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Spider-Man (2002)


In early 2000, the news that Marvel Comics had untangled the infamously sketchy Spider-Man movie rights and begun pre-production on a live action film two decades in the planning was the big news of the movie geek world - especially coming on the heels of the shocking not-terribleness of Bryan Singer's X-Men. For a moment it looked like all was lost as gossip sites reported that either David Fincher (brilliant but utterly wrong for the job) or Chris Columbus (ugh!) would land the gig.

I still have vivid memories of being able to head into my evening shift at the video store and report to my friends the breaking word (you couldn't get the internet on phones yet) that Sam ****ing Raimi had been given the director's chair instead. Total elation. One of "us." The perfect possible choice.

The movie? Not perfect, but damn close. Like too many superhero origin movies, it has a killer first and third act but stumbles a bit in a truncated middle. But the stuff that works? The eye-popping Silver Age color scheme? Spidey's ripped-from-the-page costume and not-overdoing-it humor? The definitive Aunt May, Uncle Ben and J. Jonah Jameson? Maguire's pitch perfect Puny Parker? Dafoe's iconic Green Goblin (yes, the armor look silly, but at least he's wearing a mask like he's supposed to instead of morphing into a creature like he probably will in the new ones)? The Kiss? That's the stuff that film nerd dreams are made of.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)


I go back and forth on the exact order, but as of now my hierarchy of superhero movies goes like this: 5.) X-Men: First Class, 4.) Watchmen, 3.) Superman (1978), 2.) The Avengers... and Spider-Man 2 in first. Yes, it's just that good. It has all the benefits of the first film with none of the origin story whiplash. The effects are better, the returning performers are more confident, Raimi's action direction is bigger and more assured, and Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus is the best villain of the series, bar none. It's so good that its greatness goes essentially without saying - what higher praise can I make of Spider-Man 2 than saying "It's Spider-Man 2?"

Spider-Man 3 (2007)


When you hand a studio two of the highest-grossing movies of all time in a row, you'd think that would earn you the clout to finish the trilogy the way you'd want. Sam Raimi wasn't afforded that luxury on Spider-Man 3, and was harangued into reworking his planned third installment to accommodate the marketing-friendly 90's villain Venom into the storyline. The result of that and other studio-level interference leads to a deeply flawed and shaky film, but I still don't think it's as bad as all that.

What's ironic (for me, at least) is that as much as Raimi openly despised Venom he wound up delivering a much more interesting version of his story than prior animated adaptations or even the original comics ever managed. I like that Eddie Brock is a sleazy-stalker mirror of Peter Parker, and I love that the film avoids the boring cliché of symbiote-suit afflicted "Evil Peter" being a cool badass. Yeah, "Emo Pete" is obnoxious and lame... he should be! That's what a terminally-uncool dweeb like Parker would think acting like a cool badass would look like.

The film wound up being (to date) the highest-grossing Spider-Man movie ever, but even its fans tend to agree that it's the least of Raimi's trilogy. Raimi himself could barely restrain his obvious contempt for much of the production, and doesn't even appear on the DVD commentary.

Drag Me To Hell (2009)


A review of this film was actually the second ever episode of Escape to The Movies, and looking back I think I might have been a little too kind to it. I still think it's a perfectly fine film, but calling it a true successor to Evil Dead might've been pushing it on what's ultimately a serviceable stylistic return to formula for Raimi amid a fairly average horror script. Also, "that bit with the cat" feels weirdly out of place - like Raimi the grown-up trying too hard to prove he can still shock for the sake of shocking.

Raimi's latest, Oz The Great & Powerful, is now a major worldwide hit, and the Evil Dead remake opened with an impressive haul for a horror movie in the spring. His small-screen success has continued as well, with he and Tapert scoring another syndication hit (though not quite as big as Hercules or Xena) with Legend of The Seeker and a cult-smash with Spartacus on cable. At present, he's once again talking about the possibility of a direct sequel to Army of Darkness, which may or may not establish some sort of "real" continuity between Bruce Campbell's Ash and the heroes of the new Evil Dead.

Groovy.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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