Earlier this summer, Spider-Man 3 turned 10 years old. It’s really odd to think about that. The third of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy is only 10 years old.
Since the release of this movie, ALL of the Avengers movies have been released – among all the other outlying Marvel movies. DC has now created four movies in their own expanded universe. There have been 7 X-Men movies – including an entire trilogy of Wolverine movies and a completely rebooted X-Men series.
And as of today, Spider-Man himself has been rebooted twice.
I’m handling Spider-Man 3 a couple months late from its actual anniversary because Spider-Man: Homecoming is fresh off the presses and in movie theaters. It’s time to take a look back on one of the kookier superhero movies ever made.
That’s why it’s here. It’s Sam Raimi at his Sam Raimi-est. This is a guy who has specific look and feel and style to his movies that is best described as over the top. His style was perfectly suited for his Spider-Man films. It felt like a comic book in its bright imagery and how characters interacted with each other. There are little things between characters (like Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane being totally incapable of simply calling Tobey Maguire’s Spidey by anything less than his full name – “Peter Parker”) that almost builds deep relationships. You know, like you see in the actual comics over decades?
But what went wrong? Spider-Man was great. Spider-Man 2 was amazingly great. When did the train derail and ultimately spiral Spidey down the drain with the rest of Sony? That’s what I’m going to try to figure out. It’s more than this simply being a bad movie. It’s… Well it just is.
As for the plot, after the events of battling the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus, Spider-Man is riding high. His lady love, Mary Jane has run out on her own wedding to another dude to choose him, and he’s becoming more and more beloved by the city of New York. However, his best friend, Harry (masterfully played over the top by James Franco), still blames him for the death of his father (the aforementioned Green Goblin), the arrival of a strange black goo that literally drops out of the sky, and a new suitor in the form of the lovely Gwen Stacy makes life for Peter Parker a little more difficult.
Let’s tear the top off this and let the Venom out.
These days, whenever someone sees the Sony Pictures logo in front of a movie, they run far away from it. Almost as if to outrun hackers trying to steal their emails that may or may not make them look like assholes. But back in 2007, when this was released onto DVD, we didn’t think too much of it. Besides, this movie was released by Columbia Pictures when that was still a thing.
Wait… Is Columbia Pictures still a thing?
Doesn’t matter. The opening credits cleverly recap our first two movies in this series. You’d think that it’s only been like five years since the first Spider-Man was released, how is it possible we need this recap? This also serves as a reminder of two things – 1) this movie ain’t those other two and we need to remember those good times and 2) Kirsten Dunst sure did get wet a lot in those first two movies and that’s fuckin’ awesome.
The movie continues on with Peter telling us that everything’s coming up Milhouse for him. He’s saved the city to the point that New York loves the shit out of him. He’s going to school and at the top of his class. He’s also going to ask for Mary Jane’s hand in marriage. She’s even in an Off-Broadway musical!
Say, there’s even a new girl that knows all that scientific stuff he does in class!
What do you think of all this, Pete? That redhead-in-real-life-but-a-blonde-in-this-movie sure is cute, eh?
That’s right. Isn’t your blonde-in-real-life-but-but-playing-a-redhead-in-these-movies pretty swell too?
Gah! Okay, Mr. Franco… Jeez. I’ll carry on with the article and stop talking about chicks.
Peter and Harry meet up outside the theater where Mary Jane’s play is happening. Peter tries to talk to his friend about stuff from the previous movies and try to explain the truth of Harry’s dad’s death, but Harry’s not having it. Back at Castle Osborn, we see that Harry’s been using dear old dad’s goblin serum – that’s probably not good. At a park, later that night, Peter and MJ watch shooting stars. While they make out, they don’t see a meteor crash land and a black goop crawl out of it. It latches itself onto the back of Pete’s scooter and hitches a ride home.
Right off the top, we have lots of emotion in the opening minutes. Pete’s riding a wave of near-invincibility with his fame and all the other good things going for him. Mary Jane is happily living out her dream on the stage. Harry is completely and totally rapt in anger and vengeance for Spider-Man. When the meteor lands with the Venom symbiote, it plays to the whole emotional thing. That’s its thing – it’s highly attracted to strong emotions and feeds off them. Seems like we gots plenty to make a film out of, but the movie doesn’t stop there. This all seems like we have plenty to work with for a full movie’s worth of plot.
As if we don’t have enough already to follow, we have yet another story picking up from here – that of escaped prisoner Flint Marko. This is one of my very least favorite aspects from this movie. He’s on the run from the cops and decides to stop by his house to see his daughter. His wife believes him to be guilty of the crime he was put in the slammer for, but he stands by his innocence. We learn his daughter is sick and he’s going to do whatever he can to raise the money so he can help her get well. He leaves before the cops come to arrest him.
