Live-Action Spider-Man Retrospective Review: SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)

( INTRODUCTION, SPIDER-MAN 1, SPIDER-MAN 2,
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 1, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2,
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME)

Our Live-Action Retrospective Review proceeds to 2007 with Spider-Man 3. The following is my review of this film. I am making my own observations and subjective impressions here. I am not remotely commenting on everything inside the film or making any final word here.

In my review of Spider-Man 2, I talked of the difficulties of making an effective sequel to a standalone first part, namely that: One has to simultaneously deliver “more of the same” (what worked in the first film), and also top the first film at the same time. When you make a third film, it becomes a juggling act where you have to balance the expectations and wishes of both the first film and the second film, while bringing something new to the table third time around.

THIRD FILM TRIBULATIONS

Worst Comic Book Movie Moments of 2016 - Daily Superheroes - Your daily  dose of Superheroes news
X-Men Apocalypse, which is the third film in the second X-Men Trilogy, and yes it’s not very good.

Third films in a franchise have a famously sketchy reputation.

The difficulties of making a sequel to a successful first film that was intended to leave everything on the field are even more so when you have to follow in the wake of two films that do that. The fact is that any first two films that have a considerable impact are very likely to have used up all the interesting villains and stories. By that time you are looking to continue the story with lowered stakes while simultaneously having to deliver more of the previous films and do it better. Tricky needle to thread.

There’s also aesthetic limitations and logistics to consider. Films are made by people of people. Comics are made by people of paper, pencils, inks, letters, colors etc. It’s easier for a comic to serialize a story and introduce new elements and concepts than a film franchise. Films are cast, lit, costumed, framed, designed a certain way and once those decisions are made they have to be committed to. The look of a film by a particular director and the design choices imposes certain limitations. For instance, Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1989) was an expressionistic portrayal of Gotham City. His interpretation of the Batman mythos was extreme in its violence and darkness, and its use of gothic imagery. It would be extremely hard to imagine a Robin in that interpretation of Gotham. When Joel Schumacher took over, like it or hate it, he at the very least updated and introduced an aesthetic interpretation that accommodates characters like The Riddler, Robin, Batgirl, Mr. Freeze but that came at the price of going away from the vision that carried Batman over to the big screen.

When we come to Spider-Man 3, it’s trailing in the wake of two films that were realistic and grounded but had three science-fiction elements (a man with spider-powers, a businessman on enhanced chemicals flying a glider with weapons, a scientist with mechanical arms fused to his body). Spider-Man 3 in the course of a single film had to introduce: a second rich man on a glider with weapons, an alien symbiote that fuses with Spider-powers and becomes a Lovecraftian being, an ordinary man stumbling into an experiment turning him into a sand monster. It went from a delicate home-cooked meal to a smorgasbord.

THE TRILOGY QUESTION

People often categorize Raimi’s films as a trilogy, and that’s how Sony have boxed its DVD and how its been referred a few times. But I think it provides confusion to see the movies that way especially given that each film was approached as a standalone without a clear idea of how the story would proceed afterward.

When people use the word trilogy they often presume, and retrospectively impose, a single story being told across three films much in the way of serialized literature and comics. Movies are made by people of people. Logistically retaining and maintaining a cast and crew over many films is hard. George Lucas didn’t plan on Star Wars being a trilogy but he closed the original series with Return of the Jedi because that’s as far as he and the cast were willing to go at the time because of personal issues, fatigue, stamina, and maintaining enthusiasm.

Sam Raimi from multiple interviews makes it clear he never had a single story to tell with the characters. He made each film individually. After Spider-Man 3 he was still on board for a hypothetical fourth film which means that he never thought that Spider-Man 3 would be the end. Spider-Man 1 and Spider-Man 2 is the love story of Peter and Mary Jane. It’s a boy-meets-girl melodrama. At the end of Spider-Man 2, they get together. So logically the main emotional story of the series ended conclusively at part 2. The major subplot left is Harry Osborn, the friend of Peter and MJ who slowly grows bitter and apart, and unbalanced after his father’s death. If you were to see the Spider-Man Trilogy as telling a single story over three films mapped on a three-act structure, then the protagonist of the series would be Harry Osborn and his tragic downfall. For a variety of reasons few actually see the “trilogy” that way, and arguably that means few actually see the “trilogy” as truly a “trilogy”.

