5. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
The aptly-named director Marc Web reboots the Spider-Man character into a post-Dark-Knight (2008) world where comic-book movies bend to the style of grit and edginess. The Amazing Spider-Man certainly has that. Though in retrospect it suffers from heavy-handed mystery-box teasing regarding Peter Parker’s parents that still remains somewhat unexplored, Web spins an awesome modern reimagining of Spider-Man’s origins that successfully stands apart from the long shadow of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Andrew Garfield, though a bit too handsome for the role, is a wonderful Spider-Man, embodying an innate sense of goodness that works well with the ‘who am I’ bildungsroman origin-story being told. Rhys Ifans as Dr. Connors, AKA the Lizard, is a suitably cold-blooded reptile, and once again Emma Stone is charming as Gwen Stacey, a young woman who can be strong, funny and awkward. Whilst being her own character, she is certainly the best love-interest in all of the Spider-Man films.
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
The latest Spider-Man film concludes Jon Watts’ trilogy as Spider-Man seeks help from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) after his secret identity was exposed in the previous film. What follows is a splendiferous saturnalia of fan service, most notably of which – spoilers ahoy – includes Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Despite being one of the worst kept secrets in the Entrainment Industry, their inclusion has proved to be a mega-successful masterstroke as fans celebrate the union of this terrific triumvirate of Spider-Men and the returning villains from their universes. Jon Watts sets up the precedent for how the superhero genre should venture into the madness of the multiverse par excellence, with all kinds of mind-boggling comic-book goodness one would have thought was unimaginable to see ten years ago.
So why not higher on the list? Although this film is a treat for Spider-Man fans, and as brilliant as Holland is in the role, it loses points for having the incumbent Spider-Man never having a strong standalone film of his own. In the previous entries he was propped up by mentors/better-developed characters and here, once again, the formula is no different with Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange along with other versions of the Spider-Man character doing the heavy lifting when it comes to making the audience care. After three films with this iteration, as well as being a key ensemble player in other MCU stories, it very much feels like I know very little about this version of Spider-Man. And as great as fan service is, the explosion of nostalgic goodness on the big screen can be seen not as a postmodern splurge of inventiveness but, as a cynic might put it, Hollywood’s flagging creativity. The older better-developed Spider-Men and their villains only showed how tainted the recent films were.
3. Spider-Man (2002)
The first on-screen origins for our favourite webslinger is still the best, with Sam Rami delivering an awesome first chapter to a pulpy three-film hero’s journey. You know the story: Peter Parker (Tobey Marguire) a socially awkward high schooler is bitten by a radioactive spider, only to inhabit spider-related powers. On top of that he gets caught in a love-triangle between his best friend Harry (James Franco) and the girl next door MJ (Kristen Dunst) whilst also having to fight Harry’s mad father, Norman Osborn, AKA the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).
The cast are all brilliant, particularly Defoe who brings a comic-book campiness, and Maguire who embodies the awkwardness of Peter Parker more than any other interpretation. Supporting roles are also stellar, with the introduction of cigar chomping J. K. Simons as J. Jonah Jameson being one of the greatest castings in film history and the brilliant Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben who brings an earnest, wistful aplomb to his performance, making his murder all the more devastating. This heightened melodrama is such a refreshing change from recent superhero film. Being made in the infancy of the genre’s zeitgeist and in a world pre 9/11 and the Dark Knight (2008), there is an optimism and positivity to the film. It’s breezy reliable fun with a rosy noughties panache whilst also telling a compelling drama that feels realised and lived-in about fathers and sons, and the responsibility of being careful who you change into, from boy to man. In short, powerful mythic marvellous stuff.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
This is a sequel that fall into the rare camp of surpassing a terrific original instalment with Spiderman 2 being a superlative expansion of all the good that came before it. Our hero Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) appears to be at his lowest, dissatisfied with life as a young adult and in troubled with love for MJ (Kristen Dunst) as well as his taxing commitment to the responsibility of being a crime fighter, so much so that director Sam Raimi takes an astonishing turn in the narrative for Spider-Man to briefly hang up his webs, demonstrating how this Peter Parker is the most human and developed of them all. Every day he has the chance to refuse the call of his hero’s journey, yet will always try to take on his responsibility to do good – a true example of heroism.
Alfred Molina as Doc Ock is a dimensional sympathetic villain and adds to the film’s affinity for heartfelt character work. And amidst the tender dramas going down, the film’s action is spectacular, including the iconic train sequence, made excellent by showcasing the spunky spirit of New York with passengers protecting and helping their crime fighter. It illustrates Aunt May’s inspiring message that ‘there’s a hero in all of us’. Add that to Danny Elfman’s soaring score, more comic genius by J. K. Simons and a triumphant ending and you have one of the finest superhero films ever made.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Winner of the Best Animated Feature at 91st Oscars in 2019, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a visual extravaganza that ventured where no film in the franchise had yet before explored, and yet, for all the differences it brought, managed to be the most quintessential Spider-Man movie of them all. Breaking away from a traditional Peter Parker, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is our principal hero bitten by a radioactive spider, where he soon meets alternate versions of himself, concluding in an epic battle to save the multiverse. Meta and hilarious, with the likes of Spider Noir (Nicholas Cage) and Spider Ham (John Mulaney), yet with soul and gravitas, exploring themes of grief, growing up and betrayal, this is a nuanced dimensional drama told with a comic-book splendour that goes beyond a fan’s wildest dreams – all of which is realised by outstanding visuals.
Forgoing the vogue of photo-realist animation and revitalising a traditional print comic-book style, the innovative two-frames per second rule employed in animating this film creates a crunchier pronounced animation that pops off the screen. Kaleidoscopic pop-art colour brings to life an enthralling adventurous drama about heroism, as well as the the hardest thing about the job of being Spider-Man in that ‘you can’t save everyone’. But if this film shows us anything, Spider-Man continues to strive and will meet his great power with great responsibility, no matter who they are. A work of comic-book genius, and one of the greatest animated films of all time. In one word – excelsior – to all Spider-Man films before it and probably the many others yet to come.