Ranking the Stand-Alone Spider-Man Movies

Well, Folks, we’ve entered into a new age of the lauded Marvel Cinematic Universe.  We are now officially post-Iron Man, post-Captain America, post-Phase 3, post-Infinity Saga and even post-Stan Lee.  We’re now fully immersed into Phase 4 and, fittingly, it is all about coming to terms with those missing pieces left behind in the wake of the perfectly-titled Avengers: Endgame (2019).

As no other character in the MCU is better-situated to grapple with the new status quo than the ever-ill-at-ease Peter Parker — our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man — the wall-crawler is fully front-and-center with his new (and, if I do say so myself, incredibly awesome movie: Spider-Man: Far from Home.  And just how does this movie stack yup against the rather prodigious cinematic output for its titular character?  Well, let’s take a look for ourselves, shall we?

8 . The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) — Amazingly, none of the Spider-Man movies thus far have been outright stinkers.  Yes, Spider-Man 3 was cringe-inducingly bad, but it made up for it with some of the most singularly impressive sequences director Sam Raimi ever committed to film.  Yes, the quote-unquote Amazing reboots were ill-conceived and absolutely do not hold up to anything other than the most passing scrutiny, but I feel that the Garfield version of the character is better realized than Maguire’s sadsack Parker and nothing that they do on-screen is strictly speaking terrible.  Don’t get me wrong, The Amazing Spider-Man movies are pretty underwhelming endeavor — especially released as it was in the exact same cultural breath as the industry redefining Avengers (2012) and the era-ending Dark Knight Rises (2012)2, in particular, is messy, bloated, has too many villains and is far too worried about setting up sequels that ultimately never happened than it was in telling on cohesive story across its nearly 2 ½ hour runtime.  It lacks a basic understanding of both cinematic language and its own title character.  It’s drab-looking and viscerally unappealing.  But “aim small, miss small,” and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in part due to a lack of ambition and swing-for-the-fences filmmaking, never tries so hard as to fail exceptionally.

7 . The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) — I was actually a lot higher on this movie when it was initially released than most people were.  I loved the truer-to-form imagining of the character.  I loved that they were having a go at some of the more interesting Spider-Man villains that never seemed to really be on Raimi’s radar.  I loved that they went with my favorite Spider-Man love-interest instead of the crowd-pleasing (but incredibly boring) Mary Jane Watson.  And, if I’m being honest here, I loved that they gave a movie about a Spider-Man to a guy who’s last name is Webb.  But despite punching up the humor, the tone of the movie is insufferably bleak.  Despite collecting an impressive cast more suited to their roles on-paper than Raimi’s cadre of thespians, they are all wasted in their respective roles.  And despite how high I was on this movie upon release, this movie crashes and burns instantly on the rewatch.

6 . Spider-Man 3 (2007) — It took some time to come to terms with this, but Spider-Man 3 really isn’t that bad of a movie.  It’s an absolute mess when played out on the big screen, don’t get me wrong, but nothing about it is strictly bad (outside of that dorky sidewalk dance, which will never not be embarrassing).  All three of this movie’s plotlines are immaculately drawn for us, but the sad truth of economic filmmaking means that there was only ever going to be room for two of them: ultimately, Raimi would have needed to choose between the Goblin storyline, the Sandman storyline or the Venom storyline and not try to lump all three of them together into one movie.  And the challenge he faced as a director had to have been immense — Goblin would have satisfyingly closed out the storyline that had been developing for the past two movies, Sandman was the most immediately interesting of the three options and Venom was a fan-favorite villain that Sony executives were imposing on the film from on-high.  It’s tragic that the franchise had to go out on such a low note, but looking back on this movie, the good pieces shine through all of the mess, particularly Sandman’s origin scene, which is still easily the greatest minutes of Sam Raimi’s entire filmography.

