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SPIDER-MAN, RANKED

TAKING THE ULTIMATE SPIN!

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By Connor Dalton
12th December 2021

There are few things I love more than Spider-Man. That is an innately strange thing to say about a fictional superhero, but it's true. Compared to other characters of his ilk, Spider-Man was able to resonate with me far more than most. That connection formed because, for all his spectacular nature, he had very relatable problems. He had financial issues, relationship worries, struggled to manage his time, and suffered pure human doubt. His tales were never lacking in amazing fantasy, but they could also be mature. Yet, above all, Spider-Man implored us to be the best possible version of ourselves. The idea that anyone could wear the mask, anyone could be Spider-Man. And I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I see a part of myself in Spidey.

Now, if it isn't known by now, another great love of mine is cinema. And for as long as I've held that passion, Spider-Man has always been around. I was a young kid during the height of the Tobey Maguire films. My high school years were complimented by the Andrew Garfield series. And after concluding school, I have found myself checking in with Tom Holland every year or so as I try to make something of myself in the world. Since the turn of the millennium, despite taking different forms, Spider-Man has continued to leave his mark on the silver screen. And as the years roll by, I never tire of seeing his vibrant world unfold through the prism of film.

With the incoming release of the much anticipated 'Spider-Man: No Way Home', I've decided to rewatch all eight theatrical Spider-Man films in chronological order and forge my ranking of each instalment. It was quite the experience marathoning the webhead's cinematic history and a reminder of just how influential these films have been for me.

So, without further ado, here's how I rank all the Spider-Man films from worst to best.

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8
'THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2' (2014)

"People will say that I'm a monster for what I've done, and maybe they're right."

'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' is an absolute calamity and that kind of breaks my heart. Marc Webb's sequel promised a daring and ambitious epic, something that could rival the greatest Spidey tales told on screen. But while there is certainly audacity to witness, it often comes from very confused and or cynical intentions. Essentially, creating the superhero film equivalent of wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

The film suffers principally by trying to do way too much with the time it has. The storytelling is consistently compromised in favour of setting up a shared universe. It goes back and forth aimlessly as to whether Peter and Gwen should be together or not. Whilst introducing a litany of villains who would look more at home in a Joel Schumacher 'Batman' film. It's a story that lacks basic cohesion and, as a result, can never muster much of an identity. At times, it wants to be a romance between two lovers divided between one's duty and the other's aspirations. But on other occasions, it's more inclined to operate like a commercial trying to sell me their next product. But what dooms 'TASM2' most is how it strips away what makes Peter Parker such a compelling character. Peter shouldn't be a chosen one fulfilling his destiny predetermined by his special blood. The power of Spider-Man is that he could be any one of us. He received his powers by chance and must adhere to the responsibilities that come with them. Removing that quality detracts from the heart of the character and is pretty emblematic of this film's failings. Nice suit, at least.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'.

7
'SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME' (2019)

"You're not Iron Man. You're never going to be Iron Man."

I may be in the minority, but, for me, 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' simply doesn't work. Following the colossal conclusion of 'Avengers: Endgame', Marvel and Sony opted to make things a tad breezier by sending Peter and his classmates on a European vacation. But as Spider-Man traverses nation after nation, the story he leads is low on dexterity and littered with questionable choices.

The best Spider-Man stories are driven by pathos, and in 'Far From Home', emphasis is placed on Peter deciphering how best to succeed his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Yet, while the MCU rendition of Spider-Man adores Iron Man, having this be the film's emotional centre always struck me as odd. The film never once questions Tony's legacy, with the mantle of Iron Man seen as something to aspire to. But over two films, he gave a high-schooler access to militarised drones and was the cause of the two villains said high-schooler has had to fight after Tony robbed them of their livelihood. Leaning into that contradiction could have been impactful, but the film can never recognise that perhaps Tony shouldn't be viewed so venerably.

But the qualms don't cease with Iron Man. The supporting characters offer little depth outside of their quirky high school archetypes. Its humour, such as the Peter tingle and the Night Monkey, falls thunderously flat. And in the end, despite a lively Jake Gyllenhaal performance and some competent set pieces, the film ultimately feels rather disposable. It just feels like another Spider-Man film, and I'd hope for more than that.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Spider-Man: Far From Home'.

6
'THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN' (2012)

"You owe the world your gifts, you just have to figure out how to use them."

I saw 'The Amazing Spider-Man' at exactly the right time. My friend and I took the girls we liked to see it when half of us were too young to get tickets for 'Ted', of all things. I had just turned 15, and the film's mixture of high school romance and teenage angst felt like it was made almost specifically for me - and although I may have loved it as a young adult, nearly a decade on, my thoughts have shifted quite drastically.

Nowadays, I can't help but view 'The Amazing Spider-Man' as a largely hollow retelling. The decision to rehash Spider-Man's origin story does more harm than good in justifying this film's existence. Going up against the iconography of Sam Raimi's original, its only distinguishable quality is swapping out the warmth and vibrancy of the previous version in favour of a gritty aesthetic and a moody protagonist. Making Peter Parker a mumbling and spiteful skateboarder is a depiction I find hard to empathise with. Moreover, the decision to put him in a more grounded world is frequently at odds with the plot. The film can never sustain a sense of realism when our villain is a giant lizard trying to turn us all into reptiles, after all. The shifts in tone are jarring, and structurally, it's almost a beat-for-beat copy of something done far greater.

