So many Spider-Men, so little time
From a game-changing trilogy to the more forgettable instalments, Peter Parker's journey has dazzled and disappointed spidey-fans
There are a few ways to watch the various Spider-Men films that have been released over the past 15 years. You could view them in the order they were released: Sam Raimi's game-changing trilogy first, then Marc Webb's decidedly more problematic follow-up films, before moving on to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe-approved iteration. You could also watch them according to the comic-book canon they stuck to, with Webb's first instalment displaying the highest fidelity to the source material. Or, for those without 19 hours or so to spare and limited patience for alliterated character names and the varied expressions of James Franco, you could simply watch them in the following order, from best to worst.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Raimi's second go at Peter Parker is that rare success in the blockbuster world: a sequel that surpasses the original in almost every way. Here, Raimi married two of his most celebrated sensibilities – sincere compassion for character and an eye for outre set-pieces that verge on the bombastic – into the most dazzling and powerful film of modern superhero cinema. Spidey's battle with Doctor Octopus atop a subway car is thrilling even by today's highly evolved VFX standards, while the performances across the board shine – even, yes, James Franco.
If you happen to be a smidge tired with the glut of superhero films clogging the box office, you can safely blame Raimi's original Spider-Man flick. A massive success upon release and a rebuke to naysayers who doubted the effects would be convincing, the film proved that Marvel's then-neglected toy box was full of seriously untapped cinematic potential. The effects were dazzling, Tobey Maguire proved that heroes could have complex emotions beyond the mask, Kirsten Dunst powered a million adolescent crushes with one upside-down kiss, and Willem Dafoe unofficially kick-started the trend of character actors getting filthy rich from the world of comic-book villainy.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
I'll admit this is a stretch, as the Russo brothers joint isn't a proper, stand-alone Spidey film. But the 13th instalment in the vast and profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe did introduce a new Peter Parker to audiences in the form of Tom Holland. And damn if the little guy didn't nearly steal the show from such superpowered elders as Captain America and Iron Man.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The new Spider-Man movie proves that a sense of humour and a willingness to go beyond canon can go a long way. The challenge will be for director Jon Watts, should he return for the inevitable sequel, not go the way of Raimi and Webb and keep his vision as spare and slim as possible.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
The disaster that was Raimi's Spider-Man 3 (more on that in a second) helped push Sony to reboot its jewel franchise. Pity it didn't take much time to think about it, though, with Webb's film coming a mere five years after audiences had voted with their wallets to take a break from all Peter Parker shenanigans. With all the elements stacked against him, Webb did a decent if not, ahem, amazing job, finding a fine-enough Maguire replacement in Andrew Garfield and tapping the always lovely Emma Stone for the role of eternally doomed Gwen Stacy. But Webb's most intriguing idea – some spy business involving Peter's father, played by the always fascinating Campbell Scott – was seemingly discarded in the editing bay, leaving a standard origin story that reeked of cash-grab laziness.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Where to start with this one? Was it the film's over-reliance on blah villains, from the Sandman to a new Green Goblin to the fan-favourite, but inherently dull, Venom? Perhaps the scenes where Peter cos-played as a member of Panic at the Disco? Or that musical number … oh, man, that musical number. Whatever it was, Spider-Man 3 made clear that Raimi's run on the series had come to a wacky, self-indulgent end.
Actual Spiders (every day, forever)
Ah, horrible! But at least this arachnophobia nightmare is more pleasant than watching …
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
… this godawful mess. Having completely ignored the lessons of Spider-Man 3, Sony decided that it should once again stuff a Spidey tale with so many villains it's hard to keep track, let alone care for their motives. So, Garfield's Peter had to fight not only Jamie Foxx's embarrassing Electro, but also Dane DeHaan's Green Goblin, Paul Giamatti's Rhino ("Kids, they love Paul Giamatti!" someone at Sony must have said at one point), and some mysterious figure who pops up to tease a Sinister Six spinoff that, mercifully, never materialized.