In Preparation For: Spider-Man 3
Before Spider-Man: Homecoming hit theaters, my plan was to rewatch and review the first three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. However, life got in the way, and I didn't get around to seeing them until after I had already seen and reviewed Homecoming. I really liked that film a lot, as it brought to screen a lot of character elements that weren't translated as well in Raimi's films. You can read our full review for Homecoming here. But there is still so much that Raimi nailed about the character, things that I think even Homecoming fell short of adapting properly. We live in an age now where Spider-Man can co-exist with the Avengers and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I think it would be foolish to completely ride off Raimi's movies. I still think Spider-Man 2 is a better film than Homecoming, even if Homecoming is a better Spider-Man movie. I think watching these movies after seeing Homecoming really helps put these films in perspective, and allows me to look at them in a new light. With these reviews, there will be spoilers. They've been out for a while guys, so if you haven't seen them yet, then I'm expecting you just don't really care about seeing them at all. We already reviewed Spider-Man, which you can read here, as well as 2004's Spider-Man 2 (which you can read here). This review will be for 2007's Spider-Man 3, concluding this series of Spider-Man reviews.
With New York loving Spider-Man, and his relationship with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) getting serious, things seem to be looking up for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). That is, until an alien symbiote turns things upside down.
Everyone always says that Spider-Man 3 is a God-awful movie, and that it is one of the worst comic book movies ever made. But it's not. It's nowhere near as good as the first two films, but I do not personally find it to be an atrocity. No, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is by far a worse film. Spider-Man 3 does have some redemptive qualities. There's a lot of sh*t in there too, don't get me wrong. But the ideas in Spider-Man 3 aren't the problem; it's wholly the execution. It's strange that that's the case, since I spent a large chunk of my Spider-Man 2 review praising Sam Raimi's direction. But here, he falls completely and utterly flat. There are scenes that just aren't even competently shot. I can understand having large ideas and them not ending up working on screen, but how does a filmmaker of Raimi's caliber fail to decently shoot a dialogue scene? There are moments in this film that really make no sense. Like with Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the crane sequence. She's doing a photo shoot, and the crane pops up in the background. Everyone is standing around watching this crane as it's clearly coming straight for them. They only get out of the way at the very last second. That's a first time director-level f*ck up. How did Raimi, who proved to be such a talented and mature director with Spider-Man 2, overlook these basic and obvious things that anyone with half a brain could've spotted? That's what I mean by the execution being the problem, not the ideas. The crane sequence is a cool idea, and it serves a purpose. But Raimi botched the suspense of the sequence by making Gwen a complete moron, and thus entirely unlikable. The idea of Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) being a competing photographer with Peter is a good idea, but the execution and the performance by Grace makes Eddie come across as a whiny little bitch. The idea of the black suit corrupting Peter and turning him into someone he's not is a great idea, but the execution makes it come off as ridiculously cheesy and absolutely ludicrous. The ideas aren't bad; it's the execution that hinders this film.
To steer back towards the positives, I liked what they did with Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). They did the same thing that they did with Doc Ock in the last movie, where they take a comic book villain who's cool, but has no real substance to him, and they add that dimension and character development in the film. Sandman in the comics was just a bad guy who had a cool superpower. But in this film, they make him a sympathetic villain who doesn't want to be a bad guy. He's driven by necessity, the need to save the life of his daughter. The moment when Flint Marko visits his daughter is one of the best scenes in the movie, because of how restrained and quiet it is. Is it the same exact kind of development they gave to Doc Ock? Yes, it is. But it works for this movie, and it gives it a layer of emotion that's missing in the other aspects of the film. So they give Sandman this great backstory and a great introduction, and then they barely use him! He has a couple of sequences, but by the end of the movie he's a giant brainless monster. The film set up an excellent antagonist, and then botched their utilization of him. That stems from there being too many villains fighting for the spotlight. You have three potentially great villain arcs: Sandman reluctantly turning to crime to raise money for his daughter, Harry Osborn (James Franco) dawning the mantle of the Green Goblin to avenge his father's death, and the symbiote corrupting Peter and eventually being passed onto Eddie, creating Venom. Those are three really solid, potentially great villain storylines. But they don't work when you try to do them all at once. By the forty minute mark, they were still introducing new characters and major plot points. There is just too much going on in this film, resulting in a bloated mess that feels half-baked. There's no way to properly give all of these elements their due, and it makes for underdeveloped storylines and underutilized characters.
