Why We Love Spider-Man Movies: What Sony Keeps Getting Wrong
When I was a child, Spider-Man was my favorite superhero. In some ways he represented me, and I know a lot of children felt the same. Peter Parker is essentially a nerd. I personally wasn’t amazing in school or with science, but I wasn’t exactly one of the jocks that were getting laid and going to parties either. When Peter puts on the mask and becomes the wall crawling wonder, he gains confidence, becomes a smart-ass, and doesn’t let anyone push him around. As a fan of comic books, I have a lot of moments in the Marvel universe that I love (read Avengers vs X-Men #9). But I want to specifically focus on the cinematic representations of the character. As of right now there have been 8 films featuring Spidey, with 4 more on the way. Some of the moments in these films capture that childhood feeling, others prove Sony is missing the point entirely.
Before we get down this rabbit hole, for those of you that don’t know, I want to explain why it took 15 years for Spider-Man to be seen with the Avengers. It may be hard to believe this now but in the late 90’s Marvel was broke. In 1997 they filed for bankruptcy. In order to stay afloat, they sold the film rights to many of their most famous characters. The X-Men and Fantastic Four were bought by Fox (now 20 years later, Marvel is buying the entire Fox company) Hulk, and apparently The Submariner, went to Universal. Spider-Man went to Sony. So for 10 years we saw movies with all of these characters through other studios. Eventually Marvel was able to build themselves back up, and come out with Iron Man. Then Disney bought Marvel and the rest is history. But for 10 years we had Spider-Man movies before the MCU ever existed. And some would argue, myself included, that the MCU wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for Sam Raimi and Tobey Mcguire
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy
In 2002 Sony released “Spider-Man”, the first movie featuring the web-slinging menace. Peter Parker was played by Tobey Mcguire. Before this movie Tobey didn’t do much; he was the voice of a dog in a movie about cats and dogs, and was a scared hitchhiker in Fear and Loathing. He was basically a nobody. The rest of the cast however was insane. William Defoe plays Norman Osborn. He played this character so well that there still hasn’t been another Green Goblin ever. They have rebooted this universe 3 times and no one can beat Defoe. Another iconic casting was J. Jonah Jameson, played by J.K. Simons. Again another character that they have never even attempted to recast because fans still talk about how perfect this role was. Kristen Dunst plays Mary Jane Watson. James Franco plays Harry Osborn. But the most insane part is that it was directed by Sam Raimi, the director of the Evil Dead franchise. This movie was a huge gamble and it paid off.
Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the movie when it first came out. I was like 11, grew up on the comics and animated Spider-Man TV show. This movie came off as weird and realistic and I legitimately hated that the Green Goblin was in some army suit. Looking back on it however, I appreciate it. They got Peter Parker down. He was a loser who had no confidence and didn’t fit in. He was in love with a girl who didn’t return the feeling. The Green Goblin was a bipolar psychopath with an almost paternal connection to Peter. A father who couldn’t connect to his child but admired a boy whose parents were dead. It worked and you felt that in this movie. Most importantly, they perfectly portrayed Uncle Ben’s death. Peter, after getting his powers was about go down a path of selfishness and corruption. And because of his very human reaction of letting the thief get away, his Uncle died in his arms. This is the defining moment of Spider-Man. The reason for his existence. What makes him one of the greatest heroes of all time is his tragedy.
With great power comes great responsibility. It’s not a lesson that isn’t unique to Spider-Man, but Stan Lee did come up with the best phrase. The point of losing Ben is to show that if you are given the ability to stop something bad from happening, than you should. Because if you don’t someone else will feel pain. It’s literally the definition of empathy. I love Superman for the same reason. The point isn’t that he can do anything, it’s that he chooses to do everything because he can. The first Spider-Man movie instills that in a very real and graphic way. It’s what is needed to get behind the hero and why he is doing what he is. I understand why the Tom Holland movie decided to pass on that moment, and we’ll get to those movies later, but I think its needed to get the audience to understand why Peter will fight to his last breath, when he know it could mean his death. Or why he will always go for the civilian in danger over catching the bad guy.
The first Spider-Man was a good movie. At the time the only other comic based movies were Blade, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Batman & Robin. I think it’s safe to say Spidey had the best film out of the bunch. Then they came out with a sequel that is widely considered the best of the trilogy. Spider-Man 2 was released in 2004 and largely followed a more seasoned Spider-Man that has been saving the city for some time. Many people loved the villain, Dr. Octopus, played by the extremely talented Alfred Moliana. This is something I have a problem with. I hate this portrayal of Doc Ock. In my opinion this is the beginning of a long downward spiral for Sony. In the movie, basically the doctor is a great and caring mentor for Peter in the scientific world. And only due to a lab accident his mind is taken over by sentient robot snake arms…..
Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery is second maybe only to Batman’s. The reason is because of the depth to the characters. Dr. Otto Octavious is one of the most complex. He is a man driven by insecurity and unfounded rage. The man is supposed to show what would happen if Peter grew up without the love of Aunt May, Mary Jane, Uncle Ben, etc. In the lore of the character, Otto didn’t have those things. By the time the accident happened fusing him with the arms, he was already on the cliff of madness. By removing this factor from the movie, you remove the connection and importance to Spider-Man. This, even at 14, is where I started to realize that these movies were missing the point. Spider-Man’s connection to his villains is a driving reason for his popularity.
When anyone is asked “What is Spider-Man’s number 1 villain?” there are some mixed answers. The correct one however is Venom. The alien symbiote is in fact one of the best comic book villains of all time. Yes he’s cool looking, Todd McFarlane, the creator of Venom and the creator/artist for Spawn, has always had an eye for design. But what makes great villains are their connections with the hero. Venom has a complex origin story. A symbiotic bacteria that gives the user immense power, but drains the host of its life and sanity is fused with one of the greatest heroes in comics. Spider-Man is met with unlimited power and is losing his willingness to be held responsible for his actions. At the same time Peter Parker in real life is getting bolder, more cocky, and comes across a rival by the name of Eddie Brock. Ultimately Peter destroys Eddie’s career out of jealously while under the hypnosis of the symbiote. He realizes to late that the dark suit is corrupting his ability to be a good man and he makes a sacrifice. He discards his ultimate power in order to save his soul. In the way of a scorched lover, the symbiote is hurt and flees, than finds another host, Eddie Brock. Venom is a lesson that your actions have consequences. Spidey’s greatest villain is the direct result of the opposite effect of his mantra. Venom is his responsibility. Spider-Man created Venom with his actions not just as Spider-Man but also as Peter Parker. The reason I’m telling you all of this is because like it or not, the 2007 film Spider-Man 3 captures all of that perfectly!
Spider-Man 3 is known for being a bad film. I’m not here to argue that it isn’t. But I don’t care who you are and how pumped you are for Tom Hardy’s Venom movie (obviously we’ll get to that later), Venom is done right in that film. And ultimately the overall theme is represented well. Spider-Man’s biggest flaw is Peter Parker. The more that Peter gets, the worse things are for Spider-Man. Don’t get me wrong. The movie is trash. Emo Tobey dancing in the street and then slapping a woman is just hard to watch. The dialogue is garbage, the suit design wasn’t thought through enough, and the casting of Eddie Brock was just… come on dude. Why would you think the guy from That 70’s show would back a good depressed sleazy bag meathead. The whole thing about forcing Sandman into killing Uncle Ben was unnecessary. But the movie still got some things right.
The entire trilogy has been all about him sacrificing his happiness with his best friend in order to be a better hero. Which climatically results in his best friend being his worst enemy. If you think I’m talking about James Franco, you’re wrong. If there’s one thing these movies do terrible, it is Harry Osborn. James Fracno is a garbage human being in these movies. The villain I’m talking about is Mary Jane Watson. Throughout the entire trilogy the B-Story has been about Peter Parker and MJ. They are the perfect couple because they understand and work off of each other. MJ doesn’t love Peter because he’s Spider-Man. She doesn’t love Spider-Man because he’s a hero. She’s kind of is indifferent and treats him like a normal dude with baggage. In the Sam Raimi trilogy this results in Mary Jane getting engaged to someone else because Peter can’t just man up and be a good boyfriend. I mean what is she supposed to do, just sit around and wait for him to get over his self-righteous bullshit? But true love prevails because… well it’s Hollywood. And maybe people would just rather be with someone they have a connection too because it’s comfortable? I don’t know; anyways let’s just be glad it ended at 3 because the 4th one was going to get really weird.