A PARCEL OF ROGUES

Follow My Voice (ASM #500) : r/Spiderman
From ASM#500 Art by JRJR

Once you see off Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, you are looking at making a third film simultaneously be a big epic and meaningful spectacle while also having to deal with villains who lack their prestige to command a movie on that scale. Now this is the point where some Spider-Man fans will point out that at the time of the film’s release, Venom was widely seen as Spider-Man’s third great enemy. And if not Venom, then Carnage more than qualifies. Those are valid points, but for this section: presume a rogues gallery without Goblin and Ock, aside from Venom and Carnage. It would be hard to argue on paper that a Spider-Man who has seen off Goblin and Octopus would regard anybody else in his rogues gallery as an equivalent threat.

The other problem is that supervillains have this odd dichotomy where some of them have in principle great powers that could make them a threat (Electro, Sandman) but in the comics are outfitted with civilian personalities that are for the most part unimpressive on a narrative and psychological level, and lack charisma. So those characters would need substantial reinterpretation. There were villains like Kraven whose iconic storyline Kraven’s Last Hunt is a plausible, dense, and compelling examination of a formerly minor villain can be a great threat and with a psychology on par with Goblin and Otto’s in the first two films. On paper it seems like an ideal third-part, but Sam Raimi doesn’t appear to have had an interest in bringing Kraven on-screen at the time, the villains he wanted to bring were Vulture and Mysterio (who showed up more than ten years after Spider-Man 3).

In terms of serialization, Curt Connors was introduced as a supporting character in the second film and in theory it appears he was set up to become the Lizard but going three-for-three with Peter’s scientist mentors becoming villains would have been a touch repetitive at the point, and so he was saved for the first reboot. Repetition is likewise a problem with Harry Osborn taking on the mantle of the Green Goblin because you are stuck on paper with repeating the same kind of villain and action from the first film and that’s usually why having a legacy villain fully command a film would deprive the series of novelty and creative stimulus.

So the problems on paper — a need for novelty, avoiding repetition, maintaining scale — explains why Spider-Man 3 featured three villains (Venom, Sandman, New Goblin) rather than the solo villain ventures of Spider-Man 1 and 2.

STORY STRUCTURE: THE VENOM PROBLEM

In Spider Man 3 (2007), Peter Parker can be seen sleeping in his bedroom.  This is a reference to my new subreddit r/sleepinginmovies. :  r/shittymoviedetails

Sam Raimi didn’t like Venom. That is a known fact. It is his right as a creator to dislike a character and in principle avoid featuring them. What makes things dubious is why Raimi decided to continue making Spider-Man 3 even when it was going in a direction he never agreed to?

The problems of adapting Venom for Raimi is similar to X-Men 3 adapting the Phoenix. Venom is a character tied to a five year serialized story in the mid-80s that at the outset was tied to the crossover Secret Wars 1984 that involved cosmic forces. Phoenix is likewise a 40 issue serialized story that ties to a grand universal scale. When you do movies that are earthbound (in the case of X-Men), and NYC-bound (in the case of Spider-Man), calling for a sudden expansion to outer space and aliens is aesthetically a “hard sell”.

The solution that Raimi and his screenwriters agreed to (and in the case of Spider-Man 3, it’s the only time Sam Raimi has credit for screenplay) is to make the story of revenge and redemption. So the Symbiote which crashes to earth on an asteroid just a few blocks from Peter and MJ cuddling on a web at night (the only bit of charm in the film, alas) takes the form of black blob that puddles away. Over the course of the film, the symbiote attaches to Peter just as he’s dealing with the news that Flint Marko is in fact Uncle Ben’s true killer (!), his friend Harry Osborn has turned Goblin and attacked him but has amnesia (!). He’s planning to propose to Mary Jane but is otherwise not being a good boyfriend to her, such as agreeing to kiss Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) in public using “their kiss” with her in full view and generally not being a shoulder to her for her career troubles. Meanwhile, Gwen is dating a guy called Eddie Brock (Topher Grace)who is a rival to Peter as a photographer at the Bugle (!).

