Spider-Man: Homecoming comes out in theaters later this year. It will be the second time the Spider-Man film franchise has been rebooted, and it will be the first time a Spider-Man film is released as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As we prepare to experience a fresh take on the franchise, I think it is worthwhile to examine previous iterations of the Spider-Man series and weigh their respective qualities. (For the sake of brevity, I’m automatically discounting the 70’s Spider-Man television films.)
Others may disagree, but I firmly believe that Sam Raimi’s trilogy stands far superior to Marc Webb’s reboot series. My goal is to briefly compare some of the major components of each series: their depiction of the main character, their depiction of the villains, and their aesthetics.
I’ve heard some say that they are annoyed with Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker, and I understand why. In the film, he is constantly running into awkward situations and making a fool of himself. But it’s precisely this reason why I prefer him to Andrew Garfield’s portrayal. Now, I hold nothing against Andrew Garfield. It’s just that his Peter Parker is slightly too cool, just a little too slick, and ultimately, almost entirely forgettable. (That is, in fact, the central criticism I have of the second series as a whole.) The only stand-out personality trait that I remember about him is that he uses Bing as his search browser in the film. Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, is awkward and dorky, but that’s who Peter Parker is! When he puts on the mask, he becomes Spider-Man, and that’s all I ask.
The villains in the Marc Webb series are CGI monstrosities that I do not care about in the slightest. The villains in the Sam Raimi films provide some of the most memorable and powerful moments within them. Even in the weak third film, the Sandman (himself undeniably a CGI monstrosity) is given some of the most touching character development. The scene where he comes to life out of sand is riveting. (Arguably, you could take out the rest of the movie, leaving only that as an animated short, and it would be a better film.) But add to that Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin in the first film and Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus in the second film. For both of these villains, their deep relationships to their family and to Peter Parker make them more than the generic nefarious businessman or the generic mad scientist. To this day, I don’t think there’s been any Marvel movie that has had the same level of depth brought out in the villains. Even if Tobey Maguire is unappealing to you as Spider-Man, you have to admit that the villains he fights are excellently portrayed and bring incredible poignancy to the stories of their respective films. Meanwhile, the antagonists of the second series bring nothing but disappointment.
Furthermore, I believe the first Spider-Man series has better visuals than the second one. Hear me out on this: of course, Marc Webb’s series has the advantage of time and the technological advancement of computer graphics. But it’s how those graphics are used that is important. The second series is filled with overdone computer graphics and needlessly cold lighting. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films are filled with tons of practical effects and warm lighting. Willem Dafoe isn’t in some lame computer generated outfit—he’s in a real suit! Some might argue that’s what adds to the film’s goofiness. Sure: maybe the Green Goblin suit does look ridiculous. The entirety of the film is goofy, to be honest. All the Sam Raimi films are the epitome of “narm charm,” and that’s okay because these are movies based on comic books. They’re supposed to be fun! Of course, not all superhero movies have to be as campy, but it’s not a bad thing that these are. It allows them to attain a level of charm and warmth and solidity that the second series totally lacks, from the characterization to the visuals.
Last but not least, we need to acknowledge that J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson has to be one of the most hilarious portrayals of a comic book character ever. He did such a magnificent job that it left the second series in a quandary: they didn’t dare replace him, but they couldn’t put him without tearing huge rifts in the space-time continuum and making everyone’s minds implode. So, they had to leave him out entirely. The J.K. Simmons-shaped hole in the two Amazing Spider-Man movies is perhaps the most obvious disadvantage they have.
It remains to be seen how well Spider-Man:Homecoming will do in theaters. My hope is that it will at least have the staple humor of other Marvel films—most fitting for the characteristically wisecracking web-slinger. However, my suspicion is that it will not be nearly as memorable as the quirky and heartfelt Sam Raimi films. Tom Holland has already shown in Captain America: Civil War that he can play a likeable Spider-Man. But the sublime quality of Tobey Maguire’s sheer dorkiness makes him the most memorable Spider-Man to date. We’ll see how long that lasts.