I said all the ideas in Spider-Man 3 are great, but there's one that I really despise. It's that they revealed Sandman to actually be Uncle Ben's killer. This decision has always bugged me, because it completely undermines the first film. The whole point of the origin story is that, if Peter hadn't been selfish, he could have stopped the mugger, which would have saved Uncle Ben's life. But because he was only thinking of himself, Uncle Ben's death is on Peter's hands. By making Flint Marko the real killer, you take away the responsibility and the guilt Peter feels. "With great power comes great responsibility" is suddenly meaningless. And it undoes that fantastic scene in Spider-Man 2 where Peter reveals to Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that Uncle Ben's death was his fault. I understand what Raimi was going for. There needed to be some sort of anger on Peter's part that would feed the symbiote, and give him reason to wear it. You also needed some sort of deeper tension between Sandman and Spider-Man, more than just them being good guy and bad guy. But the direction Raimi decided upon was a complete mistake. It undermines the first movie, and completely undoes what made Peter become Spider-Man in the first place. I understand what they were going for, but it was absolutely the wrong decision. I think having the symbiote in this movie was the right choice, because we needed a new conflict with Peter being Spider-Man. The last film had already shown Peter doubting whether he wanted to be Spider-Man, and then him learning that it wasn't up to him, that ultimately he had a duty. To do that again would be a pointless retread. So we needed something new to give Peter conflict, and the symbiote was a great tool to do just that. But it's introduced way too late into the movie. The film is halfway over by the time he gets the black suit, so they rush through Peter's corruption, deciding to give up the suit, it finding Eddie Brock, and him becoming Venom. The black suit should've happened at the very beginning of the movie, so that Peter could wrestle with it the entire film. He could struggle with his dark side, and question how inherently good Spider-Man truly is. That is an important thing to explore, but it lost its impotence because of how late it was introduced, and how rushed the entire arc was. Harry's story was also rushed. We needed Harry to become the Goblin and to attack Peter, but they kill all the suspense and momentum by giving him amnesia. They pretty much wanted to subdue him so that they could instead focus on the other villains, but it ruins Harry's story. The ending of his arc, involving his redemption, was where he ultimately needed to go as a character, but how he gets there is not organic or reasonable at all. It is incredibly contrived, and it does a disservice to what the other two films were building towards.
There are a lot of underappreciated moments in this film. There are a lot of quieter scenes that save this movie from being a pile of garbage, but people often overlook these parts. You have the scene where Aunt May tells Peter the story of how she and Uncle Ben got engaged. It gives more development to all the characters involved, and it's a quieter moment that helps give heart to the film. You have Sandman trying to rebuild himself after the experiment. This is all done through the physical performance, and it's beautiful. In one scene, which is entirely animated, we see Flint Marko struggle with regaining his human form, and almost gives up. But after seeing the locket with the picture of his daughter inside, he gains the strength to keep going. The visual storytelling, paired with the score, makes for a remarkable and underrated scene that adds a lot of dimension to the Sandman character. You have another great scene between Aunt May and Peter, where he tells her that Spider-Man killed Sandman. This helps Peter rediscover who Spider-Man is supposed to be, and is along the same lines as Aunt May's speech about how we need heroes that she gave in Spider-Man 2. You also have the scene in the church where Peter tries to remove the black suit, which is such a visceral and impactful scene. These are parts of the film that people often overlook in order to talk about the more bullsh*t moments, like Peter's dance or Venom's voice. But I think it is moments like these that save Spider-Man 3 from being an unmitigated disaster, and give it just enough substance for the good to outweigh the bad.
Overall, Spider-Man 3 is a massive step down in the franchise. We go from a near masterpiece in Spider-Man 2, to an okay movie with this one. This film has a lot of great ideas, but it suffers from terrible execution. The backstory they give to Sandman, and Thomas Haden Church's performance, is really good, but they completely underutilize the character. And the decision to reveal him as Uncle Ben's true killer undermines the first movie, and undoes a lot of Spider-Man's origin. The symbiote was a great idea, as a way to bring new conflict to Peter and Spider-Man's duality, but it was introduced way too late, and the turn-around way too fast, for it to be effective. And Venom should have been saved for another film, as he was thrown into the last ten minutes, and was completely wasted. Harry's story of becoming the Goblin was necessary, but by sidelining him and giving him amnesia, they did away with all the momentum built up to that point. While the dynamic between Peter and Mary Jane was really good in the last film, here it becomes pointless and uninteresting. There's really strange dialogue and eccentric scenes throughout the film that make no sense within the larger context of the movie, and you question what Sam Raimi was thinking for some of these parts. But it's the smaller moments that save this movie, and give it enough for it to be worthwhile. In the end, Spider-Man 3 had a lot of great ideas that didn't work because they were all crammed into one movie. Had Raimi taken only a couple of these ideas and ran with them, then we could have had a really quality film that would have served as a great next chapter in the franchise.
What do you think? Do you like Spider-Man 3? Are you planning on seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by: Nate
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