Rating: C- but an A for effort
Synopsis: The underwhelming finale to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Peter and MJ have easily resolvable relationship problems, Harry Osbourne gets amnesia for half the movie, that guy from That 70’s Show is Venom apparently, Sandman killed Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy as is used as a way to stoke some unnecessary conflict!
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films are an integral part of my childhood. The first film came out when I was a wee lad, and it completely blew my 6-year-old brain away. Spider-Man 2 cemented my love for the franchise, and it was the first DVD I ever owned. It still ranks high on my list for greatest comic book films. And then Spider-Man 3 happened…
I have to be honest with you readers, I was in middle school when Spider-Man 3 came out. My middle school brain did not have the most refined taste or the need to critique. I thought Spider- Man 3 was pretty cool at the time. Sure it was really slow at some parts but SYMBIOTE SUIT SPIDER-MAN WAS SO COOL! I was still a kid, so seeing Venom in live action for the first time was enough to satisfy me. It was still a Spider-Man movie after all.
It wasn’t until I revisited the film years later that the flaws became more obvious to me. To put it bluntly, the movie is a hot mess. It is up there as one of the most disappointing ends to a trilogy ever. The film tries to juggle several plot threads while also closing threads begun in the first two. The characters are written to be the most unlikable and emotionally immature at times. If not for some damn good action and a great Danny Elfman score, this would top any “Worst” lists. Even Sam Raimi himself thinks the movie is awful. With his blessing, I began to despise Spider-Man 3.
However, in my repeat viewings, I found something I did not expect. The movie is god-damned funny and I’m not talking about the awkward attempts at intentional comedic relief. I’m talking about the hilarious line reads, the melodrama, the contrived plot conveniences, Peter Parker’s emo hair, James Franco, and of course… this. With this new insight, I hereby decree that Spider-Man 3 is so bad it is funny.
But then I watched it again. . . Things got complicated
As said before, the film tries to have multiple plots and characters in the same film. It wants to conclude Peter and Harry’s conflict but also introduces Sandman as the REAL killer of Uncle Ben. Add on top of that MJ and Peter’s relationship drama, the symbiote turning Peter into a huge douche nozzle, and That 70’s Show guy being the Anti-Peter. Also, Bryce Dallas Howard is Gwen Stacy. What a wasted opportunity. . . The movie is so overcrowded that it literally gives Harry amnesia in a hilariously contrived way so that his story can be sidelined for all the other stuff that’s going on. It creates MORE PLOT THREADS! The film just jumps plot to plot with no connecting themes or even some clever way to connect them all. Unrelated things just sort of happen until they get mashed together for the climax.
That isn’t to say the plots aren’t good. They are actually really interesting on their own and would make great Spider-Man stories. THEY HAVE BEEN GREAT SPIDER-MAN STORIES IN THE COMICS! The issue is, you cannot do Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin, Sandman killing Uncle Ben, the symbiote arc, and all the other interpersonal drama between Peter and MJ all in the same movie. There are so many plots that none of them get the time or effort that these stories deserve.
In the first two films, Peter Parker is portrayed (I say Parker because he gets more screen time than Spidey) as an incredibly awkward guy who is also endearing. Over the two films, he learns the cost of being the hero and ultimately accepts the responsibility that comes with it. I would say it is as accurate as a portrayal of the original Lee/Ditko comics as you are going to get without being too cheesy. For whatever reason, the third film decides to make Peter a conceited tool. I can see this as a means to show that the fame has gotten to his head, but it is done poorly in an already overcrowded film. Instead of listening to MJ’s issues about her rising feelings of inadequacy, he uses it to complain about being Spider-Man. During a “Key to the City” ceremony, Peter decides to kiss another woman, knowing full well that Mary Jane is in the crowd. What in the actual hell was the point of that? This whole conflict feels completely unnecessary and makes Peter out to be an absolute jerk. AND THIS IS ALL BEFORE HE PUTS ON THE BLACK LEOTARD OF EVIL!!!!!