The structure of the film has the hero becoming dark and violent and losing his moral high ground becoming as bad as the villains he’s facing. As Peter learns to grapple with his own dark side, he sees the light in two of his enemies (Harry, Sandman) and tries to help a third who unfortunately is consumed by it (Brock) and whose defeat is needed for the others being redeemed. The previous Spider-Man films, had Norman Osborn wrestle and lose to a dark side, Otto becoming a meat-puppet to his AI, so it’s not unfitting to apply that concept with Peter Parker. On paper.

DOUBLING OF DOUBLES

Spider-Man 3 has two villains fixated on Peter Parker/Spider-Man because of enmity and jealousy, and resentment for him “stealing his girl” and he acts out and attacks Mary Jane in reprisal. I said two villains not one. Because one of the villains is Harry Osborn whose resentment to Peter is a serialized story that played over the previous films. The other is Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock who fixates on Peter because the girl he has a crush on, Gwen Stacy, likes Peter instead, at first.

The concept of the double is obviously going to come up when you adapt a version of Venom. What’s puzzling to me is the decision to make Eddie Brock a Harry Osborn double, in the same film with Harry Osborn at the tail end of the trilogy’s arc. The comics’ version of Eddie Brock did not have a pre-existing romantic rivalry with Peter Parker and while he had relationship troubles with a blonde girl (Ann Weying, played by Michelle Williams subsequently), combining Weying with Gwen is a very odd choice. The idea on paper seems to have been to make Eddie a villain for both Spider-Man and New Goblin to rally behind and bury the hatchet but it’s also very schematic and forced. It lacks the nuanced and unspoken connections the first two movies developed with Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.

Likewise, having Peter fixated on two resentful jerks for stealing “girls” adds to a higher level of toxic masculinity since the concept prefigures male entitlement. It also adds an element of redundancy since we have two bad guys with similar motivations and fixations on the hero.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT HARRY OSBORN

Harry Osborn: Life’s Goal Achieved

If one were to see Raimi’s three Spider-Man films as a “trilogy” or telling a single extended story then it’s plausible to make the case that James Franco’s Harry Osborn is perhaps the true protagonist of the series. Across three films he’s the one, on aggregate, who seems to change the most and have an ongoing arc. The story arc of Peter and Mary Jane end by Spider-Man 2. Whereas Franco’s Harry has a progressive story-arc. He starts out Peter’s friend and struggles for his father’s approval and is semi-conflicted about starting a relationship with a girl that his friend has feelings for and is hiding from him. By the end he loses the girl, loses his father. By Spider-Man 2 he loses his friend, first by slapping him at a party in a drunken rant, and then on realizing he’s Spider-Man. In Spider-Man 3 he undergoes amnesia and lapses back to what seems like Pre-SM1 Harry Osborn, but then comes back as a villain only to get burnt badly,

[ASIDE:Let me say that I don’t in fact consider Franco’s Harry as the protagonist. It’s plausible to make the case he is only if you see all three films as a single story. I see Spider-Man 1 and Spider-Man 2 as far more unified as entities than Spider-Man 3, for reasons both aesthetic and structural].

Ditko ASM#37 (Norman-Left), (Harry-Right)

I mentioned that James Franco can be described as who 616 Harry Osborn would cast to play him rather than a true reflection of the comics version of the character. Harry Osborn in the comics was first introduced when Peter went to college. Originally, he alongside Gwen Stacy, were presented as rich snobs who looked down their noses at Peter Parker, inspired by Flash who arrived on a football scholarship while Peter got in by merit. Harry and Gwen are rich people who got to college because of family status while Peter earned his way in. That was the class dynamic in the Ditko college issues. Then Ditko stepped aside and the Lee-Romita era introduced a melodramatic set-up. Melodrama in general, though there are exceptions, flattens class dynamics in favor of emotional stakes and personality politics. In the serialized continuity that followed, Harry at the outset was presented as the rich guy with the car who seemed to be where the party was. When Peter enters the gang however it becomes apparent that he’s the cool one and not Harry.

American Psycho (left), Harry Osborn in SM2 (right)

Franco’s Harry is coded at the outset as more conventionally handsome than Tobey Maguire’s Peter when that wasn’t the case in the comics. In Spider-Man 2, the early part of the film has him dressed like Christian Bale in American Psycho complete with sleek suits and cool shades and a boisterous style that leads to a great quip from Otto describing him as “Interesting friend” to Peter. Harry’s jealousy towards Peter seems to be based on his father seeing the latter as a more fitting heir, and then later MJ preferring Peter over him. This is unified because Peter’s driven to keep secrets from Harry on the part of MJ (about not telling him he’s working as a waitress because he’s a class snob) and Norman (because he doesn’t want his son to know daddy was a supervillain).

