A Retrospective on Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s Original Spider-Man Series

Twenty years ago, the superhero genre was not what we know it to be now. In 1998, Batman & Robin had effectively killed the entire genre and I don’t just mean killed; I mean it took on a nice gentle ride then shot it in the head from the backseat and took the cannoli. After years of developmental hell that involved Leonard DiCaprio and James Cameron at one point, all of the elements finally came together in the year 2000 with director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst all set to star and change comic book superhero films forever with 2002’s Spider-Man.

Prior to Spider-Man, no one had any idea how to bring the hero to the big screen but executives knew it would have to involve an eye for visuals and impressive special effects which was right in Sam Raimi’s wheelhouse. Primarily know for directing the Evil Dead films, Raimi’s style of humor and camera movement would translate well to creating the feeling of swinging among New York’s iconic skyscrapers.

The first film in the series released to wide critical acclaim and massive financial success. It would set a new standard for opening weekend numbers and vault its stars into super stardom. Spider-Man is an origin story through and through showcasing how Peter Parker gained his powers, the murder of Uncle Ben that sets him on his crime fighting journey, Peter’s transition into college and adulthood, navigating a complex love life and introducing one of the best villain portrayals in Marvel’s history. The ending of the first film is so memorable that it has even been used in future reboot efforts like The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man: No Way Home

The second film would exceed all expectations. Spider-Man 2 is the rare sequel that surpasses the original but not only expanding the world but by focusing on Peter’s internal conflict and whether or not he wants to continue being Spider-Man. As a young man, he’s struggling to balance every aspect of his while feeling the pull of hero work on a constant basis. Spider-Man 2 has everything one could want in a superhero film; futile attempts at a regular life, inner turmoil that threatens the hero life, a powerful yet sympathetic villain, impressive action sequences and incredible chemistry between Maguire and Dunst.

With the mega success of two films, a third seemed like a done deal however, Spider-Man 3 would prove to be the nail in the coffin for the original film series. Everything about the film seems to be rushed and phoned in all at the same time. The inclusion of three villains is too much even for an Avengers film but this character bloating has now become a trademark for crappy superhero films. Having Green Goblin or Venom be the primary villain while eliminating Sandman would have made for a more interesting film while saving Sandman for a future film would have been the smart play. There are too many subplots, too many characters and infamously featured one of the most cringe-inducing scenes in any movie. We all know what one I’m talking about so let’s move on. Spider-Man 3’s inflated budget and underwhelming response led to plans which would have featured Anne Hathaway as Felicia Hardy/Black Cat and John Malkovich as The Vulture were cancelled and led to Sony rebooting the franchise in 2012 with director Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield as the new Spider-Man. 

In spite of how the original series ended, fans still love and appreciate what Raimi and Maguire accomplished during their collaboration. With Maguire’s appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home, both he and Raimi have expressed a desire to make a fourth film in their series. These desires seem to have not been pursued by Sony and nothing has been confirmed from the conjecture but it would be a pure joy to see their series close on their terms rather than that of a greedy studio. It would be interesting to see Maguire return to a universe that does not have Green Goblin, Doc Ock or Sandman as a villain would certainly open new avenues for villains like Vulture, Shocker or Mr. Negative to make an appearance.

There is also a huge deluge of Spider-Man and Spider-Man adjacent films that are set to release over the course of 2023 and 2024; the Spider-Verse sequels will drop in June 2023 and March 2024, Madame Web directed by Olivia Wilde and starring Dakota Johnson will premier in July 2023 and Kraven the Hunter starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson is set to release in January 2023. In addition to the Maguire/Raimi rumors, there is also speculation that Andrew Garfield would be willing to return and star in a third film in his series. Spider-Man is quickly becoming Marvel’s version of Star Trek; too much content and too many timelines to figure out. Given how Sony has bungled both of the Venom films and now can add Morbius to their list of missteps, audiences would be right in expressing skepticism as to how the studio is handling such a beloved property and explore the possibility of selling the rights to the Spider-Man universe back to Disney to be where it rightfully belongs.

In spite of the pat, Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi deserve to end their groundbreaking series of films in a way that brings closure to critics and fans. Even Andrew Garfield deserves this same courtesy. No Way Home was a great start to redeeming their legacies but there is more work to be done to really give audiences what they want. The cheers elicited by Tobey’s emergence through the portal in No Way Home should signal that audiences are ready for such a beloved figure to return to such a beloved franchise. 

Featured Image Credit: Spider-Man on IMDb

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