That said, it's not completely without merit. Although the characterisation has its drawbacks, Andrew Garfield still provides a spirited performance. He's also backed by a stellar supporting cast, with the likes of Emma Stone, Sally Field and Martin Sheen. There's also the odd moments of scope and drama that are just pure Spider-Man. But if the Garfield series is seen as the awkward middle child, 'The Amazing Spider-Man' does little to alleviate that reputation. It's watchable, sure, but in repeating a story so well-known, it can't escape the feeling of been there, done that.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'The Amazing Spider-Man'.

5
'SPIDER-MAN 3' (2007)

"I did a terrible thing to you. I spent a lot of nights wishing I could take it back."

I've never understood the level of disdain directed at 'Spider-Man 3'. To this day, it remains one of the most derided films of its genre. Audiences loathed it, and, for many, it rescinded a lot of the goodwill earned by the first two instalments. Even Sam Raimi has gone on record to shamefully state that the film doesn't work. But here is where I come in to say not only is 'Spider-Man 3' undeserving of such contempt, dig on this, I think it borders on terrific.

Alright, lower your pitchforks; I know it isn't perfect. Yes, 'Spider-Man 3' is a messy film. There are too many characters, too much going on, and a notable lack of control present in the previous films. You can tell that Raimi doesn't hold much interest in the character of Venom (Topher Grace). And for a considerable period, the film doesn't know what to do with Harry. It knows where they want him to end up, but lazily giving him amnesia does nothing to propel his journey. No one can say 'Spider-Man 3' is without fault, but be that as it may, it's never short on endearing qualities either.

'Spider-Man 3' still possesses the heart, grandiosity, and personality that made this version of Spider-Man so revered. The film is filled with creative action sequences involving characters we've come to care for. Whilst, in terms of villainy, the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is not only a visually interesting villain, but one of great empathy. And even if Raimi is disinterested in Venom, positioning him as a mirror to Peter, a version of sorts that acts on his worst impulses, makes for an engaging counterpoint. It's clear Raimi is trying to make a film about forgiveness and the downfall of pride, and even if his story is victim to studio interference, he is still able to create a compassionate piece of work.

This is best exemplified in the film's ending, which would ultimately become the ending for the series as a whole. Peter and Mary Jane sharing a dance while realising that things will never be easy, and for their love to endure, they'll have to persevere the tribulations bound to come. It's a beautifully human and quietly potent conclusion to a film mainly perceived only for its negative attributes. Sure, things can get a bit too goofy, and, yes, it is weaker than what came before, but is this one of Hollywood's worst blockbusters? Not for a second.

4
'SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING' (2017)

"Don't do anything I would do, and definitely don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Tasked with delivering the third interpretation of Spider-Man in a little under 15 years, 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' was wise to keep things modest. The stakes are refreshingly low, and there is little emphasis on world-building. Instead, it's a charmingly simple tale of a boy growing up and learning to be his own hero in a world full of them. It's light, enjoyable, and a nice detour from the bevy of world-shattering superhero epics we've come to expect.

'Homecoming' differentiates itself by having Peter be a novice. This is an inexperienced Spider-Man yet to come of age, let alone save the world. And while we've seen previous Spider-Men in a high school environment, this is the first version to really centre its hero on his youthful nature. Many have pointed out that this is the first time he has felt like a kid on screen, and I'm inclined to agree. He feels like a kid in the sense that he is fearful, unsure of himself, and eager to impress. It's a welcome representation of this character, and so much of it hits due to Tom Holland's pitch-perfect approach to the role. So much of the film's spirit radiates from his performance. His work, along with the alluring screen presence of Michael Keaton as the Vulture, works wonders.

And yet, despite it being one of the better Spider-Man films, it isn't without its shortcomings. Although I like the smaller scale of 'Homecoming', it does make the proceedings feel somewhat slight. The action often lacks intensity, with a finale on an invisible plane being a key example. Additionally, when it comes to conveying emotion, it can never be as impactful as it's trying to be. Outside of Peter and the Vulture, there isn't much depth to the supporting players. Aunt May, in particular, is almost utilised solely for characters to comment on how hot she is. It can be a little too safe for its own good, and as a result, the film can be a little forgettable.

But picking up from some truly dire straits, it's more than fine that 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' is just that; fine.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'.

3
'SPIDER-MAN' (2002)

"This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man."

'Spider-Man' is the type of film that makes me sit back and think: my god, I love movies. Every time I watch it, it leaves me with a big stupid grin on my face from start to finish. Here is a film oozing with charm, sincerity, wit, and spectacle, and incredibly, it feels almost effortless. Sam Raimi's origin story set the standard for how said stories should be told through film. And despite time not being kind towards some of its special effects, in every other regard, it remains practically flawless.