Did we need this extra piece of plot? I mean Sandman, who Marko will become (but not before Peter stops by his Aunt May’s to talk about how he’s going to ask MJ to marry him), is a massively important and classic part of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. Maybe he couldn’t carry his own movie. Maybe he needed to piggyback onto this movie, but perhaps it would have been best for the movie if he wasn’t there. There are threads still unresolved from the first two movies (Pete and MJ’s relationship, Harry and Pete’s relationship, etc.), this was really terribly shoe-horned in. What if he would have been the opening action sequence? Like he was the guy Spider-Man defeats to show how much more confident a hero he has become?
Oh well. We only get a brief introduction with all that stuff about Marko being innocent, his wife being mad at him, and his daughter being sick. It cuts away for Peter to have tea with Aunt May and hear her prattle on about how Uncle Ben proposed to her (I say that as if I’m being a dick about the scene, but this series’ Aunt May was phenomenal and so spot onto her comic book version). We don’t even get back to Marko after that because we have to have Peter and Harry fight over the death of Norman Osborn. It’s a well done fight with Harry showing off his proficiency with the Osborn toys and weapons at his disposal. It shows Peter’s unwillingness to simply fight a man trying to kill him and it shows Harry is lost to his anger over his father’s “murder”. That fight ends with Harry being knocked off his goblin glider and sent to the hospital where he needs to be revived by the doctors.
Finally, we return to the Marko storyline when a cop comes up to Captain Stacy (Gwen’s father and incredibly important part of Peter’s maturity as Spider-Man in the comics, here, played by James Cromwell) and nearly dismissively drops the bombshell that Marko was arrested in connection to Uncle Ben’s murder and they may have him caught in the marshlands. Smash cut to Marko running away from cops through said marshlands…
Wait. What? The Sandman was arrested for the murder of Ben Parker? Movie… That’s some really important shit you just dropped on us. He’s connected, retroactively, to the very events that led to Peter becoming Spider-Man? I get that fans of popular series like to connect dots that bring everything full circle, but this one is a tough pill to swallow. I’m not even saying that as a fan of the comics and knowing this is categorically incorrect. I’m just saying it as a person who likes a cohesive movie. Yes, yes. I know I do this blog of mostly shitty movies, but c’mon – I have taste too. This movie already has lots of stuff going on that would have been a complete movie as is. We didn’t need to throw in a character who we’ve hardly met, hardly care about, and barely seen in these early moments of the movie potentially being one of the most important characters in the franchise.
Anyway… Marko falls into some sort of testing facility full of sand and becomes Sandman. Don’t ask me what they were testing or what the purpose of this being in the middle of the marshlands was because that guy is now Sandman. I’m glad I really cared about the guy enough to feel bad that he’s a billion grains of sand.
Harry comes out of his near death experience and Peter is told he has short-term memory loss. Here comes the ballsiest thing about these movies. James Franco as concussed and amnesiac Harry Osborn is fucking amazing. Moments ago, he was a foaming-at-the-mouth, would-be killer. Now, he’s like an eight year-old. I would pay real money to have been a fly on the walls when Franco and Raimi had the discussion of how this was going to be played. They landed on “real dumb dummy”.
I know this was meant to be what happens when the weight of all the bad stuff he’s had to endure recently has been lifted off his shoulders. He’s stripped of his anger and hatred for Spider-Man, and the knowledge that Peter IS Spider-Man. So, he’s like this super happy guy. In all his scenes in which he’s suffering from amnesia and just being loose and free Harry Osborn are goddamn Oscar worthy.
Elsewhere, Marko emerges from the sand pit that was that weird scientific particle test as the Sandman. It’s a cool scene showing him reconstruct his body. He realizes he has more than enough power to do what he must to get that money for his sick kid. It’s not that the Marko bits aren’t without some real emotion and such. It’s just that it seems to be too much for a movie that already his having a hard time juggling all that is in this already packed script.
Speaking of even more subplots… Mary Jane gets a bad review from her turn in the musical. When Peter tries to use his own personal experience, she gets upset with him. This is a bit of a point of contention for fans. Some thought that she suddenly made everything about her when she wouldn’t accept his attempts to build her up again. I kinda see that. It’s not something I will delve too deep into because either you understand her side or side with Peter, it serves as the first cracks in the fragile Peter/MJ relationship hinted at in the final shot of the previous movie where she watched him go off to save the day with a sorta worried look on her face.
Things are worse when he decides to leave their conversation to respond to an emergency call. This leads to him saving Gwen Stacy and eventually earning the key to the city. More on that in a moment. We’re also introduced to Eddie Brock, played by Topher Grace. Here’s another point of contention for fans. A lot of people hated the casting of Grace as Brock. In the comics, Brock was a big, athletic dude. That’s what made him eventually becoming Venom that much more imposing. Here, he’s kind of a pipsqueak. Raimi’s decision of Grace was to find someone who mirrored Tobey Maguire to play off how Venom is kind of the evil version of Spider-Man. My issue is more about how it introduces yet another character that we have to follow. Fuck, it’s turning into a cavalcade of characters a la Game of Thrones.
