Lee’s best cameo yet. On a related note, I like the mystery the first movie has with Peter Parker’s parents, but it feels completely pointless in Amazing Spider-Man 2 that only adds to the mess of that movie’s plot.
The crane scene in Amazing Spider-Man is just stupid though, even if in a bit of a hilarious way. If Spider-Man is able to swing anyway, how does a shot to the leg mean that he needs the cranes to assist his movement? Just use your arms to accelerate Peter; they’re more than strong enough. And does it bother anyone else that all of these crane workers are both willing and able to get from their homes to the cranes, activate them and turn them on at pretty much the same time? Do they even know each other when it’s possible they’re working for different construction companies? Ugh, I could probably make an entire blog post ranting about that scene alone, but nobody would really care.
Both movies also handle their dramatic death scenes at the end effectively. The Green Goblin’s death in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man shoves a thorn in Peter and Harry’s friendship, leading to one of the better aspects of the Spider-Man trilogy. Everything about Harry Osborn is handled better in Sam Raimi’s trilogy than in Amazing Spider-Man 2. It almost feels like poetic justice when the Green Goblin accidentally offs himself through his insanity and aggression.
Captain Stacey’s death works equally well, but in different ways. It’s Spider-Man’s first actual failure, and one that could have caused problems in his relationship with Gwen. In fact it does in Amazing Spider-Man 2, even if mostly on Peter’s end. It’s a testament to Peter and Gwen’s love for each other that she doesn’t hold her father’s death against him, part of the reason their relationship works so well in these movies. I also like how the Lizard survives, leaving him open for later appearances. Too many superhero movies kill off their villains so that they can never appear again.
So those are my preferences between the two Spider-Man origin movies. Again I hope that they don’t go through with another origin story whether they pick a new actor or not. But if they do, find a balance between these movies. Hopefully, Kevin Feige can help with Sony’s direction for the Webhead, because both Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man suggest that Sony loves the character but isn’t completely sure what to do with him. Please, let me know what you like and don’t like about these movies in the comments.