'Spider-Man' thrives from the passion of its director and the perfect blend of heart and fantasy he smoothly constructs. Swinging through the sky with Spider-Man is a pure rush to the system. With Danny Elfman's booming theme in tow, the film moves like a splash page unfolding before your eyes. This also extends to the film's action sequences which are stylised, visceral, and fantastically brutal. For all its vivid colours and gleeful attitude, Raimi makes certain you feel every hook, jab, and kick the characters receive.

But what also makes 'Spider-Man' so absorbing is how much richness resides in its characters. Through sharp writing and gentle performances, they hold just as much weight as any set piece. Willem Dafoe excels in what is essentially a dual performance between the cackling goblin and the frightened Norman, both desperate for control. There's also great honesty in Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) as a woman searching for someone who will accept her for who she really is. Something she comes to find in Peter. Speaking of Peter, for me, Tobey Maguire is Spider-Man. The way he embodies this wide-eyed, nerdy, hopeless romantic stands alongside the greatest superhero performances, period. The cast and filmmakers show great care for these characters, and it makes things all the more rewarding.

'Spider-Man' captured the zeitgeist upon release and proved a game-changer in how superhero films were perceived. But while many great superhero films have come in its wake, 'Spider-Man' is still one of the best of its kind.

2
'SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE' (2018)

"That's all it is, Miles. A leap of faith."

My expectations weren't high for 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'. It first came to public attention during the infamous Sony hack of 2014 when all of the company's plans for Spidey-related films were laid bare. And amid some almighty embarrassing ideas such as an Aunt May prequel, their venture into animation didn't inspire confidence. At face value, it looked like another greedy outlet to make a quick buck out of the company's crown jewel. But, boy, could I have not been more wrong.

'Into the Spider-Verse' is a work of pure creativity. Blistering with imagination and soul, it is one of those films I can only describe as a miracle. Visually, it is dripping with panache and proves a brilliant showcase for what animation can do and how effective it can be in the superhero genre. Every frame could be a painting with the film infusing various animation styles appropriate for members of its Spider-family. And in regards to that family, the filmmakers could not have assembled a more fitting troupe of performers. From Jake Johnson to Nicolas Cage, the vocal work by the ensemble cast lends so much authenticity to these wildly diverging versions of the web-head.

All the elements come together for a truly dazzling adventure. But what the film masters best is understanding the legacy of Spider-Man. 'Into the Spider-Verse' is a celebration of the character's wild and illustrious history and the mark he has left on pop culture. It lovingly examines the character's evolution and perfectly illustrates what makes him so powerful. 'Into the Spider-Verse' highlights that anybody can be Spider-Man, and the idea of Spider-Man goes beyond simple escapism. He makes us feel stronger and prepared to face whatever comes our way. 'Spider-Verse' doesn't play it safe either. It's a story where characters die, and characters have to grapple with loss. For what could be a stock-standard kids film, there's a lot of truth and maturity in its narrative.

Sony has been criticised for getting too involved with these films to the point where they've prematurely ended not one but two franchises. And, to that point, 'Into the Spider-Verse' succeeds because it feels like a work created freely by people who share our love for the character. It's a remarkable accomplishment and one kaleidoscopic love letter.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'.

1
'SPIDER-MAN 2' (2004)

"Sometimes, to do what's right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams."

Sam Raimi's sequel remains the best Spider-Man film and, in my humble opinion, the best superhero film ever made. 'Spider-Man 2' managed to do so much more than merely match its predecessor for quality, and that's no mean feat considering the mammoth success of that first film. It built on the sensitivity and scope of what came previously and delivered a bonafide masterpiece. Serving as the perfect natural progression of the story started in 2002 while advancing it to glorious new heights.

Whereas the first film is centred on becoming a hero, 'Spider-Man 2' explores the consequences of being one, and I cannot overstate just how perfect that choice is. 'Spider-Man 2' places heroism at a cost and forces Peter to grapple with staying true to his obligations or pursuing a life of his own. It aligns with the character's mantra of power and responsibility, and in the capable hands of 'Ordinary People' scribe Alvin Sargent, it works as a rich tale of identity. The film also produces a terrific foil in Alfred Molina's Otto Octavius. A victim of his own ambitions, Raimi moulds a tragic antagonist whose desire for success sees him turn into a monster. Both characters exude very different responses to the hardships of life, and its layered approach to what makes one a hero and another a villain works wonderfully.

This is all in addition to some of the finest action ever composed in a superhero film. 'Spider-Man 2' employ Spider-Man and Doc Ock's physicality to marvellous effect. The train sequence is an absolute triumph, as is Raimi's horror-infused surgery sequence. But staying in tune with its human drama, Raimi makes even the most mundane sequences feel thrilling in practice. A scene of Peter delivering pizza is masterfully crafted, as even the smaller moments are bursting with ingenuity. Emotionally and visually, 'Spider-Man 2' could not be a better encapsulation of Spider-Man in filmic form.

'Spider-Man 2' is one of my favourite films, and every time I watch it, it leaves me in awe. It is such a complete piece of work and yet to be topped 17 years on.

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