At this point in time the comic book movie genre was getting better. A year after Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight and Iron Man came out. Audiences weren’t tolerating the cartooniness of the Sam Raimi films anymore. We know there was a 4th film in the works and it involved the Vulture as the villain. We also know it was going to make drastic lore changes like Gwen Stacy being a Vulture sidekick or something like that. Sam didn’t want to do it and the cast wasn’t interested in continuing their characters anymore. The project shut down. But we still remember the trilogy and even if it had flaws, we respect what it did for the character. Soon after however Sony made a dark turn. Disney a few years into the MCU had the money and wanted to bring the Web-Head into their franchise. What came next is clear evidence that Sony didn’t know what the character meant to the fans.
Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man
In 2012, for those of you bad at math, 5 years after Raimi’s conclusion, Disney was breathing down Sony’s neck about their IP. Disney had already gotten to the end of their first MCU phase and was about to release The Avengers. DC had also established success with the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Sony had to release a film starring Spider-Man or else they would lose the rights to the character. They poured 200 million dollars into a project in hopes of revamping the franchise and getting it out the door as quickly as possible. For the most part it was a success. I think the movie captured certain elements of the character, but ultimately didn’t understand why we as an audience love Spider-Man.
Andrew Garfield starred Peter Parker this time around. The character was portrayed more of a hipster then a nerd. This is personally why I didn’t connect with the film. Seeing Peter skate around and dunk on the jocks just rubbed me the wrong way. I completely understand why they went this route, trying to capture the younger audience. But at this point most of the fans of the first movies were not in high school, so they didn’t connect with him either. The main reason people loved this film was Rnys Ifans’ version of Dr. Conners/The Lizard. This villain fixed the flaws of Spider-Man 2. He was a character that had mostly caused himself to become a criminal because he himself was already becoming one. He represented what Peter would become if he didn’t have Gwen Stacy in his life.
Emma Stone, starred as Gwen Stacy, the new/old love interest of this franchise. A lot of people don’t know that in the comics, Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s love for a long time before MJ showed up in the picture. A lot of people appreciated this… especially in the sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Another great addition of the film was Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s Father. He represented what J. J. Jameson did but not as funny. Just because Spider-Man helps people doesn’t mean he’s a hero to everyone. The idea of the “vigilante” will always become a complication when you introduce public servants. Our society exists because of law and order. Just because you may think it sounds like justice, doesn’t mean you should you put on a mask and beat people up. Due process matters. The moment you throw that out the window, then nothing matters. We as an audience know Spider-Man is good, but the police, represented by Denis Leary, don’t.
I honestly don’t have too many problems with the first Amazing Spider-Man, but the second movie is probably one of the worst comic book movies I’ve ever watched. In 2014 we were given Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy; more people were invested in Marvel movies then ever before. Sony decided to capitalize on this by releasing a teenage love story. Amazing Spider-Man 2 was advertised as being an action packed super hero adventure pinning Spider-Man versus Electro, played by Jamie Foxx. Electro was barely even in the movie, and when he was we got a dubstep version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider and really bad lightning effects. Instead the entire movie is Andrew Garfield being a fuckboy (a dude that sends mix signals and fucks with a girl’s head to manipulate her into getting with him) with Gwen Stacy. Saying he loves her, then dumping her, then making a romantic webbing gesture on a bridge when he should be fighting crime, then dumping her again, then showing up right before her job interview and telling her he loves her again to confuse her mind and get her to not take a job that’s out of the city. I understand that part of Spider-Man is sacrificing his happiness for the greater good, but in this movie it’s just obnoxious . That’s why I was so happy with the way the movie ended.
One of the most iconic moment in the Spider-Man comics, and maybe in superhero history, is the death of Gwen Stacy. The Green Goblin drops Gwen to her death and no matter how hard he tried, Spider-Man can’t save her. In the movie, it destroys Peter, as it should. It hardens him and the future of the franchise could have shown us a better version of the character then the one in the first 2 movies, but because the movie was so bad, no one wanted to see a third film. Aside from Spider-Man 3, Sony announced several movies that wouldn’t even have the web-head in them. A Venom project (this one actually is getting made), a Sinister Six movie, a prequel spy film starring a younger Aunt May, and movies starring Silver Sable and Black Cat. Sony was trying to establish their own “cinematic universe.” I’m not saying it wouldn’t work, hell it still might be possible. But you can’t base a cinematic universe off of 2 movies that weren’t that good and then have 27 announcements *cough*DC*cough*
In 2016, just 2 years after Amazing Spider-Man 2, fans around the world rejoiced when they got to see Peter Parker interact with the rest of the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. He wasn’t in the film for very long, but what we got was the perfect iteration of the character since the Tobey McGuire film 14 years earlier. Disney had made a deal with Sony that allowed them to used the character while Sony still owned his rights. This is very much like the deal Disney has made with Universal in order to use The Hulk. Sony lucked out for the most part because they’re pretty bad at making movies, so they get to collect money while Disney makes the films.
