Peter and Mary Jane's complex romance was the high point of the megahit Spider-Man trilogy (now on Blu-ray) — and also its downfall

By Jeff Jensen
June 15, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Before Twilight defined 21st-century YA romantic fantasy, there was director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The deepening relationship between childhood friends Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) gave the three films a narrative spine. It also brought the series to a creative crisis that in retrospect justifies the reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield (out July 3). The first Spider-Man soared when chronicling the wall crawler’s origin, but sputtered when attending to his perfunctory conflict with Willem Dafoe’s over-the-top Green Goblin. Mary Jane was also problematic — always The Girlfriend, always The Hostage. Regardless, Maguire and Dunst had charisma and chemistry, and that upside-down kiss remains as goofy-hot as ever. The film left Peter thinking he must distance himself from the people he loved to protect them. Spider-Man 2 — stuffed with human drama, selective and smart with the pyrotechnics — was a beautiful rebuttal. The electrifying moment when Mary Jane argued that she was Peter’s strength, not weakness, was superhero cinema’s version of Jerry Maguire‘s ”You complete me.” Spider-Man 3 suffered from too much…muchness. Three villains. Two love triangles. One more bloated final battle. The movie indicts Peter as a narcissist and pivots on the question of what he’d rather be: a superhero or Mary Jane’s mister everything. It’s a puzzle that Peter — and the film — can’t resolve, because the choice he should make is to stop being Spider-Man. And you know that can’t happen. The bluesy conclusion found the pair dancing to “I’m Through With Love,” not sure how to move forward, just like the series itself. Raimi’s deceptively sunny Spider-Man franchise is a sly critique of empowerment fantasies. It also leaves you convinced that the best Spider-Man movie has yet to be made. Spider-Man: B Spider-Man 2: A- Spider-Man 3: B-