Since May 2002 there have been seven Spider-Man films released in theaters, not to mention his appearances in Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame. He’s been the star of dozens of animated television series and the star of multiple comic book titles since 1962. With the latest film hitting theaters, I thought I would give the movies my rankings.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, dir. Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman)
From my review:
Into the Spider-Verse is without question the best piece of Spider-Man media we have gotten to date. Even more than that, I am willing to say Spider-Verse is the Superman: The Motion Picture of this generation. Coming from me that is a massive compliment because Richard Donner’s original Superman film holds a very dear place in my heart. That movie was responsible for inspiring my love of comics and, contrasted against the bleak dreck of the popular Warner Brothers heroes movies, is why I am so disappointed these days. Spider-Verse understands the fundamental ideas and moods that make a superhero movie click and inspire the kids in the audience. This is a hopeful film that also doesn’t pander. People die in this movie, multiple people who are characters with strong emotional connections to Miles and the audience. There are some genuinely dangerous moments, and the filmmakers are confident that the kids watching understand the themes woven through the picture.
Spider-Man 2 (2004, dir. Sam Raimi)
On reflection, I’ve realized that Superman II is not the better picture than the first Superman film, an opinion I’d held until I was in my twenties. So, the moniker of best superhero sequel goes to Spider-Man 2, a perfect continuation of what Raimi was doing with the character. Raimi’s Spider-Man was a stylized take on the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original which is why the director always felt more comfortable in dealing with concepts from that era of the comics. He manages to do something interesting, though, and that is that he makes Doctor Octopus a semi-sympathetic villain. The origin is a lot more detailed than the comics version, and you feel bad for Ock until he starts seriously harming people. This film also contains the iconic elevated train sequence where Spidey pushes himself to a breaking point but still saves the day. This movie feels the most like reading a classic Amazing Spider-Man comic.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, dir. Jon Watts)
Critics have called Homecoming a high school comedy, not a Spider-Man film, but I argue that it is a genre spin that works perfectly. In the same way, Captain America: The Winter Soldier touched on tropes from paranoiac espionage films. Homecoming merges so beautifully with the tropes of a high school comedy. Those little touches, like the awkwardness of the school’s in-house television station or the Captain America videos in the gym, are what make the movie so much fun.
In contrast to Raimi’s Spider-Man films, these are not like reading the classic comics and a little more along the lines of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man. There are some perfect character moments here, particularly surrounding the villain, Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. There’s a third act reveal that will genuinely give you a surprise yet never comes off as a cheap twist; it serves to heighten the stakes for Peter Parker in the best ways.
Spider-Man (2002, dir. Sam Raimi)
Where the whole thing started and it still stands up pretty well. The first act is all the classic origin story with the rest of the film centering around Spidey’s growing conflict with the Green Goblin. You can tell Sam Raimi directed this one with the trademark camerawork and speed. You can also tell Raimi loves this character and that making this was a dream come true for him. That said, I don’t think we got the best version of the Goblin aside from just the terrible costume design. I think the build-up to the Goblin should take more than one film and he should be presented as a terrifying character. He has more resources than Spidey and a total absence of a moral compass. When the Goblin goes after Peter, it should be a relentless onslaught that targets his loved ones because that’s just the sort of guy Norman Osborn is.
Spider-Man 3 (2007, dir. Sam Raimi)
The problem here wasn’t Raimi, but that he was forced to incorporate Venom into the script. Raimi’s forte was the original Stan Lee run, and he just wasn’t as passionate about characters that were developed later. Sandman was meant to be the main villain with an arc focusing on how much more complex Spider-Man’s fight with crime was, how some criminals aren’t cartoonish villains. The Harry Osborn arc was also going to be included, so this was going to be a packed movie no matter what. You can feel how little Raimi cares for Venom and the Eddie Brock character. He also appears to be mocking the whole symbiote suit by making Peter’s turn to the “dark side” so comically awful. Raimi is a guy who knows comedy and slapstick, so all of the moments referred to as “cringe” are most definitely intentional. I would love to see a cut that got rid of the Venom material to know how the Sandman story plays on its own.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, dir. Marc Webb)
So now we get to the worst ones. Sony wanted to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, and I wasn’t opposed when I first heard about. I’m always up for new interpretations of comics. This first installment isn’t the worst thing in the world; it is is not great. The Lizard is our villain, and there’s an effort to plant the seeds of a cinematic universe. The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is the best part; these people genuinely enjoy being around each other, and you can see that on screen. Everything feels very bland, we’ve lost the visual stylistics of Raimi and now have the uninspired direction of Marc Webb, director of 500 Days of Summer whom I assume was hired purely for his last name.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, dir. Marc Webb)
One of the worst superhero movies of all-time rivaling even the worst of the X-Men and Fantastic Four and its terrible-ness comes out in literally every aspect of the film. Spider-Man ends up facing down an obsessive fan turned villain in Electro. Jamie Foxx plays Electro and delivers a performance reminiscent of Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever (Not a compliment). Not content to have one singular terrible villain Webb crams Harry Osborn as Green Goblin into the movie. That plot point is so comically rushed that there is zero impact when the villain shows up. Then the film ends on a third villain being introduced, Paul Giamatti as a Russian criminal version of The Rhino whose battle with Spider-Man is left on a cliffhanger. The final scene of the movie was shown in the trailers. This colossal failure is what led to Sony going, hat in hand, to Marvel and asking is they could partner up, which has led to the significantly better MCU Spidey.