We’ve had three different sets of film adaptations of everybody’s friendly neighborhood webhead over the past two decades and for many, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy remains the best one. The film, starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane Watson and James Franco as Harry Osborn, got a lot right with casting and writing, even if it might not have seemed that way at first… or when it included small dance numbers. So there are a few exceptions (which we’ll get to) but generally, it’s clear why the trilogy remains a fan favorite.
With the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming (directed by Jon Watts) being set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we can expect to see our favorite villains adapted in new and exciting ways. There are some who complain that the villains in recent films have relied too heavily on high-tech equipment, like Vulture in the upcoming film or the Rhino in Amazing Spider-Man 2 (directed by Marc Webb). But do we really want villains that stay 100 percent faithful to their comic depictions? Wouldn’t characters like Green Goblin look a little goofy on film? That’s why we thought it’d be a great idea to take a look back at (almost) everyone’s favorite Spider-Man trilogy and see what they did right and wrong.
15. RIGHT: WILLEM DAFOE AS GREEN GOBLIN
Casting was on point with Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn. The talented actor plays villainous roles so well, we can’t think of anyone who could have done it better. He played the passionate scientist and maniacal Goblin flawlessly. Maybe it was the haunting grin and wicked laugh that really did it, or maybe it was the fact that he could pull off a whole conversation with his own reflection without making it laughable.
Spider-Man was an origin story with power and responsibility as its central theme. The Goblin is the perfect antagonist and it takes a special kind of skill to really pull off that character without making it seem silly, because when it does go wrong…well just look at Green Goblin (this time as Harry Osborn) in Amazing Spider-Man 2. No offence to Dane Dehaan.
14. RIGHT: GREEN GOBLIN’S SCHEME
At first glance, there’s nothing special about a bad guy who fights the hero for the sake of being a bad guy, which is pretty much what Green Goblin’s scheme boils down to. It’s the details of that scheme and its execution that really distinguishes the Goblin’s plot from other comic book film supervillains.
The Goblin persona, as depicted in Spider-Man, revels in his power. He’s fully aware of the destruction he’s capable of and initially wants to enjoy that destruction with someone else. He turns to Spider-Man, the only other being in New York who could match his power, punishing the wall-crawler for rejecting him. There’s no greater purpose here, just a villain who seeks to enjoy his power. It’s simple, but it works so well with the theme and length of the film, which is something a lot of superhero films get wrong with their villains — their schemes are rushed because of film time.
13. RIGHT: LEAVING HARRY V PETER TO THE END
It would have been incredibly easy to have Harry become the Green Goblin in the second film, immediately after his father’s funeral but they didn’t go in that direction. The tension and conflict between Harry and Peter was allowed to grow organically, which gave it more depth when their battle finally happened in Spider-Man 3.
A lot of superhero films get that wrong. Just take a look at the same relationship depicted in Amazing Spider-Man 2. We didn’t know Harry Osborn before his appearance in it, we were just told that they were old friends, so when he finally became the Green Goblin, he was just another bad guy, nothing more, whereas part of us might have actually been rooting for Sam Raimi’s Harry Osborn.
12. WRONG: NEW GOBLIN’S ORIGIN
While Sam Raimi’s Harry Osborn does have depth, his descent into madness did seem a little rushed. He began hallucinating before he ever took the Goblin serum in a chamber his father apparently had built in the secret Goblin hideout without anyone noticing. It just seemed a little forced.
While ultimately it was awesome that we got to see Harry fight Peter in Spider-Man 3, it was largely wasted. As many critics have said, there were too many villains in that film and not enough time to properly develop any one of them. The moment Harry becomes the Green Goblin was therefore robbed of any real impact. It might have made more sense if they’d stuck to the source material and somehow had Harry discover his father’s alter-ego earlier on, but no, the discovery was made after Harry had already begun to lose his sanity.
11. WRONG: NEW GOBLIN’S REDEMPTION
Unlike his father, Harry seemed to accept defeat at the hands of a symbiote-controlled Peter Parker but he was still unwilling to fight alongside his old friend until Bernard the butler finally revealed the truth about Norman Osborn’s death. Aside from the fact that we find out Bernard had been keeping that vital piece of information to himself for two years for no reason, it makes Harry’s redemption seem rushed and just slightly unnatural. Make no mistake, one of the best moments in Spider-Man 3 was when we got to see Harry and Peter fight side by side, but it would have been better for Harry to have gotten to that place on his own, without the ol’ magical butler device. Maybe the MCU will get it right this time.
10. RIGHT: DOCTOR OCTOPUS CHARACTER
Spider-Man 2 was arguably the most well-received of the trilogy, in no small part thanks to the complexity and strength of its antagonist, Doctor Octopus, played by the always impressive Alfred Molina. Doctor Octopus began as a genuinely passionate scientist, looking to create a renewable energy source, while also being a loving and romantic husband. At its core, the character stays pretty faithful to the comics and so carries all of the depth and complexity from those comic pages to the big screen.
The film was able to focus on him as a person and not just someone who was there to be a villain, even though we all knew it would happen. It was little scenes like the one where Peter, Otto and his wife discuss the experiment over tea that gave him depth and made him such an endearing presence.
9. RIGHT: DOC OCK’S PLOT
Otto’s tragically fatal experiment wasn’t just a part of his origin story, it was his motivation for becoming the villain he eventually morphed into. In his eyes, he was fighting for the betterment of mankind; a hero, some might say. He was trying to rectify his failure to create a sustainable energy source. It makes his redemption in the end that much more compelling, which is a difficult thing to get right but Raimi and company certainly endeavored to do and, we think, succeeded. His drive made it all the more believable when he attacked Spider-Man because the web-head was genuinely in the way of what Otto thought was the greater good. Unfortunately, by that point, his sense of morality had been warped by his the tentacles.
