Remember when superhero movies were easy to keep track of? What if you could go back to simpler times, before everything became must-see interconnected multi-year arcs, and just enjoy good versus evil in spandex? Starting February 1, you can. The Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy hits Tubi, which means all three of these early aughts films — Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007), are all streaming for free on Tubi.
Looking back on the pieces of the puzzle, it’s surprising this franchise grew the way it did, and ultimately predicted the explosion of superhero movies in the second decade of the 21st century. Why are these movies worth binging again? Let’s take a look.
Prior to 2002, fans of Spider-Man had limited options to enjoy the character outside of comics. There were a handful of different animated shows, peaking with the mid-90s Fox Kids show, and some kooky live-action stuff from Japan. But despite Stan Lee balking for years, a truly great Spidey movie seemed impossible. Marvel, as a comic book publisher, wasn’t doing too hot towards the end of the 90s and early aughts. The comic book industry crashed as the millennium drew near, with Marvel on the verge of bankruptcy. These days when you hear “Marvel” you think of “Marvel Studios,” and the MCU, but back in 1996, things for the Marvel brand were basically close to utter financial ruin. But, in 1999, in spite of bad timing, the character of Spider-Man was picked up by Sony for a marginal licensing fee. This was after the success of Blade and X-Men from rival studios, and that gamble turned into one of the most profitable decisions the studio ever made.
Sam Raimi sat in the director’s chair for all three films, despite being the last choice for the studio. With resumé of quirky horror films under his belt, Raimi eventually wowed the execs with his passion for the character that made it impossible to turn him down. It was that deep appreciation of Marvel’s web-slinger that ensured the franchise was in deft hands, going back to the roots of the character to make a wholly unique experience from any other hero movie of that period.
Before Tom Holland or Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire embodied Peter Parker in such an iconic and relatable way. The first time we saw him slinging webs across midtown Manhattan was nothing short of magic. As the famous wall-crawler, Spidey butted heads in epic fashion with classic members of his rogue’s gallery, including the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, The Sandman, and Venom. He also contended with the most underrated Marvel baddie, J. Jonah Jameson, who proved these films had a perfect casting with J.K. Simmons still playing that part today.
But the core of the trilogy was the love triangle between Kirsten Dunst’s take on Mary Jane, and James Franco as Peter’s best frenemy, Harry Osborn. These three matured into their roles as actors, and saying Spider-Man was responsible for that evolution is no understatement.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series was a few years away still, so gritty realism was not necessarily in vogue in a superhero movie yet. This meant you could still have harmless fun in a film like this and everything was as comic-booky as possible, completely with ham-fisted dialogue that rang true to the characters. Some things might seem cringy today, like Parker’s emo phase and “Stayin’ Alive” dance in Spider-Man 3, but in hindsight added to their charm. The bad guys had dense monologues pulled straight from the comics that, while corny, nailed the spirit of the comics marvelously. Plus, the writing of these films was more layered and intelligent than you might remember. Even Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon had a hand in the script for Spider-Man 2.
The phrase “With great power comes great responsibility” has been beaten into our heads for years, but it’s true. A heavy burden was laid across the shoulders of those involved in this trilogy. They couldn’t afford to just make good movies – they had to make great ones. And as it turned out, all three were spectacular. Nostalgic curiosity might get you started on watching them again, but their quality will keep you swinging through all three films.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3 are all streaming for free on Tubi starting February 1. ‘Nuff said.