SPEAKING OF WHICH, we need to talk about Peter Parker’s emo hair. Well, not really. I have mixed feelings on how the black leotard of evil is handled in the film. Any Spidey fan can tell you how super badass that costume is. All they did was change up the spider logo and go all black, but that was all our comic fanboy brains needed to be blown away. As for the film’s version? Honestly, it is pretty fucking awesome. When he’s in the suit it’s ripped straight from the comics and cartoons. He lets loose and feels more powerful than ever. That is for the short amount of the time we actually see Peter in the suit. There rest of the time Peter is in the suit, he dials up the douche factor to 11. Yes, dear reader, I speak of course of the infamous dance scenes. The first is Peter, in his ridiculous even for the 2000s emo hair cut, struts down the street with the confidence of a man with no shame. The levels of secondhand embarrassment I feel are absolutely staggering. HE EVEN DOES A HAIR FLIP AT ONE POINT. LOOK AT IT!!!!
However, Tobey Maguire does sell the aggressiveness of being under the symbiote’s control. The scenes where this darker part of him is unleashed is genuinely good and deserve to have a better movie around them. In theory, I like what they were attempting to do but the execution is incredibly cheesy. I can believe a man can get spider powers from radioactive bug bites, but there is no way in hell I’ll believe any person, fictional or otherwise, is attracted to Tobey Maguire’s Peter in emo hair.
You’re probably asking, “Gee Wiz John, you’ve been bashing this movie pretty hard! If it’s so bad why do you love it?”
That’s where it gets very complicated, viewers. Spider-Man 3 is a terrible movie, but it has a lot of really good ideas, performances, and scenes.
The cast is still excellent as ever. Kirsten Dunst makes Mary Jane a much more compelling character than just “Spider-Man’s girlfriend”. Thomas Haden Church gives Sandman some much-needed depth. Rosemary Harris plays Aunt May with maternal comfort and wisdom. Even Topher Grace does an interesting take on Eddie Brock. J.K. SIMMONS IS THE ONLY ACTOR WHO SHOULD EVER PLAY J. JONAH JAMESON PERIOD. Even the smaller characters make the world feel larger and full of life. These are all solid performances that deserve a more solid film.
The Raimi Spider-Man films have always been filled with great action sequences that are a treat to look at. The highlight for me was Spidey taking on Sandman in the underground and the finale. Perhaps this is just fanboy gushing, but the symbiote suit plus that kickass score makes it feel super epic. The finale may be super convoluted but seeing Venom on screen is like… 5-year-old nirvana. Sure he’s not as buff or monstrous like in the comics, but it’s still so damn cool seeing Spidey and Venom duke it out several hundred feet in the air. Raimi even throws in some of his horror roots for some added flair. Even the news footage build-up gets me hyped! I’m not gonna lie to you reader, first time I saw Spidey being beaten by a giant Sandman and Venom, 11-year-old John shed a tear either from the sheer coolness or from the sight of seeing a childhood hero get his ass kicked so bad.
Earlier, I talked about how the film is super crowded. Just because it’s overcrowded doesn’t mean the individual pieces are awful. These stories have been done well in comics and animation. There is no reason why they shouldn’t have worked on film. Even the original ideas can lead to potentially great stories, but there was already a story in progress. Regardless, the film should have concluded Harry vs Peter, maybe add in the relationship drama and the symbiote. If it not for the filmmaker’s ambition for a bigger and grander sequel, we could have potentially had an emotionally impactful end to the trilogy. This is wishful thinking but maybe if the film was two films with a better structure all these stories could have worked.
I am being torn apart, dear reader. Spider-Man 3 is a mess of a movie, but I honestly love it to death. Not just in a funny bad movie way but in the way I feel when watching the other two films. I’m not sure if I can classify it as a guilty pleasure because I feel no shame watching it. The final product comes off as a season of a tv show smushed into a two and a half hour movie, but I would still watch that show! It wants to accomplish so many things and never fully reaches its potential, but goddamnit, sometimes it is genuinely brilliant. If only there was a way to jump back in time and bring some much-needed focus to this failed project. Honestly, as a Spidey fan, this is par for the course. There are all kinds of funny, awkward, imperfect, terribly flawed, but ultimately that’s why I love Spider-Man. It takes me back to my childhood and in this crazy world, that can be a huge source of comfort. I don’t hate you Spider-Man 3, but I can only probably see you a couple of times a year at most.