Melodramatically, the film justifies “not telling Harry” and it’s an example of what I mentioned in SM2 where “right-seeming advice” that feels fine in the moment proves to be a mistake. MJ telling Harry the truth about her class anxiety of dating someone rich would likely have led to setting up boundaries that avoided the Thanksgiving Scene’s ruckus, while Peter telling the world the truth about Norman would likely have provided Harry, time and room, to process his father’s legacy on a more mature level and that he shouldn’t live up to the legacy of an abusive mass murderer.

The conventions of melodrama center often on a passive hero who occupies a center between emotional extremes and the passivity of Tobey’s Peter was in full evidence in SM2. As such, Tobey’s Peter in his right mind would never tell Harry the truth, it would be down to the Symbiote!Peter or “Emo Peter” to use the internet nickname to tell him the truth: “He despised you. You were an embarrassment for him. Look at that little Goblin junior. Gonna cry?” It’s one of many tonally deaf moments in Spider-Man 3 that a scene intended to be about Peter becoming jerkish, is also cathartic at the same time. The big regret is that it’s not the regular Peter who gets to say these things.

616 Peter often frustrated and expressed his misgivings about Harry. In ASM#122 after Gwen Stacy’s death, Peter searching for Green Goblin comes across Harry in the middle of a drug trip. Peter driven by vengeance and righteous anger reflects on Harry’s dependency and contemptuously reflects on how much being Harry’s friend took a load on his life. It’s a dark scene but there’s an emotional truth to it.

Top 10 Green Goblin Storylines: #2
SSM#200 (Art by Sal Buscema)

In fact in the comics, in serialized continuity, the idea of Harry as a major friend of Peter is very recent. While it’s true they were friends in the Lee-Romita era, that ended in the Gerry Conway run, where Harry became Goblin, defaulted on paying his rent for the loft (aka worst roommate ever), blew up the apartment which nearly killed Peter and MJ, and then got committed. Harry dropped out of the continuity and he lapsed out of the Goblin personality and in time married Liz Allan and became a father. Harry wasn’t best man at Peter’s wedding to Mary Jane. That was Flash Thompson. It was J. M. DeMatteis’ run on Spectacular Spider-Man which had Harry dying heroically and tragically, that finally gave Harry a prominent place in the stories and which shapes the direction in Spider-Man 3 though much of the deeper nuance and psychology is removed when you transpose adult married versions of the characters on versions who are still not far from how they started in SM1.

Harry Osborn makes sense in SM1 when Norman was the villain but rather than fade into the background as he did in the comics, Franco was kept around and tied into stories, such as giving him a connection to Doctor Octopus, and then in the third film becoming a Goblin legacy until dying heroically at the end. A story that doesn’t feel properly earned mostly because of how plot-directed and external it is.

VISIONS AND A BUTLER

Spider-Man 2

It was established at the end of Spider-Man 1, that after defeating the Goblin, Spider-Man decided to honor Norman’s final wishes about “not telling Harry”. So he basically returned Norman’s body at his penthouse only to stumble into Harry who sees him and assumes that Spider-Man killed him. This drives Harry to seek vengeance. In Spider-Man 2 Harry is coerced by Otto to give him Tritium for his experiment and Harry consents so long as Otto delivers Spider-Man to him alive. Then he finds out Spider-Man is Peter and he backs away and Peter makes him realize that Otto has a dangerous experiment and needs to be stopped. At the end of the film after Spider-Man stops Octopus, Harry has a vision of Norman Osborn’s spirit talking to him through the mirror (with Dafoe returning for a cameo). Harry hurls a glass at the mirror only to reveal a secret passage behind it with Goblin technology.

At the time I saw Spider-Man 2 I had many questions about this scene because it struck me as dubious. For instance Harry’s vision of his father features him in the “Goblin personality” that he kept concealed from his son in the first film (barring the Thanksgiving scene). So it felt rather literally like an attempt to sell Norman’s ghost haunting his son, complete with “Avenge Me” to drive the Hamlet thing. In the film’s favor, throughout Spider-Man 2, we see Harry drinking alcohol and getting drunk (and in his most repulsive action, slapping Maguire’s Peter at a party in public). This feels like an echo of Harry’s drug addiction in the comics but converted to alcoholism in the films. So it’s likely the illusion of Norman comes from drinking. It’s also possible that Harry deep down had hints and suspicions about his father’s secret life.

