The original Spider-Man trilogy is deep. Here are six video essays to help unpack the themes and messages layered throughout.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films have always stood above modern superhero flicks to me because they carry layers of depth and humanity hardly seen in the superficial MCU films or in the mindless DCEU films. Under Raimi’s direction, these films brilliantly blend action, humor, and comic book cheesiness with thoughtful, emotional stories that resonate with the hero inside us all. Many may believe that these films haven’t aged well, but I would disagree. Spider-Man perfectly demonstrates balance as an ambitious, goofy superhero origin story, Spider-Man 2 still stands as the best summer movie ever, and Spider-Man 3 –– for all its faults –– concludes our favorite wall-crawler’s journey into understanding the complexities of heroism.
For all the depth and balance these films show, they’ve lead to myriad video essays analyzing the themes and structure of this brilliant trilogy. Check out these six video essays, two for each film, that demonstrate how Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy hold much more weight than other simple, careless, one tone superhero films.
How Raimi Strikes Balance in Spider-Man
The small, up and coming YouTube channel LockerPunch shows us how Raimi strikes balance between different tones of seriousness and cheesy, comic-book thrills. It’s clearly difficult to manage tone in superhero films –– we’re looking at you Batman v. Superman –– and Raimi balances two tones in this film that hardly seem co-inhabitable. This video explores how Raimi finds this balance by investing us into the characters, by using his skills of tone balance developed from his previous work in the Evil Dead franchise, and by staying true to the depth found in the comic books.
Spider-Man and the Perfect Climax
Too often, the climax in most tent-pole films can feel either too rushed or too slow. This video from Films&Stuffs examines how Raimi perfectly executes the climax between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin by breaking the scene down into five different beats. Instead of breezing through the climax or overdramatizing it, Raimi extends a three-second sequence into twelve seconds by breaking continuity and stifling time. This results in a dramatic, brutal climax mixed with unexpected comedy that teaches Peter a lesson about consequences while laying down the groundwork for future films.
Spider-Man 2 is Sequel Excellence
Blockbuster sequels can usually be placed into two categories: the gritty sequel and the carbon copy of the original. Studios often want to see how they can emulate an Empire Strikes Back vibe to their franchise by seeing how their characters can grow from dark and rough situations. Or, filmmakers will play it safe and follow the exact formula from the first installment because they know that it already works.
LockerPunch explains how Spider-Man 2 avoids both of these tropes by developing the style and atmosphere that we loved from the first film, but instead of giving them the same struggle to overcome, our characters are presented with new challenges that they can only overcome through growth and evolution.
“Spider-Man 2 presents new meaning and context under the same light, while a lot of sequels present the same meaning and context, but under a new light.”
The Importance of Chocolate Cake
In one of my favorite video essays, HiTop Films breaks down the chocolate cake scene in Spider-Man 2. While many may brush the scene off as inconsequential and meaningless, this is the scene where Peter learns that it’s okay to have his cake and eat it too. After losing his job, losing his girl, losing his friend, and losing his powers, he finally sees that something “nice” can happen to him. This is the catalyst that brings him to not only accept his responsibilities as a hero but also as a man.
Spider-Man 3 is Smarter Than You Think
It’s universally agreed upon that Spider-Man 3 is terrible, but I would venture to say it’s merely misunderstood. I don’t deny that this film is full issues, but in this video, Browntable explains that there’s a pretty sincere message hidden underneath the wacky dancing, abundance of villains, and poorly designed Venom. At its core, Spider-Man 3 shows us the dichotomy between good and evil, demonstrating how revenge can blind our rationale when prompted to forgive even the worst of humanity. Eventually, we see how revenge can poison us, ultimately destroying us. Check this video essay out, it may provide you with a new lens for Spider-Man 3.
Facing the Dragon of Grandiosity
In this 20 minute video, Like Stories of Old compares the characters in Spider-Man 3 to the philosophy taught by Robert Moore in “Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity.” This video explains that Spider-Man 3 is less about fighting the evil found in this world and more about fighting the evil found within ourselves through our own perspectives of grandiosity. We see that Peter’s view of his own grandiosity has grown immensely since his first film, which has devastating effects on his life. Growing up means letting go of grandiose fantasies and although Peter loves these fantasies, he has to let go of them lest he face the same fate as Eddie Brock. When we face our grandiose fantasies, we overcome the hurtful actions that coincide with these fantasies. We learn that being heroic means to grow beyond these fantasies that we love so dearly.
“That’s where we find the hidden beauty of Spider-Man 3. It’s not about indulging us in a fantasy, it’s about fixing broken relations. It’s about showing us how to be our best self. To be strong and responsible. To be kind and forgiving. To not be prideful and selfish. It’s about teaching us what it truly means to be a hero.”