8. WRONG: SANDMAN’S CHARACTER
It’s great when a villain has a deeper drive than evil — after all, the best baddies are the ones who consider themselves the hero of the story — but as we’ve mentioned, Spider-Man 3 was crowded with villains, none of whom had room for much in the way of depth. Sandman’s character would have been brilliant if there was more time or more focus levied upon him. As it was, the film would have been pretty much the same if he acted out of selfish desire like his comic book counterpart.
It was definitely a great attempt at adapting the character, but it felt forced, especially with his inclusion in the death of Uncle Ben. More than anything, it seemed like a cheap way of forcing the audience to respond to the character rather than actual depth or complexity.
7. RIGHT: SANDMAN’S SUPERPOWER ORIGIN
You might be a bit surprised to find us say that this is one of the things Spider-Man 3 got right, which is understandable, but bare with us. Forget the fact that that sand experiment was both vague and poorly executed. It was more or less the same origin Sandman’s comic book counterpart had. He’s a fugitive who fled into a test site of some sort and was subsequently mutated. What really makes his supervillain origin a great one is that one scene when he quite literally pulls himself together and learns to control his new powers. Without any dialogue, we see both an emotional and physical struggle through which he comes to terms with what he has become. Who knew you could convey that much emotion through CGI?
6. WRONG: THE SYMBIOTE
If any of the villains in Spider-Man 3 deserved to have depth, it should have been the symbiote. We don’t mean Venom, we mean the symbiote on its own. In both the comics and film, the symbiote is a living, sentient being. It had a twisted desire for Peter Parker that drove it mad (well, that and Deadpool but… we’ll skip that part). None of that comes across in the film.
It should be noted that none of this is the fault of Sam Raimi, who didn’t like the character to begin with and only used Venom because of studio pressure; same with New Goblin. Originally, he just wanted Sandman, and it shows. When you look back at it, the appearance of Venom in the film seems more and more like pandering to comic book fans (and studio execs).
5. WRONG: THE SYMBIOTE’S EFFECT ON SPIDEY
For a while, they were going in the right direction with the symbiote’s effect on Peter. He was stronger, faster and more aggressive. He was perfect… right up until he beat Sandman the first time and started using his enhanced spider-like agility to thrust his hips in jazz clubs and on the streets of New York City. What even happened there?
The symbiote does a lot for its host. It offers camouflage and shape-shifting, weapons, enhanced strength and so much more. All we really saw in Spider-Man 3 was the presumed enhancement of Spidey’s strength, agility and piano-playing abilities. And again, what in the bluest of hells was that whole dance routine; i.e., probably the most derided part of any Spider-Man movie ever. Here’s hoping that the upcoming Venom film doesn’t include any dance numbers.
4. WRONG: TOPHER GRACE AS EDDIE BROCK
Topher Grace is a gifted actor and we’ve liked him in a few things, but he should not play a villain, certainly not a villain like Eddie Brock. He has neither the build for it nor the ability to play him as something more than just a gigantic jerk; he ended up being more annoying than actually threatening. Now, compare this to the Eddie Brock we’ve come to know in the Amazing Spider-Man comics. For the most part, life had just been unfair to him. We see an attempt at showing that side in the film but it’s very rushed, so we can’t really connect to him in any way. Obviously, we can’t blame all of that on Topher Grace but, the way he decided to portray the character certainly didn’t help.
3. WRONG: VENOM’S OVERALL CHARACTER
Venom is fan favorite character who had so much potential, but what we got was more monster than man. Spider-Man 3’s Venom was a thinly written attempt at garnering more interest from comic book fans and devotees of the character, though it took very little from the main Marvel comics, borrowing slightly more from the Ultimate line. Instead of the lethal protector with a festering hatred for Spider-Man, we got a guy who liked being bad because it made him happy. Of course, if you look at the film as its own thing and forget about the source material, the character kind of works, if only as a monster who was Spider-Man’s directly opposite number; he was smarmy, made dumb jokes and had the same power set, while the host was a sort of warped Peter Parker. It was interesting take, but poorly executed and a waste of Venom.
2. RIGHT: VENOM’S MONSTROUS SIDE
The one thing the film did get right about Venom was how monstrous and formidable he is in a fight. He’s the the powerful, dark reflection of Spider-Man, after all, and he certainly showed that in the movie. In the one fight Spidey had against Venom, the villain fought like a frenzied animal, baring a mouth full of needle-like teeth, screeching and skulking around in the shadows like a predator — sort of what you’d expect a man-sized spider to do. That fight was where Sam Raimi’s speciality with horror films really showed. From the news footage of Venom to the symbiote’s last few moments before it blew up, the film was able to capture Venom’s monstrous side as though it had been taken straight from the comics we all know and love.
1. RIGHT: COSTUME AND DESIGN
You have to give credit to James Acheson, the trilogy’s costume designer, for creating such great outfits that stayed more or less faithful to the comics without disturbing the atmosphere and tone of the films. The design of each character was more realistic in almost every way when you compare it to the Amazing Spider-Man films that followed, which, in comparison, settled with being outrageous and almost nauseatingly colourful (that might be a little harsh but, can you really completely disagree?).
We can only hope that the MCU’s Spider-Man films will tone the technological aspect of its hero, villains and situations to a minimum and stay a little more faithful to the comics. Fingers crossed, we won’t get a Rhino that stole his armor from Stark Industries.
What did you think about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks? Let us know in the comments!
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