Norman lives in a mansion with several explosives stacked in his private study. Say what you will, man has daring.

The reveal of the mirror hiding the Goblin’s secret lab also answers a mystery from SM1: where exactly Norman stashed the stolen costume and glider suit, and why he’s passed out in his office and often alone there. So it works. However Harry realizing that his father is the Green Goblin who personally murdered, in front of his eyes, Oscorp board members, and certainly endangered his own life on the Unity Day Parade raises doubts as to why after knowing this, he would want to attack Spider-Man. Still he decides to suit up as New Goblin and attack Peter out of costume.

Top 10 Disturbingly Dark Moments In Spider-Man History - Listverse

Later in Spider-Man 3, after Harry relapses, he again has a vision of Norman in the mirror and this time Goblin tells Harry “first we attack his heart” which is something that as far as we see in Spider-Man 1, was an internal personal encounter between Norman and his alternate personality. The vision at the end of Spider-Man 2 was pushing it, the one in Spider-Man 3 “jumped the shark” for all intents and purposes we have Norman’s literal ghost haunting Harry and not a true memory phantom (like Uncle Ben in Peter’s dream in Spider-Man 2). Going into the film, I half-expected much like Spider-Man comics at the time that Norman had survived his death and was gaslighting his son from beyond. So then Harry manipulates and cruelly uses MJ as a tool to compromise their relationship (though it was rocky at the time) and then Spider-Man blows a pumpkin bomb on his face, which scars half of it, making him essentially Spider-Man’s own Harvey Dent.

Spider-Man 3 (2007) | Spiderman, Man, Bernard

Then the entire finale happens when the Butler (who we briefly see in Spider-Man 2) tells Harry that an autopsy he performed (!) revealed that Norman couldn’t have been killed by Spider-Man, and this drives Harry to be a hero and save his friends.

This is fairly terrible writing. We don’t see Harry internally change and reassess his beliefs and attitudes of his father, we see external elements forcing him on a certain path and it makes his redemption at the end ring hollow the way it didn’t in JMD’s Spectacular story.

NEW CHARACTERS

Spider-Man 1 and 2 feel fairly unified because aside from Otto Octavius we don’t have too many new characters added to the cast. While as I noted before, Spider-Man 2 is filled with tons of great and small cameos, these are background characters and glorified extras who make an impression with their small screentime. Instead Spider-Man 3 introduces quite a few new characters, and the new characters clearly don’t fit well or co-exist with the existing cast the way Otto was seamlessly integrated in the second film.

Will on Twitter: "Alternative Venom Ending: There was an alternative Venom  ending, where after Spider-Man had surrounded Venom with the ringing poles,  Spider-Man yanks Eddie out of the Symbiote, but he's revealed
  • SANDMAN AND HIS FAMILY: Flint Marko in the comics is generally not a character with many deep layers of psychology. Physically Thomas Haden Church is a good cast for a small-time felon who stumbles into a nuclear accident and gets powers. But the sob-story introduced in the film about a sick daughter and a divorced wife (played by Theresa Russell, wasted in the role) is thick with schmaltz, even before the retcon about him being Ben’s killer. The transformation of Marko into Sandman, feels like a mini-short film much like Doctor Octopus’ hospital scene. An excellent scene but it’s also a CGI tech-demo. The extra motivations introduced by Raimi is cloying and unnecessary because at the end Marko is still the same thug with powers in the comics and a “heavy” who fights Spider-Man at the end because Venom said so.

Topher Grace Says Tom Hardy Is "The Guy" to Play Venom - Bleeding Cool
  • EDDIE BROCK/VENOM: Casting Topher Grace as Eddie Brock is on paper a fine bit of “casting against type”. Rather than the burly giant Eddie of the comics, we have Brock played by an actor who could have been a plausible actor for Peter Parker himself. Unfortunately whatever smart idea that might ever have existed on paper disappears on screen. Grace isn’t given the best material and obviously Raimi didn’t care too greatly for either Brock or Venom. The concept of a villain same generation as Peter becoming a major threat is an interesting contrast to the previous films but Raimi doesn’t do much because so much of the real dramatic stuff is occupied by Harry Osborn and “Emo” Peter so that reduces Eddie and Venom to the status of “heavy” a physical threat who exists to be beaten up at the end.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3 (2007). | Blonde hair, Bryce  dallas howard, Gwen stacy
  • GWEN STACY AND GEORGE STACY: Introducing the Stacys in Spider-Man 3 is honestly baffling because there’s not much for them to do in a Spider-Man franchise where Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, who respectively killed daughter and father in the comics, have “left the building”. Introducing Gwen as a love-triangle and rival for Mary Jane for Peter’s affections simply wouldn’t work for the monogamous version of Peter they went with in SM1 and SM2. In the movie they combine Gwen with Ann Weying, Brock’s love-interest. George Stacy is introduced as an elderly policeman looking much older than his comics counterpart, and his role in the story as the one telling Peter that it was Marko who killed his Uncle feels forced. Bryce Dallas Howard has limited material and the one big scene she gets, when she walks out on “Emo Peter”, for humiliating MJ, out of solidarity with her is about as overtly feminist as the Raimi movies get and a good memorable part for a character who’s otherwise an afterthought.

SERIALIZATION: ABSENCE OF CULMINATION

The great regret of the Spider-Man Trilogy is that having assembled the most charismatic incarnation of Spider-Man’s rogues and supporting characters how little they are served by the third film.

Hey Kid, Do You Want A Job"- Final Fight Scene - Spider-Man 3(2007) Mini  Clip HD - YouTube
  • I adore J. K. Simmons as Jonah. He’s a great actor and the regret with Spider-Man 3 is that by the end of the trilogy he’s still mostly comic relief and he doesn’t get to hit the more complex shades of Jonah in the comics. It remains to be seen what happens in No Way Home. The decision to make Franco’s Harry the third lead and give the third film over to him essentially short-changed other supporting characters from the spotlight. Jameson does get a cool scene where he fires Brock for publishing false work and notes that the Bugle never had to publish a retraction until then but it’s like the character never evolves out of caricature.

  • The rest of the Bugle Staff: Bill Nunn’s Joe Robertson and Elizabeth Banks’ Betty are mostly just background furniture. Robertson is a major supporting character and a close personal friend of both Peter and Mary Jane in the 616 comics. He got interesting moments in Spider-Man 2 but very little by the third film.

  • Aunt May as played Rosemary Harris is absolutely a classic version of the character, and while she gets some strong dramatic scenes in Spider-Man 3, we don’t see the evolution she got for instance in JMS’ run with “The Conversation” having her learn Peter is Spider-Man. Alternatively, the conclusion of the trilogy could ideally have been an adaptation of “The Gift” (ASM#400).

SERIALIZATION: REGRESSION

With regards to the two leads, Spider-Man 2 essentially concluded the story arc of Tobey’s Peter and Dunst’s MJ. From the point of view of them as leads, the advice would be to avoid seeing the third film since the film has no interest in progressing their story.

The structure of the first films was to focus on the romance and longing (in sitcom terms “will-they-or-won’t-they”) and in the process the films avoided the defining unique feature of the Peter/MJ romance namely their great chemistry and compatibility as a couple in a relationship as part of the satus-quo. Spider-Man 3 starts with them together and then introduces melodramatic twists to essentially repeat beats from the previous films, and then closing with them at the status-quo on which it started. The melodramatic yanking around has the effect of taking out all the charm the two had in the first film with the “Emo Peter” shown as an abusive creep that makes the rest of the film hard to stomach. The movie starts with Peter planning to propose to Mary Jane but we never see the engagement, leave alone the wedding, when logically that’s where the movies were going with them.

Instead the film regresses Peter by nullifying his origin and making the burglar Peter chased down into the Sandman, and the conclusion of the film has Peter pardoning a criminal. It feels totally unearned and unjustified, and the new retcon (whose author is Sam Raimi himself) effectively undercuts the entire characterization. Mostly because nobody couldn’t think of a way to work with Sandman without tying him to Peter’s story. The lessons of Spider-Man 1 where Spider-Man and Goblin come into conflict before either knows each other’s identity falls by the wayside in Spider-Man 3. All the three villains (Harry, Venom, Sandman) are connected to Peter in his personal life and this has the effect of making the world of the film very small and makes the entire adventure a self-contained melodrama concerning a bunch of narcissists. The third film ends up focused on revisiting past beats rather than driving to the future and beyond as in the first two films.

