Love & Hate: Raimi/Maguire Spider-Man Movies
No one likes to be made fun of.
I mean, that’s obvious, right? What a hard-hitting opening hook! Next article: “Getting punched in the genitals is not ideal!”. But it’s a truism: If you are trying to endear yourself to someone, you should probably not make fun of them more-or-less straight off the bat. After a level of comfort has been established, some teasing and prodding is expected in most relationships, but if I just met you and went straight into heckling whatever it is you enjoy, you’d probably think I was a jerk.
When I watched the Sami Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, I couldn’t help but think they were openly mocking me and something I loved.
Not at first! Actually, I GREATLY enjoyed all three of them (yes, even the third one, but we’ll get to that in a moment) when I saw them in theater. I thought they were wonderful, and they made my heart full; seeing a quality portrayal of my favorite fictional character of all time leaping to real life as he swung to-and-fro was an experience I will never forget. It was only after buying them all on DVD and watching them again where I couldn’t help but feel the movies were side-eyeing me and snickering.
Upon repeated viewings, I began seeing those movies less as a fantastic bringing to life of the webbed hero and more of a needling at the entire funny book industry. “We’ll meet again, Spider-Man!”… that scene is silly and awful, and it’s included solely to say “look how silly and awful comic books are! ‘We’ll meet again, hero’, gosh, how ridiculous is this medium? Let’s all point and laugh, everyone”. And, I don’t know, comics certainly can be ridiculous and silly–and this movie came out in 2001 where comics had been those things for, like, a decade–but that’s not what I want to see as their big screen portrayal. The MCU has never made their characters out to be jokes; their characters have poise and dignity and feel well-developed. Even jabroneys like Star-Lord and Scott Lang are given emotional heft and real stakes. The Raimi/Maguire movies, conversely, have this:
God, that scene is horrible. Just hammy and poorly shot and so, so awkward and silly. Ugh. I want to say “How on Earth did anyone watch a movie with that scene and think ‘Instant classic’!”, but I did the same thing the first time I watched it! I was swept up in the ground-breaking moment of it all and just let this slide. But seriously… WATCH THAT. It makes “MARTHA!” look like “Rosebud”.
There’s also this (skip to 44 seconds in):
WHAT IS SHE HOLDING ONTO? Is it a sex doll? That is the worst practical effect in history. And don’t give me any “It was 2001” nonsense; that was unacceptable for any film made after 1940. That in no way reads as a human being that she is clinging to. Also, hey! If you watch the whole clip, we get our friend “We’ll meet again, Spider-Man” again. Because NEVER FORGET.
And it goes on.
Haha, oh god, another pathetically awkwardly shot, uncomfortably dumb scene starts at about 1:20 with Doctor Octopus’ “DOOM… DOOM… DOOM” footsteps approaching while MJ and Peter just stand there like bored extras. WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING? Who just stands there with their weird posture and their non-expressions? What even is the directing and cinematography in these films?
It’s stuff like this that always made me confused as to why Spider-Man 3 has such a bad rap because NOTHING THAT HAPPENED IN SPIDER-MAN 3 WOULD HAVE BEEN OUT OF PLACE IN THE FIRST TWO FILMS! All three of them are dumb, poorly done movies! The only things Spider-Man 3 did egregiously wrong was retcon Uncle Ben’s death and throw in way too many baddies. If you put Peter Parker’s emo dancing in Spider-Man 1, everyone would have said “Haha, just like my childhood, I love it! Can’t wait to get more Spidey/Goblin rooftop scenes with absurd leaning on a skylight!”.