Mary Jane gets fired from her role in the show after all the critics hate her performance. Worse yet, she is present when Spider-Man receives the key to the city and gets a kiss from Gwen. She’ll even find out later, that Peter knows her, making their kiss even more suspect.
After getting his kiss from Bryce Dallas Howard, and the key to the city, Spider-Man has his first encounter with Sandman who is trying to rob an armored car full of money. Sandman gets the best of Spidey in this first round.
That night, Peter plans to ask MJ to marry him, but she’s still pretty incensed at being fired from the musical and the fact that Pete is using his Spider-Man alter ego to get a little action from a science-y nerd girl (who is also a model…? sure, Gwen Stacy is a model for this movie, whatever). When Gwen happens to be at the restaurant, MJ is infuriated knowing that Pete knew her and shared “their” kiss (as seen in the first movie). She leaves angry and tells Peter to not follow her, thus ruining his proposal.
MJ breaking up with him and the information given to him and Aunt May about Marko being the actual killer of Uncle Ben creates a pretty dark series of events for Peter. This leads to the Venom symbiote latching onto Peter’s darker emotions about finding and catching Marko. With the symbiote infused into his suit, turning it black, and feeding off his darker emotions, Peter feels more powerful and cocky than ever. When he takes a piece of the symbiote to his science professor, Dr. Connors, he’s warned to not let any of it touch him as it seems to show characteristics of it wanting to bind with him.
Once back at his apartment, he hears that the police have a lead on Marko. Ignoring Connors’ advice, Pete puts on his black suit and chases after Sandman. This leads to a particularly vicious fight between the two that ranges from Spidey sticking Sandman’s face against a speeding subway train grinding his face down to eventually flooding him with water turning him into a muddy pile of goo, seemingly killing him.
While Peter moves on from doing away with his Uncle’s supposed killer, MJ and Harry have a meet cute after MJ and Peter’s falling out that lead to them dancing in his kitchen to “The Twist”. The two of them start to make eyes at each other and kiss. While I’m fairly sure that almost every girl I’ve ever been serious with has kissed another dude at some point in our relationship, I never knew about it. Knowing about this from a third person perspective has effectively ended the relationship between MJ and Peter. I don’t care who is to blame for what, but at this point, there’s no going back. Forget the home invasion/throttling Harry does later that same night once he remembers everything to make MJ meet Peter to ultimately break up with him (even if it is under duress), her moving in for a kiss on Harry is the end of the relationship.
After Harry tells Peter that he’s the “other guy” that MJ later references in their meeting and break up scene, Peter’s world officially fractures under the weight of a collapsing relationship, the loss of his job at the Bugle to Brock, seemingly killing his Uncle’s “murderer”, and Harry taking away his girl. Peter goes to the Osborn estate and confronts Harry. They fight which results in Peter causing one of Harry’s pumpkin bombs to blow up in his own face, disfiguring Harry.
Also, there’s been a lingering bit of rivalry between Eddie Brock and Peter over at the Daily Bugle. Brock is trying to take Peter’s photographer’s job from him and Peter’s understandably irritated by this. This additional shit in this movie between Brock and Peter is resolved when Peter blows the lid off of Brock’s usage of old Parker photos previously sold to the Daily Bugle and making small changes and claiming them as their own. This forgery of what Brock has been selling to J. Jonah Jameson leads to Brock being fired from his gig at the paper and a threat from Jameson to have him blacklisted from ever working as a photographer again.
There’s only one thing you should do after you’ve seemingly killed the man you think killed your father figure, disfigure your former best friend, and out your rival as a thief – fuckin’ strut, yo…
Also, you strut some more when you take out the hot blonde nerd girl from your class on a date – to the jazz bar where your ex works.
These two scenes are often pointed at as being overly goofy within the confines of this series. However, I actually quite enjoyed them. They are almost uniquely Sam Raimi in silliness. Yes, a lot of the Spider-Man series wasn’t like the Evil Dead movies that left a door open for some goofy shit, but dammit, let Peter have his moment on the dance floor, people. I never looked at any of these films as high art, but as escapist fantasy. There’s something about Spider-Man that leaves the door open to have these lighter moments. It’s also a really great way to show how much Venom infected the usually reserved and shy Peter.