CONCLUSION OF SPIDER-MAN 3 REVIEW
(and the Raimi “Trilogy”)

Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy has its flaws, and has many deserved criticisms. But to give the man credit, the fact is by the time of the third film every single character from the leads to the supporting cast got a culminating character arc without loose ends. Whereas Spider-Man 3 having not been made with the clear intention of being a concluding chapter is unsatisfying and few viewers can argue we got all we could from these versions of the characters, who mostly end the series with static personalities or as somewhat regressed types. That more than anything has driven calls for more of the Raimi films, and in turn to the revival of those characters in No Way Home (and perhaps more, we’ll see).

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse releases first nine minutes | SYFY WIRE
Spider-Man:Into the Spider-Verse
  • Spider-Man 3 has over the years attracted defenses from some quarters. “Emo Peter” has attracted a series of arguments and defenses. Some fans unironically like the film’s cringe aesthetic (look up “Bully Maguire”) while others, such as Bob Chipman, have made an argument for deconstruction that strikes me as lacking in plausibility. I personally do not share those sentiments but I also have no desire to counter them so I’ve avoided discussing “Emo Peter” in this review too much. As far as 2000s try-hard dramabros go, I’ll take Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequels.

Source: Link.
Comic Critics. Art by Brandon Hanvey, Text by Sean Whitmore.
  • Sam Raimi was well suited in Spider-Man 1 and 2 dealing with characters and story events that had a consensus to it. Tim Burton was likewise well-suited in Batman and Batman Returns but Burton stepped aside and Raimi stayed on. The making of Spider-Man 3 seems to have been traumatic for Raimi. He only directed two films afterwards (Drag Me To Hell, Oz the Great and Powerful) and will return again for his third, the Doctor Strange sequel, a decade after his last feature, whereas Tim Burton continued making many films after stepping aside. While a lot of blame has been directed at the film’s producers for insisting on Venom, I think Raimi does deserve partial blame for making a film he clearly didn’t have passion for reasons pointed out by ComicCritics have pointed out. And the real issues were simply the difficulties of continuing a story that ended conclusively with the second part.

I think Spider-Man 3 is an outstanding failure, and a warning that the right cast and crew can come together and make a bad film simply because of fundamental issues of franchise film-making and creative limits of the talent involved. On that level, Spider-Man 3 is equal parts frustrating and disappointing. Because it’s clearly the same story from the previous films by the people who made it happen, and yet to accept it would be to diminish the stature of the previous films.

Still, I’ve tried my best to appreciate the film in terms of its problems and challenges to be fair to its admirers, while hopefully presenting a sense of why this film didn’t work for its detractors at the same time. Don’t know if I succeeded entirely.

Next I will review the first reboot: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

2 thoughts on “Live-Action Spider-Man Retrospective Review: SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)

  1. Pretty nice insight into this terrible movie! It’s amazing how nearly all the characters we’re meant to follow come across as unlikable or just feel hollow in their motivations.

    1 Peter, even before getting the symbiote, comes across as a jerk in this movie. He let’s the recent upsurge with his popularity go to his head, makes out upside down kiss style with Gwen Stacy as Spider-Man while already in a relationship with Mary Jane, and he also dismisses her concerns about her and MJ’s problems in general. Also, when he gets the symbiote, the movie constantly switches from viewing symbiote influenced Peter as obnoxious or sexy. Laughingstock and cool person are opposites. You shouldn’t be using both concepts at once to describe the same person. Furthermore, the black suit Spider-Man design is just a black recolor of his regular costume instead being an all black costume with the exception of the white eyes, spider symbol on the chest and back, and on the back of the hands.

    2 Mary Jane Watson also comes across as unlikable in this movie. While her criticisms of Peter are certainly justified and taking this movie alone she’s very much in the right. However, she comes across as hypocritical when taking the previous movies into account. She made out with Spider-Man while still in a relationship with Harry, and she treated John Jameson extremely poorly as well. It’s pretty bad that even the Raimi version of Gwen Stacy is more likeable than her. When she figures out she’s being used to hurt MJ, she get’s disgusted and leaves. Also, you’re right both Gwen and her father inclusion in this story is weird when you’ve already had the villains the originally ended them in the comics die in the previous installments.