Now, I know what you are thinking. “What? The Maguire movies are bad? What about the train scene? What about JK Simmons?!” And I will obviously defer that, yes, those are both great. Spider-Man stopping the train is the height of Spider-Man’s heroic desperation in an out-of-his-weight-class situation, and JK Simmons’ interpretation of J. Jonah Jameson is so beyond reproach that I doubt any Spidey movie will bother casting that character again. But please, continue. “I will because there are so many other great things about the first two movies, obviously! Like… hmmm… you know, the… huh. Well, what about Willem… no, no. Hmph, I guess there’s… no? Kirsten… ugh, I guess not. Hold on, I’ll think of them! The special eff–whoof, not those, okay. There are… ummm… Bonesaw?”
Well, you got me there. Bonesaw was also a lot of fun.
Let’s interlude for a moment: it’s become something of a joke among us Ghosts that Chad and I are near-polar opposites who find precious little middle ground and will constantly snipe each other’s favorite things. I don’t think that’s entirely true. We actually agree on a great many things: we both adore the DeMatteis/Buscema Spectacular Spider-Man run; we both didn’t care for Dan Slott on Amazing Spider-Man; we both felt the same way about the recent Venom movie. I respect the hell out of Chad as an extremely well-read, well-researched, and educated fan of many mediums. Much of the idea that we are arch-foes of pop culture tastes comes from the fact that we vehemently disagree over the Raimi/Maguire and Webb/Garfield cinematic interpretations of Spidey. Chad will actually be along shortly to convey his thoughts (that’s right… it’s another classic Ghosts of the Stratosphere Blogcast!). I’m just going to leave a final thought before he interjects:
If the Raimi/Maguire Spider-Man movies were released today, they would get critically blasted along the lines of Venom or Batman Vs Superman. And I get that they are from seventeen years ago, and it was a different time. But good movies hold up. And they simply don’t. At all.
I respectfully disagree with just about everything Stew said. Well, most of it, anyway. Mainly because he just put Batman v. Superman on par with the Raimi Spider-Man movies, and those are fightin’ words!
Actually, I think it is fun that we can get along so well in real life and still have such divergent opinions on the quality of things. That’s what makes life great, though. Not everything is for everybody. That’s ok. That allows for more things! More fun arguments! I respect Stew, but I would be lying if I said I always understood him. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (he does), that doesn’t mean his worldview isn’t interesting or well-thought out (it is), or that Stew isn’t a totally swell guy (he’s pretty cool, actually).
As far as the Toby Maguire/Sam Raimi movies go, I am an unabashed fan. I agree they are not perfect, although the casting of J. Jonah Jameson was. I can see reasonable nits to be picked with Kirsten Dunst as the all too often underdeveloped damsel in distress MJ, with the Power Rangers Green Goblin suit, with the overcrowding of Spider-Man 3, or the organic web shooters–which were only problematic because of the comic’s dimwitted response to them with Peter Parker hatching twice from spider cocoons–but I digress.
That’s not where organic webs would come from, btw.
Any quibbles with Raimi’s choices pale in comparison to one huge factor: he has been the only director thus far in Spidey’s 8 movie career to really understand the character. Raimi’s Peter Parker feels the weight of his decisions unlike the boy in Tony Stark’s billion dollar suit of the MCU or whatever abomination that was in the pair of Amazing Spider-Man movies. Raimi’s Parker can’t hold a steady job because he’s doing what’s right. Those pizzas won’t be delivered on time as long as New Yorkers need saved. He can’t pay his bills; he’s a burden on the people he loves the most. Whether it’s not being there to help Aunt May (who was masterfully played by Rosemary Harris), effectively destroying his best friend, or constantly leaving MJ in the path of danger–it’s all because of Peter shouldering the burden of power and responsibility.
The other thing I love about the Raimi Spidey movies (and most Raimi movies in general) is the way he seamlessly blends action, drama, horror, and campy fun.
This is actually where I’m thinking people who dislike the Raimi movies can make their most valid personal arguments as those elements–especially camp, aren’t for all comers. Not everyone grew up loving the Batman ’66 show and learning over time to discover the depth of the humor and craft in the show. They see it as silly (which it is) but they miss the part where it’s satirical or subversive. They see the formulaic plots but miss the knowing winks to the audience–or worse yet, are offended by them. I see most camp as an expression of love for the content–when it’s done well.
