You can read this entire post free from any spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home. What we can tell you is that, if you happened to miss the original Spider-Man trilogy from director Sam Raimi, you should definitely do that before seeing the next Spider-Man movie in theaters next week.
Besides the fact they’re all great movies (yes, even Spider-Man 3, which has its merits), the Raimi movies — 2002’s Spider-Man, 2004’s Spider-Man 2, and 2007’s Spider-Man 3 — all had a secret weapon: An impeccable cast. Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe treats the comics like toys from a toy box, playing around with whatever feels fresh and fun, the Raimi films treated the “toys” like meticulous scale model replicas. [Editor’s note: If you only have time for one Spidey rewatch it should be Spider-Man 2. The original is also good. 3 is downright bad.]
That’s not to say the Raimi films were stodgy or self-important. Raimi, a quirky artist who came from the movie equivalent of a garage punk band, proved his whacky voice early in his career, most especially through the comedy-horror Evil Dead films. Elements of Evil Dead can be found in his Spider-Man; the hospital massacre carried out by a sleeping Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2 manically pogo jumps in the spectrum of goofy hilarity and genuine terror.
Virtually the whole series was perfectly cast to a terrifying degree: Tobey Maguire as a milky, awkward nerd struggling to learn responsibility, Kirsten Dunst was an awakening for anyone going through puberty, both Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina delivered villains with pathos and emotional gravity, and Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris became father and mother figures for a whole generation.
But there’s one casting decision that was so pitch perfect it was almost disturbing: Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson.
There’s a lot to J. Jonah Jameson that, ahem, kids today (“How do you do…”) may find foreign. Though Jameson first debuted in 1963, he’s more or less frozen in his archetype of a disgruntled 1940s newspaper publisher who spoke truth to power, cigar in his mouth mixed with the smell of black coffee.
His species have all but vanished. In place of Jameson are millennial editors with tote bags who staff websites based in Brooklyn and SoHo.
In 2002, less than a year after Americans were rocked by 9/11, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man hit theaters. “What do I think of Spider-Man? He’s a criminal, that’s who he is!” boasted J. Jonah Jameson, as played by J.K. Simmons, laugh-wheezing Jameson to life with the additional manic of a 24/7 cable news producer. He’s the only character in superhero movie history who can make a quip about “Julia Roberts in a thong” and it isn’t that weird.
Within two minutes of character’s introduction, the following exchange takes place:
HAPLESS EMPLOYEE: “Mister Jameson, there’s a page six problem.”
J. JONAH JAMESON: “We have a page one problem. Shut up.”
You can’t get any better than that. As critic Bob Chipman said in a 2015 retrospective, “There has never been, nor will there ever likely again be a more frighteningly exact translation of any comic book character as J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.”
Since Spider-Man’s inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios has taken great care to ensure that Tom Holland’s youthful Spider-Man be a different beast than any previous incarnation. It makes sense: Without Tobey Maguire to reprise the role, it would be pointless to let Spidey be yet another young-ish adult pining for a fair, redheaded Mary Jane.
Change is good. Reinterpretation is good. But there’s also something to be said about keeping with whatever works, for however long it can. For those who might be lost on why Spider-Man: Far From Home goes the way it does, they might want to see how J.K. Simmons first brought the infamous J. Jonah Jameson into the 21st century.
Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters on July 2.