Spiderman with a villain clinging onto his back.

The Yassification of the Superhero Genre


2002, what a time to be alive! In my case, at the age of two, barely alive! It was not only a big year for toddler me, but a big year for Hollywood. Ben Affleck was voted Sexiest Man of the Year and Halle Berry became the first (and as of 2024 only) Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress. Not only did we get Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but we also got the sequel for everyone’s favorite prequels, Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, although something else would change the trajectory of pop culture (and my own life) as we know it: Sam Raimi’s adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man was released. Which is back in theaters for a brief run to celebrate Columbia Pictures 100th Anniversary.

Spider-Man featured an all-star lineup of your favorite 2000’s actors who, yes, do look far too old to be playing teenagers. Tobey MaguireSpiderman 2 movie poster of Spiderman holding a woman. (Pleasantville, The Cider House Rule) is Peter Parker a.k.a Spider-Man a.k.a my first love, Kirsten Dunst (Interview With a Vampire, The Virgin Suicides) is America’s third favorite redhead Mary-Jane Watson, James Franco (Freaks and Geeks, Never Been Kissed) is Harry Osborne and Willem Dafoe (Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ) is Norman Osborne a.k.a the Green Goblin a.k.a one of the campiest and cuntiest on-screen villains of all time. With one of the hottest screenwriters at the time, David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible), and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Don Burgess (Contact, Forrest Gump), it almost seems as if all that time the film spent in development hell was well worth the wait. Oh, and a score by Danny Elfman is the cherry on the top! Whew, is it getting hot in here? I’m gonna need a minute. 

The aforementioned elements combined with the film’s Columbia Pictures production Sony Pictures distribution, meant that Spider-Man had no other outcome than to be one of the campiest superhero flicks of all time. A Sam Raimi special, if you will, Bruce Campbell cameo included, served to you on a silver, webbed platter. With cheesy one-liners like, “What about my uncle? Did you give him a chance?” or “40,000 years of evolution and we’ve barely even tapped the vastness of human potential.” The film boasts insanely detailed set designs such as the Oscorp Lab or the underground wrestling ring arena, alongside elaborate costume designs such as the Green Goblin’s suit—all displayed in some of the best lighting work I’ve ever seen in a film. Don’t even get me started on the well-executed practical effects (have you heard about that lunchroom tray scene enough yet?) or we’ll be here all day. Not only does it sound like this movie came straight out of a comic book, it looks exactly like the pages of a comic book came to life.

Though these qualities contribute to Spider-Man’s greatness, they are, at times, the film’s own downfall. The dialogue is awkward and nowhere near realistic. The high school bullying is far too intense, more comical than anything. It’s also hard not to giggle at Dafoe as he growls and box-jumps at his innocent lab partner or out of nowhere slut shames Mary-Jane loudly enough for everyone to hear during Thanksgiving dinner. That Nickelback song that plays over the end credits. Again, when looking at the bigger picture, it all works in tandem to create one hell of a superhero movie—One that simultaneously takes the piss out of itself. They don’t have to be so serious because, and think real hard about it, where did this source material come from? The most unserious form of literature, that’s where! God, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

And that’s what got me thinking as I left the theater two weeks ago with my little sister in tow. How did we go from Raimi’s campily heartfelt and exciting Spider-Man to the dark (no actually, I can’t ever fucking see what’s happening on screen) and lifeless formulaic Marvel Franchise we have today? When exactly did we stray from God’s light as a society of not only movie goers, but as comic book lovers? Who’s to blame? Toxic Fanboy culture? Capitalism? ¿Por qué no los dos? 

The 2000’s brought much promise with not only Spider-Man, but other comic inspired flicks like, the love of my life Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy or James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta, hell, even Punisher and Daredevil had some iconic contributions to pop culture that were valiant attempts to make light of their films’ overall sins. Either way, these all had the same feel as Raimi’s Spider-Man: More practical and real looking effects, beautiful set designs lighted in a God-honoring way, quotable dialog that surely are still inside jokes for any fans to this day. They weren’t all perfect (i.e. Ghost Rider, the majority of the X-Men films and Hancock), but we were a country proper. Hell began to break loose as the internet became more accessible to toxic fandoms all across the country, alongside the release of the U.S. Government’s, uh I mean Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (quick sidebar, the use of Marvel for American Propaganda is a whole separate essay I could write you. I highly suggest looking into it). This is the combo that, I believe, ultimately opened Pandora’s Box. 

Movie poster for Iron Man 1.Don’t get me wrong, I adore Favreau’s Iron Man. It’s sleek, sardonic and sexy. Having similar qualities to Raimi’s Spider-Man, the film’s director, cast and writing team cherry-picked what had worked and made it really fucking work. They made it serious, made it stylistic and overall invented the perfect superhero film formula. I remember the rush of adrenaline coursing through my 8-year-old veins as I watched Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark. Think Requiem of a Dream anytime someone shoots up. Though give fans an inch, and they’ll take a mile. 

The same goes for massive production studios looking to gain massive profit at an accelerated rate. Thus, the toxic codependency began and, just as fast as they had ignited, the fizzle was there, quietly lingering in the underbelly and soon growing rapidly. With great power should’ve come a great responsibility to preserve the heart of what these movies were, instead mass consumption and fan culture ate them alive. The neverending circlejerk began. 

Both parties are to blame here—fans and the studios. They fed into each other and festered a toxic breeding ground of competition and overconsumption, both on the internet and IRL. Too much of a good thing, superheroes included, will always be a bad thing. Along came Joss Whedon and his band of Avengers, and that’s how we got here. Studios secured contracts with writers that fans worshiped because they gave them fan service instead of substance, casted actors that were prominent on all the fandom Tumblrs, created a universe of films that only the biggest and most dedicated of fans could understand from start to finish if they never missed one and kept the money coming in for every single thing they produced, not always just movies. Merch, new comics with storylines that followed the films, hell, we even founded our own ComicCon here in Utah! The fans gladly ate it all up and never stopped wanting more. Wads of cash clenched in between their iPad baby jam hands. 

It cemented our fates to what the superhero genre has become and at some point in time you or someone you loved fell victim to it. I know I certainly did. Though there are few who’ve been waking up, remembering the glory days of what the early 2000’s brought us. We’re saying no, I actually don’t have to like this and should be able to deconstruct or criticize this “art”. I don’t want to have to empathize with every villain or worship every line sarcastically delivered by a hero. I want to cringe at Tobey Maguire’s single tear as he talks about his Uncle Ben and then cheer him on as fights Doc Oct and his scarily cool mechanical tentacles. I want the good, the camp and the in between. I want to watch something inspired and made by actual artists with passion for their source material, the ones we all grew up stealing from our dads infinite collections in the garage. 

You might be asking yourself, “what’s the point of this?” The point is that I want superheroes to be fun and unserious again, and maybe you should too. Think of how Raimi’s Spider-Man influenced your life, either big or small. Think about how a Marvel Movie nowadays makes you feel. Reflect on that and demand more for yourself as a viewer, not just a consumer.

Well, that’s all from your friendly neighborhood SLUG Contributing Writer folks! I’ll leave you with this: “And they say that hero can save us, I’m not gonna stand here and wait.” You shouldn’t either. As part of Columbia Pictures 100th Anniversary, you can catch all of the Spider-Man films in chronological order at the Broadway or at any Megaplex. 

Check out Spider-Man reviews here:
Film Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Film Review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse