Before Spider-Man came home to Marvel and prior to him making lovey-dovey eyes at Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s story was brought to the big screen by director Sam Raimi. Even though people have seemingly turned their back on these films (and with part three, there’s some good reason for it), I still look fondly back on the first two films of Raimi’s series. While the first film brought Spidey’s origin story to the silver screen, Part 2 had some great moments and featured my favourite of Spider-Man’s enemies. So which one was better?
Story: It’s always had to do a character’s origin story, especially if that origin has already been established in another medium. Do you go too long and bore everyone because yes, we know, the spider comes down, bites his hand, blah, blah, blah. On the other hand, if you leave something out, the fans will get upset. So, what do you do? Well, Raimi chose the former and being a longtime Spider-Man fan, I’m glad he did. Without the whole origin story, you don’t get the crux of Spider-Man, and his often-told mantra: with great power comes great responsibility. Spider-Man’s beginnings are told fully, as well as the Green Goblin’s. To do otherwise would have been a big miss on Raimi’s part as we would have all been clamouring for Spider-Man’s true beginnings to get the movie treatment. Well, with this done, we thankfully don’t ever need to see the origin story again (you hear that, Amazing Spider-Man?)
Villain: When I first saw the Green Goblin costume, I hated it. Years later, watching the movie again, I don’t hate it…but I really, really, REALLY dislike it. It’s just a big miss, in my eyes. However, the character himself is brilliant, and Willem Dafoe plays him with such manic, wild-eyed glee, that I can forgive the costume, to a large extent. Truly though, Dafoe showed how to walk that line when playing a comic-book villain, going just far enough over the top to show that this character is not actually real, but bringing enough pathos and madness to the role to make him a viable threat to Spider-Man. When people talk about the great comic book villain performances of all time, Dafoe is never mentioned, but I think he should be.
Action: As an origin story, there isn’t much in the way of action per se, but what you do get is pretty enjoyable. Spider-Man taking on Bone Saw McGraw, the Goblin’s attack at the World Unity Fair, and the confrontation at the Queensboro bridge all stick out in my mind as impressive action sequences. They are well-choreographed, shot and imagined. If you were Spider-Man, there would probably be no greater pleasure than swinging around New York, fighting bad guys, stopping crimes, and enjoying the freedom that your powers allowed. The movie does a good job of demonstrating those powers and giving you a taste of what it would be like to be everyone’s web-slinging hero.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Story: Where the first film gave everyone the invigorating feeling of how great it would be Spider-Man, this one shows how crappy it can be to be a superhero. Peter’s not able to have a normal life, not able to pursue the love of his life, not able to hold a job worthy of his intelligence. It sucks, and generally, I hate when movies do this – it’s annoying enough in real life, now my entertainment has to depress me as well? However, for this movie, it works, for two reasons. One, that is how it is for Spider-Man in the comics, so it’s not as if they were bringing something out of left field to criticize the character and show how stupid comic book heroes are; this is a central theme to Spidey’s stories and has been for a long, long time. Secondly, we get that great speech by Aunt May about heroes, one of the few moments in any comic book movie that has almost moved me to tears…almost. After his crisis of faith in being Spider-Man, Peter Parker emerges as a better hero than before, because he has overcome this obstacle.
Villain: Sam Raimi loves his sympathetic villains. Except for Venom (or should I say “Venom” because that wasn’t really Venom), all of his main bad guys have a sympathetic side (yes, even Norman Osborn deserves a little pity). None of the villains deserves our pity more than Doctor Octopus, though. He lost his wife in the accident that fuses his tentacles to his spine, and you can’t fault the guy for wanting to continue the experiment, as at least he would have achieved success in spite of his great loss. Alfred Molina is brilliant as Doc Ock, appearing unhinged and yet entirely regretful for his actions. His madness, spurned by his personal suffering, is palatable, making him probably the Spider-Man villain most audiences could identify with.
Action: With the Spider-Man origin out of the way, this movie had a few more set pieces than the original. Coming to mind is Doctor Octopus’ bank heist, throwing the car through the window at Peter and MJ, The battle on the train tracks and the final confrontation with the reactor literally pulling the entire city into it. It’s the personal touches that I like as well, though. Sam Raimi was known as an innovator with both his editing and camera shots, and this is on display when Doctor Octopus awakens in the hospital. The zoom-ins and the cuts bring to mind some of Raimi’s earlier works, which shows that even with a massive movie, the director still was allowed to throw in some of his own personal touches. This elevates the movie above the normal cookie-cutter blockbuster and makes it a bit more recognizable to fans of Raimi’s work.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man did what many filmmakers failed to accomplish – it brought everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to the big screen, in live action. For that achievement alone, the movie should be held in higher regard than it seems to be. However, I would state that the second Spider-Man feels more like a Sam Raimi film, in style, and the Spider-Man character feels more mature ready to actually accept that with great power comes great responsibility. Add in probably the best villain in the franchise and some great action scenes, and you have one of the best superhero movies ever committed to film. While I have high hopes that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will continue to do the character justice, he still has a long way to go to best Raimi’s first two films.