Spider-Man is a pretty big deal.
Ever since his cinematic debut in 2002, Marvel’s webslinger has raked in over a whopping $6.3 billion at the worldwide box office. Sixty years since his first comic book appearance, Stan Lee’s teenager bitten by a radioactive spider may have very well saved cinema in an industry still wadding through Covid19 devastation. It therefore seems pertinent to celebrate this spectacular superhero with a ranking. No appearances in other films or crossovers will be counted. Spidey must be the main character. Got it? Good – now let’s swing into action…
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The first solo Spidey instalment in the indomitable MCU is at best passable and at worst forgettable. ‘Things are never gonna be the same now’ goes the opening line, accompanied with a child’s drawing of the Avengers assembled – and so lies the main problem in this maligned misadventure. Interconnectedness, nods, nudges, winks and cameos stifle what should be a fresh solo Spidey escapade that establishes this iteration and his world. But very soon the Marvel machine becomes greater than this individual cog, with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) struggling to balance his ordinary school life with an extraordinary plot concocted by the villainous Vulture (Michael Keaton) in using and selling super-tech weapons. You’d be forgiven for thinking this evil plan was filched from one of the Iron Man movies. Robert Downy Jr. is the misjudged Uncle Ben stand-in and mentor to Peter Parker, bestowing him with an abundant of riches, including a creatively-lazy technologized spider suit.
Forgoing what makes Spider-Man great – wit, intellect, on top of malnourished financial resources, the direction to turn Spider-Man into an Iron Man Jr. was misjudged and contrary to the message it tries to push at the end of the story, with this iteration lazily depending on all kinds of high-tech arsenal for this film and beyond. There is no ingenuity, only an overall wasted opportunity. There are, however, some nice additions. The doughy-faced-squeaky-voiced Holland brings a youthful exuberance to the character, with director Jon Watts exploring the nature of being a teenager better than any other Spidey film, with its in-the-life look at being a high schooler akin to a John Hughes flick. Going to prom, sorting out small domestics – these are wholesomeness flashes of Peter Parker being that classic friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. But these flashes illuminate the film’s overall shallowness. Michael Keaton – Batman himself – returns to the genre as your villain and yet the film still manages to make him join the lame pantheon of other forgettable bland MCU baddies.
8. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Faced with tackling four destructive elemental monsters while on a school trip around Europe, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) comes across Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a fellow hero with mysterious origins. Jon Watts returns as director to unfortunately repeat the same mistakes as found in the original. The plot quickly veers into a subpar Iron Man crisis, with another case of weapons in the wrong hands, and once again the Spider-Man character is neutered by depending on the multi-billion-dollar AR technical defence systems he inherited from Tony Stark, from Shirley to Edith. The ‘Gotcha’ twist is not surprising either to anyone who knows the Mysterio character, and seems hollow when the trend of faux-heroes-actually-villains has been done before in this universe, far better in fact with Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. But amidst the drawn-out gags and info-dumps there are some bright spots. Whether Peter can claim the responsibility of being an Avenger and putting that ahead of his personal life is an appropriate thematic thread to explore.
The different spider-suits are a cool kick for fans and the very nature of the travelogue aspect of the film is a fun and refreshing turn from staple New York (though at times it does feel like a bit of a hollow novelty) whilst supporting stars have more time to shine and bring humanity to an otherwise empty entry in the MCU, from Zendaya’s snarky MJ to Jon Favreau’s hammy Happy.
7. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Andrew Garfield’s second Spider-Man film sees him pitted against childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and the evil Electro (Jamie Foxx) in what was Sony’s cobbled sophomore rush in trying to graduate into a self-sufficient cinematic universe. The inclusion of Green Goblin, Electro, the death of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) and the foreshadowing of other hopeful but unfulfilled future film instalments with the teasing of Black Cat and the Sinister Six was a tall order – the consequence of which is that the film feels stuffed and bloated. In the words of Miss Stacey after kissing her beloved Peter Parker, it all feels ‘a little bit rushed.’ Director Marc Web seems to have taken a left-turn from the film’s previous darker tone, opting for a colourful and garish aesthetic of Batman and Robin (1997) proportions. Foxx’s Electro is almost too much of a caricature for this comic-book world – his alter-ego Max Dillon as a dweeby Spider-Man super-fan is an incongruous addition to the film, along with the design of DeHaan’s Green Goblin; the latter of which’s retroactive introduction to the Amazing Universe makes it all feel like a higgledy-piggledy mess. Yet unlike its general bashed reputation, there is more good in this film than one would initially believe.
Andrew Garfield is perhaps at his best here as Spider-Man. A wise-cracker with heart, he also brings gravitas and guts as he soldiers through some of the most emotionally harrowing scenarios in any of these listed films. And of course, one cannot talk about Garfield without his Gwen Stacey. Stone and Garfield are the best part of this film. Their relationship reaches dizzying heights and their chemistry on screen is more electric than any of Electro’s CGI guff could ever be. Though this universe did not turn out to be entirely amazing, I hope, in the age of the multiverse, Garfield could return for future solo movies.
6. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy concludes with an entry that is certainly the weakest of the three but by no means as awful as fan circles would have you believe. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) must wrestle with the symbiotic alien known as Venom, all whilst sorting out Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and maintain a relationship with sweetheart Mary Jane (Kristen Dunst). Rami’s regulars are all excellent with the overstuffed plot they have to work with. Unlike the recent silly standalone spinoffs, the Venom concept here works well as a dark counterpart to the Peter Parker character, offering a fresh re-examination of Parker’s three-film arc when it comes to grappling with his responsibility. Yes, being corny and predictable are fair enough slanders to sling at this much maligned film. A creatively spent Sam Raimi offers a few twist on previous narratives – but by this point his overall overblown style becomes a touch lacklustre. Yet while some bits are bad, most of the film is so bad it is hilarious – and in some cases meme worthy and legendary.
Don’t tell me you don’t dance to the sensational James Brown with Maguire, or howl at the risible brilliance of J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simons) clocking Evil-Peter’s feet on his desk. This film also offers the best Stan Lee cameo, his words embodied by a Peter Parker with heart and an undying effort to do the right thing and use his great power responsibly. Amidst the corniness and ham you will be charmed by how one man can indeed make a difference. In Stan’s words – ‘Nuff said’.