Spider-Man mixes in plenty of campy fun in the trilogy. Bonesaw brings more fun than Crusher Hogan ever has. Willem Dafoe’s over the top performance as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin is the height of scenery chewing over the top camp that is a marvel to behold. If only they went with the rubber mask instead of that metal suit! Even the homage to the ReAnimater with Dr. Octopus’s arms is just scary enough to inspire fear, but just silly enough to not be too traumatizing for the youngsters.
That’s another area that’s very important to me: great super hero movies should be accessible to everyone. I grew up believing a man could fly thanks to Christopher Reeves’ Superman films ages before I picked up a comic book. Kids of all ages can understand and relate to the characters in Raimi’s Spider-Man.
I recently rewatched the first film with my seven year old, and even though we read the original stories quite a bit, I could see this version of Spidey’s origin being the one that sticks the most. When Peter gets into his fight with Flash (played by a baby faced Joe Manganiello), I loved watching my kiddo watching the bully get his comeuppance, only to see through Uncle Ben that just because Peter could win a fight verses Flash, it doesn’t mean he should.
I could see his eyes light up with fear when Spidey swings into the burning building to save the screaming woman–who’s actually the Green Goblin in a babushka! The movie very much so works on that seven year old level while it kept me, a decades deep Spider-Man fan, entertained and on the edge of my seat.
It very much so holds up.
Finally, there’s some important context that I cannot let go of for the original trilogy. The movies came out post 9/11. The first movie famously had to delete the twin towers from an early advertised scene. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 especially played a role in healing from that tragedy. The themes of New Yorkers and our country standing together against any evils that approach still brings a patriotic tear to my eye. It sounds dumb, but that theme of people standing together for the what’s right makes me love these movies even more, and they were needed at the time and still welcome today.
Spider-Man 2, with it’s fully fleshed out villain, that train scene along with its robust scenes throughout New York, and its liberal helpings of J.K. as J.J.J. still stands as one of if not my favorite Super hero movie of all time. My family will see this movie (and 2.1–with 8 additional minutes) a hundred times more than we’ll ever watch Avengers: Infinity War. Even though both films are quality projects, only one has the range and rewatch-ability to stand the test of time: it’s Spider-Man 2. There’s too much baggage and darkness to see the Avengers too many times.
I will even defend Spider-Man 3, at least as far as Venom goes. I thought Raimi made the Topher Grace Venom even more of an equal but opposite villain than in the comics. They just crammed 3 movies’ worth of plots into 1 and did a disservice to all 3.
You wish you had Donna from That 70’s Show as your Mary Jane!
There are lots of movies that don’t seem to understand the comics–the Snyder-verse and its cries of “Martha” or the M. Night Shamalamalamalon hit Unbreakable. They don’t wink at their audience as much as talk down to them. Worse yet, the Amazing movies fall under the category of just not getting the character. They don’t bother winking at the audience as much as close both eyes and run full speed into the wall. My Spider-Man doesn’t lie to a dying Captain Stacy and immediately sneak into his girlfriend’s room through her window. Nobody’s should; it’s not hip, it’s wrong.
Remember, those movies were so bad Sony gave the franchise to Marvel. They said, “please stop us before we screw it up more.”
That’s not the Raimi movies. They’re the essence of Spider-Man, even with their warts and all. Everybody may not “get it,” but I do.
Even the new movie, as fun as it is, has a different Spider-Man than the one in my head. I’m enjoying the different take, but my Spidey doesn’t have a robot voice in his suit and answer to “Mr. Stark.”
Don’t let the Stews fool you. The Raimi movies hold up. They’re still funny and cheesy and campy and scary and filled with love. They’re not making fun of you or Spider-Man. They are and always will be Spider-Man.