    3 Harry Osborn is also unlikable in this movie. He ignores just how awful of a man his father was, and pursues revenge on his former friend who put his life on the line to help people. He also tortures his former girlfriend as well by forcing her to break up with Peter to torture him. Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because his motivations and personality contrive to extremes just like his father did. By the way, why would MJ not tell Peter what is happening to her? Peter beat Harry once before and has a lot more experience fighting other villains. He could take care of Harry without much of a problem. As you mentioned, his hallucinations also seem to act more like ghosts of people and seem to have knowledge of people and events that Harry shouldn’t have. Also, why was he given such a lame villain costume? The only thing really Goblin-like about are the pumpkin bombs and razor bats he uses. He looks likes he’s wearing an armored ski outfit on some flying skateboard making him oddly resemble a race flipped version of the Rocket Racer. I don’t mind Harry doing his own take on the Green Goblin role or taking on some other Goblin inspired identity, but make it actually look like it belongs in the Goblin line and not something completely different. The New Goblin look is just so lackluster.

    4 Sandman is more of a sob story than an actual legitimately sympathetic villain. He gets his powers due to incredibly lax security on the testing site and Sandman decides the best way to help his daughter is to use them to commit crimes. Also, the decision to make him the true killer of Uncle Ben renders Peter’s cause for responsible action pretty much null and void. How did Raimi not see that this decision was a bad one? Furthermore, his sympathetic point is really undercut when you have him decide to team up with someone as obviously creepy and evil as Venom. The video game tie-in for the main consoles handled this somewhat better by having Venom kidnap his daughter.

    5 Venom is handled pretty poorly as well, and one can tell Raimi hated his inclusion. Eddie Brock isn’t really sympathetic in the slightest. He’s not duped by a serial confessor and instead actually forges his photos. When Peter calls him out on it, tells him to get religion, and gets him fired, Eddie actually does go to church and instead of asking for forgiveness for being suicidal like his comic book version he instead asks God to kill Peter. Also, when Eddie is Venom he doesn’t refer to himself in plural, and his design lacks the substantial bulkiness in comparison to Spider-Man. The design is just a slightly bulked up version of the recolored black suit with a Venom face and claws making him look more like the obscure character Spider-Venom than the character he’s based on. Well, at least the black webbing is nice touch. We also don’t get to see much of the Venom face either and he’s killed off in a way you really can’t go back from (at least not without a massive contrivance) thus preventing any future returns as well as prematurely ending any possibility of Carnage existing in this universe.

    Also, why does he team up with Sandman of all people? It was only due to poor writing that Sandman really agreed to team up with him. Venom doesn’t really have a way to kill Sandman at all. Heck, nobody does in this movie. The only way I can see Sandman dying is if you put him into a rocket and send it to the sun wiping out every molecule of him. Well that or the pumpkin bomb that was used to kill Venom at the end of the movie, but even then I’m still not sure if that would work. The power scale is very much in Sandman’s favor. If Sandman were to ever turn on Venom, there’s not much Venom could do about it. There’s not always going to be a large amount of water around to be exploited.

    A better team up option would have been Harry in my opinion. Harry has more of a grudge against Peter, has shown to be much more willing to be cruel to him, and thus the possibility of team up isn’t quite as contrived. Also, if Harry were to ever turn on Venom, he’s far easier to deal with than Sandman, and we know he can be killed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Harry overlooking that his father was a murderous villain against innocents is pretty much necessary to him becoming a villain (though not an unrelatable or unredeemable one) at all. Yes the butler just revealing/convincing Harry that Spider-Man didn’t kill Norman is a weak reason for Harry to join forces with Spider-Man put but I kind of accept it for that yes sure the film was busy.

    Yes Peter was too jerky especially the out-of-nowhere interest in Gwen, even in front of Mary Jane, and that in order to have new conflict with Mary Jane felt forced.

    That Mary Jane should have just believed Peter could beat Harry, Harry couldn’t have killed him, is I guess logical but her believing Harry could kill him doesn’t feel unbelievable in the film to me.

    Sandman a lot of people like, I actually consider him a bit of a mess, yes the video game version of his story is better. And yes he was too overpowered/indestructible (though the effects were entertaining).

    Liked by 1 person

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