In high school, Peter Parker lives a rather quiet and modest life. He lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben in New York City, but the family struggles with paying the bills. On a field trip for school to laboratory, he gets mistakenly bitten by a radioactive spider. After getting home and collapsing in his room, he wakes up the next day with mysterious muscle growth and amazing agility. A fight in school only expands his realization of his newfound powers. After entering into and winning an underground wrestling match, he is late to get picked up by his uncle, who is shot and killed in a random carjacking. The anger over his uncle’s death leads Peter to create a new costume and fight crime. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn, leader of Oscorp Industries, has been working on a chemical experiment to create super-soldiers but is about to lose funding. In a desperate attempt to prove his critics wrong, he tests the chemical on himself but quickly succumbs to a nasty side effect that makes his behavior more violent and erratic. As the new villain, the Green Goblin, starts to terrorize the city, Spider-Man must rise to stop him before he hurts the people loves.
After graduation, Peter has now moved on to Columbia University to study physics. Though he has strong interest in balancing school, work, a social life and his hero activities, life is not so easy at the moment. When he is given a chance to do some extra credit for Dr. Conners class by interviewing Dr. Otto Octavius, he learns of the scientist’s mission to create a renewable energy source. When he gets to the demonstration, Otto unveils the mechanical arms he will use to control the energy. When the experiment goes awry, the arms get fused to his skeleton and the safety chip gets fried. Meanwhile, Peter continues to struggle with his aunt’s financial problems and his ever-growing distance from Mary Jane Watson. His struggles only increase as he begins to lose his ability to control his powers. Otto, now Dr. Octopus, has begun to terrorize the city in an attempt to get his machine back up and running to prove his critics wrong. Peter, having given up on being Spider-Man after his powers began to fade, must decide whether he has the inner strength to return to his destiny.
With Mary Jane by his side, Peter has embraced his role as the city’s protector. Unfortunately, Harry Osborn, his best friend, knows about his identity and his involvement in the activities that led to Norman Osborn’s death. After a confrontation leaves Harry hospitalized with memory loss, Peter is able to capitalize on the chance to restore their friendship. As Spider-Man’s popularity increases, Mary Jane’s acting career seems to struggle. The reversal of success creates a rift in the young couple, though Peter has aspirations to propose to her. His success grinds to a halt when a new villain arises. Flint Marko, the man who actually killed Uncle Ben, is on the lose and has transformed into the Sandman after falling into a molecular test site. In addition to his new struggles, an alien symbiote has bonded to his Spider-Man suit, amplifying his powers and his aggressive tendencies. When he finally breaks free of the symbiote, it bonds with his rival from the Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock. Now known as Venom, he teams up with Sandman to take out Spider-Man and take dominance over New York City.
Starring: Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn), James Franco (Henry Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), JK Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Joe Manganiello (Flash Thompson), Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius), Donna Murphy (Rosalie Octavius), Dylan Baker (Dr. Curt Connors), Daniel Gillies (John Jameson), Elizabeth Banks (Miss Brant), Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko), Topher Grace (Eddie Brock), Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy), James Cromwell (Captain Stacy), Bill Nunn (Joseph ‘Robbie’ Robertson), Theresa Russell (Emma Marko), Bruce Campbell (Snooty Usher/Maitre d’)
Spanning the entire series are some rather memorable characters. Tobey Maguire serves as the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. The first film contains a combination of naivete and exploration as he discovers his newfound powers. In the second film, he deals with more of a combination of struggling and finding inner strength, where he never loses the nerdiness but also shows some personal growth. In the third film, he shows a sense of hubris as Spider-Man’s fame and the symbiote get the better of him. Though Maguire comes off a little scrawny and overly nerdy, he plays a relatable character that serves as a believable young hero. Serving as his leading lady is the sweet Kirsten Dunst. Though her character is consistently kind and hopeful from start to finish, she struggles at time with some poor dialogue and over-the-top acting. Rosemary Harris plays Peter’s wise Aunt May. Her character is set up to be a guiding spirit for when Peter hits his many low points over the three films. Though a little gimmicky, she has a sweet personality. As Peter’s best friend, James Franco plays the high school sidekick in the first film, the vengeance-ridden son of Osborn in the second film and conflicted friend with a personality disorder in the third film.
Important to this story are a number of additional supporting members. JK Simmons is one of the best comic reliefs of the film, serving as the high-strung chief editor of the Daily Bugle. The first villain of the series is portrayed by Willem Dafoe. Desperate in his dreams of perfecting the super soldier, Dafoe is able to portray that sense of urgency and insanity after subjected himself to the mutating gas. The second film brought in a new challenge in Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius. Though a kinder soul in the beginning, his obsession with his project is amplified by the influence of the mechanical arms. His villainous portrayal is probably the most consistent of the group. The third film brought two very different types of villains. Flint Marko, played by Thomas Haden Church, is a bit of a depressing character, one whose emotions are either sadness or anguish. Topher Grace, as both Eddie Brock and Venom, feels a bit out of place. Those the villain of Venom was definitely appreciated for the storyline, Grace felt a little too tough and obsessive of a character with his relationship with Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard).
Though the fight scenes are rather entertaining, and at times breathtaking in their aerial elements, the storyline elements are more important to the way Sam Raimi and Stan Lee decided to tell this story. The first film was probably the most smooth flowing with a focus on his development into a superhero and his high school struggles. As the second film dove into his love of Mary Jane and the balance issues with becoming so many different things to different people, the story felt a little schizophrenic, particularly as he loses his powers and chooses a life without Spider-Man. The third film goes to an even greater imbalance with 2.5 villains (including Eddie Brock, Venom and Sandman). Developing the stories of all three characters created a choppiness to the storytelling. Just as there is a bit of appreciation for the history of Flint, Spider-Man deals with his struggles with fame, the loss of Mary Jane and the overtaking of the symbiote. Though the street strolling scene in Spider-Man 2 was charming, the similar scene when the black suit had taken over was painful to watch. His Clockwork Orange-like transformation was only entertaining for a moment, ending shortly after his fight with Sandman. The choice to make this a lighter, more comedic form of an action thriller worked in some cases but failed in others.
Each of these films is entertaining but the new version of the story may take a less comedic, more serious style of presentation, similar to the transformation from the 90s versions of Batman and the more recent trilogy.
Spider-Man – Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5
Spider-Man 2 – Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5
Spider-Man 3 – Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5