Sunday, 19 December 2021

Ranked: Spider-Man

With the highly-anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home now in cinemas, I thought it was high time we take a look back at every film starring Spidey and set the record straight: which is the best of the bunch? From Raimi and Maguire right through to No Way Home, here's every Spider-Man film, ranked. 

Note: I'm excluding Tom Holland's appearances as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame on account of them not being Spider-Man films. They're ensemble films that feature Spider-Man. However, I have included both Venom spin-offs on account of them being the first two films in the hilariously titled 'Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters' (SPUMC).

11) Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

If you thought the first Venom was bad, just wait until you suffer the misery of watching Let There Be Carnage

This is a superhero film cut from the same cloth as those misguided early 2000s efforts, when Hollywood thought edginess and schlock was enough to wallpaper over the cracks of a slapdash script, broad performances and rough visual effects. And boy, are they rough – the third act of this film is enough to give you a headache.

With none of the polish or precision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's worst efforts, this is just an ugly, ugly film to look at and sit through. It's bottom-of-the-barrel bunkum that Sony has scraped together, to cash in and cater to the lowest common denominator.

10) Venom (2018)

A staple of the Spidey canon, Sony in recent years has struck out on its own and put out a series of spin-offs centred around some of the webcrawler's most infamous villains – starting with the slimy symbiote, Venom.

There's clearly a market for movies like Venom; after all, this first film did make in excess of $800 million. But I'm struggling to grapple with the film's artistic merit or worth – from the chaotic action, which comprises two ugly slime monsters slapping each other, to the grating Eminem track that plays during the credits, there's very little joy to be found here. 

It just washes over you, neither entertaining or horrifying enough to hold your attention. Neither good nor bad enough that it's good, I found myself strangely bored by the mish-mash of ugly VFX, dark cinematography and uninspired design oozing from every frame.

9) Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

A curious one, this one. Not because I think Far From Home is particularly bad or poorly made – just forgettable. There's genuinely nothing about this film, in which Peter and his mates go on a jaunty Euro trip and cross paths with Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio, that sticks with me. 

The plot, which features the likes of Samuel L Jackson's Nick Fury and Cobie Smulder's Maria Hill, centres around the fallout from Avengers: Endgame and Tony's Stark death, but aside from that I'm struggling to piece anything together. 

8) Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Ah, Spider-Man 3; the internet's favourite whipping boy or meme machine, depending on who you ask. There are some who consider Raimi's third and final Spider-Man film to be the nadir of post-2000 blockbusters, up there with the likes of The Phantom Menace and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

And then there are those who embrace its weirdness and uniqueness; who cherish the weird second act diversion into 'emo Pete', Sandman's sad storyline and the garish gooeyness of Topher Grace turning into Venom.

Me, I'm somewhere in the middle of all that. I certainly don't think it's the worst Spider-Man film ever; neither is it up there with Raimi's other two entries (Sony meddling in his vision made sure of that). There's still a lot to like about this one, such as Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacey and Peter grappling with his dark side. But then there's everything else, like James Franco's Harry Osborn battling amnesia and an unfortunate retcon concerning Uncle Ben's killer – like, what's that all about? 

7) The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro (2014)

The much-maligned Amazing Spider-Man sequel was branded a failure at the time and its rep hasn't improved much in the intervening years. But, I'm here to tell you that it's much better than you remember it. 

Narratively, it's bloated and preoccupied with teeing up future sequels and spin-offs; there's a whole Oscorp/Sinister Six subplot that is trying to generate excitement for what comes next, instead of focusing on what's happening right now. 

But there's a lot to like too. Visually, the film is just gorgeous, with striking contrast and propulsive action that looks and feels like each frame has been torn from a splash page. The villains are broad and chaotic; Jamie Foxx's Electro especially, injects a lot of energy (pun intended). And anchoring it all is Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who are still to this day, the best combination of Peter Parker and love interest. Their chemistry is just off the chain. 

6) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After a brief reintroduction in Captain America: Civil War, Homecoming saw Tom Holland step out as Spider-Man in his first solo film. The only catch was, he was joined by Robert Downey Jr, for a film that explored Peter's ambition to become an Avenger and his relationship with father-like figure, Tony Stark.

This is both a blessing and a curse; on the plus side, it means Homecoming feels like part of a much larger story and Holland immediately feels at home (pun intended) alongside Downey Jr. The downside is that he doesn't carry this story on his own; we're always tied to someone or something else.