5 . Spider-Man (2002) — Although I’ve never been quite as high on this movie as other critics always seem to have been (especially in retrospect, where the critical train wreck of Marc Webb’s duology have evidently cemented these first films as the definitive takes on the title character and overall franchise), even I cannot deny what a remarkable achievement these movies (and this one in particular) were at a time when superhero movies had yet to be codified into their own genre (they were still action movies with a bit of science fantasy thrown in for good measure) and the “best” of their kind were still knee-jerkedly apologizing for their own existence (see also: 2000’s X-Men).  One thing for certain, though, is that Raimi captured the quintessential Spider-Man origin story in his franchise-opening film.  No matter where else the film went from there, the opening 30-minutes or so are ironclad iconic filmmaking that has more than earned its place in the pantheon of superheroic filmmaking.

4 . Spider-Man 2 (2004) — Like Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) before it, Spider-Man 2 represents its director at his Sam Raimi-est.  Based on the runaway success of the first movie, Raimi was free and clear to do everything that he ever wanted to do in the first movie (but couldn’t, owning to studio oversight and mandates).  As a result, everything about that first movie is amplified in its sequel: everything that was good about the first movie is great here, but likewise everything that didn’t work about that first movie is made damn-near insufferable here.  That’s how you end up with wonderfully schlocky, B-movie “genre” sequences like Doc Oc’s origin scene, the train fight with Spider-Man and his final sacrifice in the movie’s climax (all three being brilliant) playing out against the heightened melodrama of the Parker-Osborn-Watson-Jameson love-quadrangle that would have felt over-the-top even in the heyday of that genre.  On balance, it’s better than the first movie and what’s great about it overshadows what now glaringly doesn’t work, but it’s still an occasionally difficult movie to get through that oftentimes loses focus on what is most interesting about itself.

3 . Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) — It seems almost blasphemous to place this movie higher than any of Raimi’s on this list, but the simple truth of the matter is that Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker we’ve ever gotten, his wall-crawler is the best “classic” version of this character ever committed to film and the Marvel Studios magic dappled onto this movie makes it a far more even-handed and exciting movie than any of its predecessors, even if it lacks much of Raimi’s charm, frustratingly resists giving us a Spidey origin story (even in flashback) and oftentimes plays out more like Iron Man 3.5 than as a proper Spider-Man movie.  By now, though, it’s obvious that the MCU’s Spider-Man is leaning hard into his status as a scientific wiz-kid and the heir-apparent to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, just as much as it’s committed to Parker being an awkward dork who is the root cause (and solution to) all of his own problems.  And what can I say, Michae Keaton’s Vulture is very nearly the most interesting villain in the entire MCU (to say nothing of the cinematic Spider-Man movies) and the decision to play this movie off more as a throwback, coming of age teen comedy than a traditional superhero movie was a stroke of sheer brilliance.

2 . Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) — Let’s be clear here: the fact that his movie didn’t top this list out of hat is more a testament to how incredible the top-choice actually was than any disparagement on what this movie was actually able to accomplish.  By doubling down on everything that made the first MCU Spider-Man movie great — amaing villain, adorkable Peter, crackerjack action and retro-genre sensibilities — it made one of the genuinely better movies in its mega-franchise.  And for a franchise that’s now 23 movies deep without a single misstep in the bunch (and yes, that includes the actually-pretty-decent Iron Man 2), that’s saying something.

1 . Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) — And, really, what else would it be at the top of this list.  Fresh in the way that only the singular talents of Lord and Miller could bring, with an amazing new Spider-Man, incredible take on my favorite Spider-Man storyline and a stellar grasp not just of its genre, but of the medium of animation as well, it blows all of its competition completely out of the water.  As emotionally engaging as it is narratively interesting, it very much beats the MCU at its own game of character-driven blockbuster filmmaking.  I would be genuinely shocked at this point if any Spider-Man movie in the future will ever hold a candle next to this sterling gem of a feature.  It’s an unimpeachable superhero entry justly up there with the likes of Superman (1978), The Dark Knight (2008), The Avengers (2012) and Logan (2017) — practically perfect in every way.

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