Illustration: Adeline Pericart
Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.
And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.
Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.
‘… the adventures of the web-crawling teenager from Queens has always struck a resonance with audiences of all ages …’
Since appearing in Amazing Fantasy #15 (a Marvel Comics Anthology) in August 1962, Spider-Man and his alter ego of Peter Parker have become a regular fixture in a number of different mediums. Whether it be the comic books themselves, the world of television (both animation and live-action) or the ever-evolving film industry, the adventures of the web-crawling teenager from Queens has always struck a resonance with audiences of all ages.
Having struggled to make it to the big-screen for a number of decades, in spite of its immense popularity, Spider-Man finally made its way into cinemas in 2002 – fresh on the heels of the Marvel-related Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000) – under the guidance of Evil Dead helmer Sam Raimi. As a massive fan of the comic-book series, Raimi seemed an ideal choice to bring his unique style and craftsmanship to a mainstream PG-13 superhero film, and with the highly-regarded duo of David Koepp and Bill Pope on screenwriting and director of photography duties respectively, the signs all seemed positive.
With a number of screen credits already behind them, the hiring of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst for the roles of Spider-Man/Peter Parker looked like wise moves, as did the decision to cast the excellent Willem Dafoe and James Franco (who was being heralded at the time as the “new James Dean”) as the father-son team of Harry and Norman Osborn.
There is always a certain leap of faith needed for films like this, as origin stories can be quite tricky, but Raimi handled Parker’s transformation from a bookish teen to a wall-crawling crime-fighter with a delicate touch. The Michigan native also knows how to crank up the action elements when needed, and with universally solid performances, as well cameos from series creator Stan Lee and Raimi favourite Bruce Campbell, there was something for everyone to embrace.
This meant it was completely unsurprising when box-office returns of $800 million dollars were matched by overwhelmingly positive critic responses, making a sequel an absolute certainty. 2004 was the date chosen for Spider-Man 2, and with the shackles now off to a certain degree, Raimi was given the scope to produce a bigger, bolder and better follow-up.
Having struggled with an over-reliance on Computer-Generated Effects for the sequences where Maguire was swinging between buildings in the first film, Raimi managed to make this seem more physical at the second time of asking, and having opted for a colourful, campy adversary in the form of Dafoe’s Green Goblin two years earlier, the menacing presence of Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) was now the avenue that was being explored.
A number of the film’s set-pieces, including Octavius’ brutal slaying of a medical crew with the tentacles that have become attached to his body, are handled with the trademark brio and energy that we have come to expect from Raimi. The showdown between Spidey and Doc Ock in a bank, as well as the former’s desperate attempts to halt a runaway subway train are other highlights, and due to the nature of the chosen villain, there are many oddly peculiar aspects to the drama.
There is much more than Spider-Man 2 than just spectacle, though, as it is also a coming-of-age story, with Peter Parker stepping out of adolescence to become the man he believes he can be. We also see him struggling with his secret identity, which has alienated him from his true love, Mary-Jane Watson, and his best friend, Harry Osborne.
Having adapted Uncle Ben’s mantra of ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’, Parker begins to explore the possibility of stepping out of the suit, before finally realising that he can’t escape the superhuman abilities that have been bestowed upon him. This thematic substance, supremely crafted action sequences, as well as further cameos from the aforementioned duo of Lee and Campbell, means that Spider-Man 2 holds up as one of the strongest superhero films ever committed to celluloid.
Unfortunately, despite plenty of hype and expectation, 2007’s ‘threequel’, Spider-Man 3, proved to be a major disappointment, as the introduction of Spidey’s black suit fail to achieve its desired effect. A bloated running time of 139 minutes also contributed to its problems, and a few too many enemies, including one (Topher Grace’s Venom) that Raimi didn’t approve of, meant that audiences were generally left underwhelmed by the whole experience.
With box-office takings of $890 million, it was the most successful film of the series, but it was felt that a return to the old formula was needed for the expected Part Four. Raimi’s return to the horror genre with Drag Me To Hell appeared to be the perfect tonic ahead of the next Spider-Man outing, but it was instead decided that a re-boot by (500) Days Of Summer director Marc Webb would be the next course of action.
With rising British actor Andrew Garfield stepping into Spider-Man’s spandex, and an impressive supporting cast of Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Sally Field Martin Sheen and Denis Leary joining him, The Amazing Spider-Man was given a Summer 2012 release. Bizarrely, unlike Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Webb’s film echoed many events from Raimi’s original film a decade beforehand, though a successful run at the box-office ($752 million off a budget of $230 million) means that Garfield & Co. will be here to stay for the time being.
Whether or not the 2014 sequel will be able to progress the franchise in the same way that Raimi did remains to be seen, but it is clear that there is still a huge appetite for the East Coast’s web-crawling hero. When the character was first written on the page, Lee and Ditko wanted to show how an angst-ridden teenager dealt with the burden of a superhero identity, and that is precisely what has made Spider-Man such a success throughout the ages.