The film cleverly skips over what we've seen before; Uncle Ben is already dead and buried by the time we pick up the story. The action is decent, but not particularly memorable, while Michael Keaton's Vulture is one of the better foes we've seen. All told, Homecoming provides a solid baseline for the Holland series – even some of the ideas aren't immediately that engaging.

5) Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

The latest Spider-Man film is the culmination of not just Tom Holland's six-film arc, but all 20 years of Spider-Man stories on the silver screen. It's big and ambitious and sticks the landing, and then some. It'll make you laugh, cry, cheer and god knows what else.

That being said, it is far from the best and when all is said and done, it does feels a little weighted down by all the plot it crams into its lengthy runtime. 

But in many ways, No Way Home is the zenith of Spider-Man films – it's a celebration of all Spider-Man films and actors, as both a continuation of and a farewell to both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. 

4) The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Maybe a controversial choice, to put Amazing Spider-Man this far up the list – I know that fans and audiences alike are eager to distance themselves from the Marc Webb duology. 

The amount of heat and smouldering the couple share is staggering – easily one of the most effortless superhero film romances we've ever seen. This genuinely might be the horniest superhero film since Batman Returns.

Webb's sensibilities are an odd match for Spider-Man; the cinematography and design skews darker and moodier than Raimi, which pairs nicely with the high school stuff (there's a great montage of Peter practicing his skating set to Coldplay, which I think captures the vibe Webb is going for), but also means the eventual third-act action lacks imagination and clarity. 

3) Spider-Man (2002)

Here it is, the one that started it all. Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man film is, for me at least, the start of modern Hollywood's now two-decade long superhero obsession. Some may point to Bryan Singer's X-Men or even the first Blade, but for me this is where Hollywood took all the ingredients and made something truly special that stands the test of time and sticks in the memory. 

A lot of that, of course, it down to the fact that I was a nerdy nine-year-old boy when this film hit cinemas. I was so in the pocket for this film that I'm pretty sure there's a 'For Rhys' dedication at the end. 

Nearly 20 years later – writing that out is a harsh reality check, thanks Father Time – and this film still bangs. For my money, it's the best superhero origin story we've seen (sorry Batman Begins) and it lays so much of the narrative and emotional groundwork that would go on to be perfected and payoff in Raimi's superior sequel. Tobey is great, Dunst is great, Dafoe is great, Elfman's score is great – what more is there to say other than the OG Spider-Man is great.

2) Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The original Raimi trilogy is a wonderful thing; it's superhero cinema at its sincerest. sweetest and sometimes silliest. There's not an ounce of cynicism here or any laborious intertextuality to weigh it down. The characters feel authentic and three-dimensional; the action is slick and inventive; and the stories themselves are earnest and grounded. And of the three, Spider-Man 2 is the best of the bunch.

Moment to moment, scene to scene, this film is iconic. There are no set pieces in Watts' trilogy, for example, that are as memorable as the subway train fight, the bank robbery or Doctor Octopus' surgery scene – a sequence that sees Raimi briefly revisit his horror roots. 

Maybe that's because I've seen this film so many times that it's burned into my retinas – or it's because the craftsmanship is second to none and nothing before or since (with one notable exception, which we'll get onto in a sec) has come close to being as rewarding, as heartwarming and as rewatchable as Spider-Man 2. Not just a great Spider-Man film; a great film full stop.

1) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

Wildly inventive animation fused with one of the best superhero stories committed to film – Into the Spider-Verse was immediately one of most entertaining Spider-Man films to date when it burst onto screens back in 2018.

A lot of ink has been spilled in praise of the animation in Into the Spider-Verse, and with good reason. There really is nothing else like it in terms of energy, ingenuity and overall impact. Spider-Verse is a comic-book come to life, complete with thought bubbles, splash pages and shading detail. Not only that, but it brings such a uniquely different take on the character – by placing a mixed-race character like Miles Morales front and centre, the whole mythos is reshaped and remoulded into something fresh and different.

This wasn't a retread of Raimi or the remakes; Spider-Verse delivered one of the best superhero stories committed to date. It's both something fresh and a loving tribute to Spidey's history, with meta humour and in-jokes abound. The way that the film remixes Spider-man lore – such as that Doc Ock reveal – is particularly clever, with so many surprises and shocks along the way. The voice acting, especially from Jake Johnson's weary and ageing Peter Parker, is excellent also.

One Best Animated Feature Oscar and two greenlit sequels later, and Into the Spider-Verse's impact on Spidey's legacy and lore is only just getting started. I can't wait to see where they take it next.

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