The first film in the director’s web-slinger trilogy set the benchmark for modern superhero films two decades ago, but none of the sequels have come close, says Kambole Campbell.

James Hunt of the Cinematic Universe podcast points out that Sam Raimi’s films impacted what comic-book movies are now, for all the good and bad that involves. Spider-Man benefited from Raimi’s own visual style: it prompted a sense of nostalgia for comic books, something the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have tried and failed to do, with so much computer-generated imagery (CGI) and an interchangeable house style. It has a cartoonish look and uses techniques like montage and superimposition. A changing collage of images illustrates Peter Parker’s early development of the Spider-Man costume, which is the silver screen’s reaction to comic books’ visual language. Raimi’s mastery of various genres leads to the film’s vast sequence of events, which should not make sense when put together but does. “Raimi was the one director who really understood that Spider-Man is simultaneously a romance, a comedy, a horror, a sci-fi, and an action franchise, and he shot it like it was all of those things with a coherence we’ve not seen since”, Hunt notes.

Studio conflicts led the plans for a fourth Spider-Man film to be postponed. But the trilogy remains unique in today’s world of comic-book movies, gathering characteristics that have since been forgotten.