This time around Tom Holland was cast to play a high schooler that had already been slinging around and saving lives. Crazy to think it was smart to actually get an actor that looks like he belongs in high school. Only one of the movies he appeared in so far was a solo movie. He is introduced in Civil War and has a few moments in Infinity war, but his one solo film ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is great. In fact I would say it is my favorite of the MCU movies and that’s largely because of the villain. Micheal Keaton plays Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. He is a ruthless bad guy that threatens to kill a kid… but also at the end of the day you sympathize with him because he represents the common man that gets fucked over by all the superheroes. And when you pin that against Peter’s child innocence and willingness to always do the right thing, it creates a spectacular dynamic.
When we first meet Peter, he is a modernized version of a kid that appears to actually be living in downtown Queens. He is a dumpster diver who gets random electronics and works on them. He is a real kid that cares about homework, helping out his Aunt May, and gets nervous about girls. But when he puts on the mask, he has that Spider-Man confidence and charm. The most important thing is that we can see that he is a good person. He saves the day because of his powers and you actually feel like he wants to do it. They were able to explain “with great power…” without it being cheesy. Tom Holland’s Peter is a great representation of the character from the comics and we don’t even need to see his origin.
I think it was smart to skip the Spider-Man origin for this version of the character. The general audience is tired of it. As I listed before, I think Peter realizing his mistake and watching Uncle Ben die is necessary for the character but we get to see something else that wasn’t in previous movies. The relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker has never been shown. We’ve seen what happens to his other role models like Dr. Conners, Norman Osborn, and Otto Octavius. These were good mentors that turned corrupted. Instead we get to see Tony give Peter advice on how to be a hero and a good man. Ever since the first meeting in Peter’s room where Tony asks why he is a hero, we’ve seen their relationship grow. That’s why it was so heart wrenching when we watch Peter die in Tony’s arms in Infinity War. Disney’s version of the character was made with care and passion. You feel for him and his place in a growing world. He doesn’t have a forced relationship with MJ or friendship with Harry Osborn just to mimic what was in the comics. He just has friends and interests that are believable. Which is why I’m worried about what will happen to the future of this character when Sony works without Disney to make Spider-Man: Far From Home.
The Future of the Spider-Verse
As of right now, there are 4 known movies that are coming out that contain the Spider-Man IP. In 2019 we will see the conclusion of the events in Infinity War. Afterwards Sony is going to release a sequel to their Spider-Man solo movie titled “Far From Home.” I’m sure these movie will be good. There are rumors that Far From Home will not have Disney’s help so I am worried but the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio sounds great. My main concern however is the other 2 movies coming out. The Venom Solo movie is finally getting released and the trailers are… concerning. The movie will be staring Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy, and the movie will not have Peter Parker at all. Spider-Man 3, for all its flaws, at least had the Venom origin story down. I’m skeptical for this movie but will still see it and hope for the best.
The other movie that actually looks interesting is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. First off the art style looks cool and unique. Sony is taking a chance with an animated feature film with an alternate look at the character. The film is going to star Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, instead of Peter Parker. The OG Spider-Man does exist in the universe but has been doing the job for a long time and will be training Miles to become another Spider-Man. As we’ve gotten more details though, the movie will star a whole cast of different Spider-Men and Spider-Women. Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir, and a ton more are said to be in the film. It looks to be based off the great Dan Slott comic “Edge of the Spider-Verse” and if its successful, it can be Sony’s saving grace. This is how you build a cinematic universe, not with a movie about Silver Sable, but by taking great comics and putting passion into it. People have been waiting for Miles Morales to be in a movie for years, and now they finally get that chance.
With great power comes great responsibility. I’ve said it a few times throughout the article. It’s a lesson that I have always thought about. Spider-Man is one of those characters that can be done a million times in a million different universes, but they will always come back to this one philosophy. Whether Sony keeps the movie rights, or Disney gets them back, or some crazy future company takes them, we will still get Spider-Man movies. Because the character speaks to us. That no matter what is going on in your life, you can be a better person. Tragedy will always happen to everyone, so if you can, try to make someones day a little better. Be amazing, be spectacular, be responsible.
Movies watched and option written by: Troy Smith