Comparing the Spider-Man Movie Franchises | @solomonsporchp1
A lot of people have complained about there being so many Spider-Man franchises over the last couple of decades. When Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters next month, (see what I did there?) it will be the 10th live action film to feature Spider-Man since 2002. Add to that the 3 different actors who have portrayed the webslinger in that time, and it can get pretty confusing. So before Peter Parker suits up again, we wanted to take a look at the three franchises, what sets them apart, and what each got right, and what they got wrong.
For starters, the 10 films to feature Spider-Man are divided into 3 franchises, there are the first three, (Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3) which were produced by Sony, directed by Sam Raimi, and starred Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. The second set (The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2), starring Andrew Garfield as Peter and directed by Marc Webb, were also produced by Sony. The third and current set of films are co-produced by Sony and Marvel Studios, with Tom Holland dawning the red and blue tights. Although Sony still owns the rights to Spider-Man and related characters, the agreement with Marvel Studios allows Marvel to have creative input on the hero’s solo movies, as well as tie them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sam Raimi Trilogy
Spider-Man tells the now familiar story of mild mannered high schooler Peter Parker, who is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him abilities similar to the arachnid. In this adaption, Peter actually shoots his webs directly from his wrists instead of a mechanical device. This detail infuriated some die hard comic fans, but aside from that detail, the film sticks close to its comic book inspirations. Spider-Man draws from both the original series from the 60s & 70s, as well as the updated Ultimate Spider-Man series. Peter Parker, a perpetual high school student in the early comics, graduates during the first film of the franchise. This allowed the films to explore Parker’s maturing into an adult, as well as a full-fledged Super Hero. The trilogy focuses heavily on Norman and Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin, arguably Spider-Man’s greatest enemy. The films also focus on Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane Watson, famously played by Kirsten Dunst.
Spider-Man 2 introduces another one of the webslinger’s greatest enemies, Dr. Octopus. The sequel is still regarded as one of the best big screen Spider-Man stories. The film captures the human nature of Spider-Man as he struggles to balance his secret identity and his personal life, which is what originally made the comic such a success. The follow-up Spider-Man 3 introduced another of Spidey’s arch enemies, Venom. The excitement for the third installment, and the introduction of Venom was extremely high, and although it was a box office success, ultimately the film did not deliver on the fans’ expectations. There are a lot of things that contributed to the disappointment (too many villains, a terrible version of Venom and the black symbiotic suit…) but the third film ultimately lead to the end of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man universe. Raimi was slated to direct a fourth film, and potential as many as 6, but the pressure he felt to comeback from the lackluster Spider-Man 3 was too much and he eventually quit.
Sony’s second attempt at a big screen Spider-Man draws a lot more inspiration from the update stories of the Ultimate Spider-Man comics than the original story created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Peter is back to being a high school student, and his love interest this time around is Gwen Stacy, who was Peter’s original love in the comics. The two Amazing films introduce two new villains for Peter Parker, Lizard and Electro. These films did a great job updating the story for a new, younger audience, and seemed to try to fill in questions that fans had from the original series. One way they did that was making Peter a skateboarder, which helped explain his natural agility after becoming Spider-Man. The films also included more of a backstory for Peter’s parents, giving them secrets of their own, and leading toward Peter’s encounters with The Lizard. They also brought back the webshooters. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did feature one of Spidey’s most iconic stories, when Gwen Stacy dies as a result of Spider-Man trying to save her from falling to her death.
Neither of the Amazing films earned as much at the box office as even the lowest of the original trilogy. However Sony did have plans to continue the franchise and add some spin-off titles, until a deal was reached between Sony and Marvel Studios. One of the spin-offs, which did come to fruition was Venom, although it does not take place in the same universe as The Amazing Spider-Man films anymore. Recent rumors have speculated that Tom Hardy’s Venom will eventually join the newest incarnation of Spider-Man
Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man
After 5 Spider-Man films, Sony reached an agreement with Marvel Studios to allow the webslinger’s movies to be co-produced by the two studios. Rather than starting from scratch with another origin story, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man first appears in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. Holland’s first title film as Spidey comes a year later with Spider-Man: Homecoming. In this universe, Peter Parker is a high school student once again, and draws inspiration from seemingly all of the comic book iterations of the hero. Marvel Studios’ version of Spider-Man even takes the clean slate to begin creating new stories. For example, Parker is interested in a classmate named Liz Allan, who he never dated in the comics (in fact it was Liz who had a crush on Peter in the comics). Also, Ned Leeds appears as Peter’s best friend, and eventually learns his secret identity and helps the hero throughout the film. In the comics, Ned Leeds was a professional rival of Peter’s at the Daily Bugle. While the other two franchises have featured Peter being a photographer to varying degrees, the current variation makes no mention of it. It does seem that so far Peter and MJ’s relationship will be fairly similar to that in the comics, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe MJ is actually Michelle Jones. This allows the new series to easily reference Peter and MJ’s relationship while also creating an entirely new story.
Speaking of references, the MCU Spider-Man franchise is full of them. In Homecoming, we see Peter encounter a small time crook played by Donald Glover. That crook is Aaron Davis, who many will recognize as the Prowler (seen in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse) and, as he alludes to in the film, Miles Morales’s uncle. Morales of course takes up the mantle of Spider-Man after Peter Parker’s death in the Ultimates comics. (Spoiler Alert?) The film also introduces a few new villains from Spidey’s rogues’ gallery. While the Vulture is the film’s central antagonist, we do see the Shocker and Scorpion make appearances. The upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home also introduces some new characters, most notably Mysterio. While the current Marvel version of Spider-Man has only appeared in one titular film so far, Tom Holland has appeared as the webslinger in 4 films (5 counting Far From Home), giving him the honor of appearing as Spider-Man on the big screen more than anyone else. Spider-Man: Homecoming made more at the box office than any other Spider-Man movie to date, except Spider-Man 3, so it’s a safe bet that Holland will be our Peter Parker for a while.
Looking at all of the Spider-Man franchises, there seems to be an evolution, with Sam Raimi’s trilogy staying mostly true to the comic books, the Amazing series updating the story for a modern audience, and the current Marvel Studios’ version combining the best of both and adding some new elements. There is, and likely will always be, a continuing debate over which version of Peter Parker and which version of Spider-Man are best, and it is certain not my intention to say. After all, “with great power comes great responsibility.”