So, Peter goes into the church shown at the end of the jazz club scene to rid himself of the symbiote that’s fucking with his emotions. It just so happens that Brock is inside the church praying for Peter’s demise. When the symbiote leaves Peter, it finds Brock and latches onto him turning him into Venom. This scene is pretty awesome. It plays off an actual comic book scene in which Peter discovered that the symbiote is affected by sound. The combination of Brock’s hatred of Peter and the symbiote’s own feeling of rejection leads to the creation of Venom who only wishes to kill Spider-Man.
After Peter gets a visit from his dear, old Aunt May where she learns that he and MJ are no more, May seems to almost reveal that she knows Peter is Spider-Man. She tells Peter that she know he will eventually find a way to make it all right.
This opens our third act when MJ is taken hostage (for only the 47th time in this trilogy) by Venom who has teamed up with Sandman to create a trap for Spider-Man. Peter takes out his classic, blue-and-red outfit and tries to recruit Harry by saying that MJ needs them. Harry initially refuses, but his butler tells Harry the information about how Norman’s death was from his own hand and not Spider-Man’s fault. Kinda nice if you had done that in the years prior, old man, but it’s cool. Just keep that information to yourself. It’s okay.
Spider-Man shows up to save Mary Jane, but is met by Venom who initially overpowers Spidey. When Sandman shows up, things seem pretty dire until Harry finally arrives to lend a hand by placing a couple pretty well-timed and well-placed pumpkin bombs to turn large portions of Sandman into glass. Together, Peter and Harry fight off the bad guys and save MJ.
Knowing how he was originally able to rid himself of the symbiote, Peter builds a cage of pipes they bang on to cause harm to the symbiote and eventually cause it to explode with a pumpkin bomb – destroying both the symbiote goo and Eddie. Whoa… Bummer, Eddie. Some guys just have none of the luck.
After watching Peter destroy Venom, Marko tells his story of his encounter with Uncle Ben. Turns out Ben tried to talk Marko out of taking his car. When Marko’s partner startled him, he accidentally shot Ben. He admits he only wishes for Peter to understand and doesn’t ask for forgiveness, but Peter still forgives him and lets him go.
During the battle, Harry gets stabbed saving Peter from Venom. Before dying, he forgives Peter as well. With the struggles of the recent events behind them, Peter opines on what lessons he’s learned, and returns to the jazz bar MJ works at to try to set things right with her.
Unlike the previous two installments, the movie doesn’t end with a heroic Spider-Man swinging through the tall buildings of New York City, but on a tender moment of Peter and MJ reconnecting in each other’s arms.
For the most part, this isn’t that bad of a movie, but it falls into many of the same trappings other sequels do. There’s too many things going on around the central story. The main story is how Peter, MJ, and Harry have to work out how Spider-Man has changed their lives. Admittedly, that’s not much of a superhero story. So when it came to villains they plucked multiples. They made Harry into something of the Hobgoblin. Venom, arguably the most popular Spider-Man villain in the last 30 years, had to make his appearance. Then there was a much more complicated character in Sandman that wasn’t given the proper time and space to be everything he should have been as a fully realized character.
I still say cut out Sandman. You could have potentially saved him for a fourth film or the start of a new series. He would have been served better in a larger role. I also question how much you want to make him a sympathetic character. Was that because you had Thomas Hayden Church playing him and he’s a usually pretty likable guy in roles and a seemingly kind person on the exterior? I couldn’t tell you, but I do know what time was given him should have been shifted to Venom.
And speaking of Venom… People may have bemoaned the casting of Topher Grace as a much more slimmed down, and a lot shorter film version of the monster everyone loves, but they certainly nailed lots of the look. We had our smiling Venom, we had pained Venom whenever sounds were affecting him, and we even had the giant, disembodied goo version that looks like Todd McFarlane created specifically for the film itself:
I think, given the extra time and a chance to really be fully developed, Grace would have been fine as Brock and Venom could have been everything fans could have possibly hoped for. The problem was he felt shoehorned in which means everything about how much of a dick he was or how much he hated Peter had to be amped up from the get-go. That makes him an unlikable character and something fans will later always look back on with disappointment. Sure he wasn’t the hulking beast of a Venom we are so used to in the comics, but he was appropriately scary when they used him – which was only for about 10 minutes of total screen time.
Also, they probably could have gone with a lot less removing of the Venom face to reveal Grace under it. I think people really wanted to see all smiling scary Venom all the time.
I’ve finally come to the end of this week’s B-Movie Enema feature. This one was a bit of a marathon because I had lots to say. Would you believe that this isn’t the last superhero movie I’ve got lined up for this summer? Oh, if you thought Spider-Man 3 was bad, you have both 1) obviously forgotten that I already covered Batman and Robin just three weeks ago and 2) ain’t seen nothing yet.
However, before we get to that next superhero dud, let’s take a brief trip down to the Bahamas where Michael Caine will help us hunt a maniacal shark that is making things personal in Jaws: The Revenge!