I remember seeing Spider-Man 3 when it first came out back in 2007. At the time I enjoyed it but I knew that it didn’t quite live up to the first two, though I couldn’t pinpoint why. In the years since then, I, of course, became familiar with all the talk, jokes, and ridicule surrounding it. Dancing, evil Peter Parker was a travesty and embarrassment to the series. They ruined Venom. Topher Grace was a terrible casting decision. It’s too long and too stuffed with too many villains and characters. So going into it now after the excellent Spider-Man 2 I was sort of expecting the worst. I’d seen critics like MovieBob and Devin Faraci defend the movie but the overwhelming negativity on the Internet was enough to make me worry.
But I’m here to report that Spider-Man 3 is not the train wreck we all remember it to be. In fact, it’s a pretty good, fun superhero flick. Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost definitely the worst of Raimi’s trilogy and some of the common Internet complaints aren’t off base, but it’s no where near being a bad film. Spider-Man 3 doesn’t deviate that far from its predecessors in terms of tone, themes, focus, or content. Like the first two films, it puts Peter through the grinder, focusing more on how being Spider-Man affects him than on Spider-Man himself. Peter and his personal relationships are more important here than the villains or the action scenes, just as it was in the first two movies, and they still remain interesting and utterly compelling to watch. Tobey Maguire is on point for every step of Peter Parker’s journey and it’s simply tons of fun to watch. Spider-Man 3‘s flaws mostly stem from the fact that it’s simply too big, not leaving enough time to properly develop and resolve arcs and storylines.
So first things first, let’s get “emo Peter Parker” out of the way. It’s a sequence that lasts maybe fifteen minutes, it’s fun and funny, it’s highly self-aware, and, if you’ve been on board with the series’s goofy 60s tone up to this point, then you should have no problem with it. There’s nothing about the scene that feels out of place or unnecessary (except for Peter hitting Mary Jane, though curiously that’s not what most of the Internet takes umbrage with). Peter (along with this series in general) is a big goof. It makes complete and total sense that when he goes “bad” this is how he acts. This is bolstered by the presence of Topher Grace as Eddie Brock, the “cool” jerk who initially serves as a counterpoint to Peter’s genuine nice guy before becoming his inspiration. Dancing, emo Peter works within its own context, within the story, and within the series. And even if it annoys you, it’s such a small part of the film that I can’t imagine how it could possibly destroy anybody’s overall enjoyment of the movie. Like Spider-Man 2, the villains in 3 are pretty weak. Thomas Hayden Church doesn’t really affect Peter’s arc all that much as Sandman, except to accelerate his downfall through an awkward and unneccessary retcon to Uncle Ben’s death. And besides his touching final scene with Peter, Church comes off mostly flat throughout his performance. Topher Grace is quite good as Eddie Brock, playing him as a more weaselly modern douchebag type than a hulking bully that his comic book counterpart comes off as. He’s a great foil to Peter, both before and after Pete succumbs to the symbiote. Unfortunately, Venom doesn’t fare so well. He only appears in the film’s disappointingly short climactic battle, we’re never given a good look at his design, and he never does anything interesting with his powers when fighting Pete. Harry becoming the Green Goblin is a great development on his character, and his second-act manipulation of Mary Jane along with his fighting and betrayal of Peter are fascinating to watch, but he spends a large chunk of the movie without his memory and subsequently out of action. On top of that, his Green Goblin suit is somehow even worse than Willem Dafoe’s look from the original movie. Instead of leaving behind the small shred of pretense at realism that the original costume had and moving closer to a comic-accurate Goblin look, Harry’s Goblin goes full force toward a realistic look, wearing black body armor, some goggles, and a ski mask.
The villains aren’t exactly A+ material but the action scenes help to make up for it. Harry and Peter’s first fight has a lot of fun and unique moments and their final bout is equally exciting, though much more tragic. The crane collapse scene is short but any scene that has Spidey shoot through a narrow space at 100 MPH is good by me. Like in the first two movies, action scenes with the movie’s big bad guy are few and far between so before the final battle we only get two relatively short encounters between Spidey and Sandman. They’re fun and engaging fights but don’t come close to matching the Doc Ock fights in Spider-Man 2. The only villain without a good action scene is Venom, mostly thanks to his limited screen time, but even his utilization in the movie’s climax is uninspired and uninteresting. He should provide a unique dynamic when facing Peter because of their similar power sets but instead all they do is trade a few punches and do some midair grappling. In fact, most of the movie’s major faults stem from its rushed third act. Like with Spider-Man 2, the final battle feels short and lacks the tension and ingenuity seen in earlier fights. Sandman is a large, characterless blob for most of it and Venom doesn’t do anything of interest. Harry’s death has a clever and satisfying irony to it but its execution is so cliche that most of its potential impact is lost.
On top of that, everything that has been building between Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry is simply dropped when the third act rolls around. Peter’s kiss with Gwen, Harry’s manipulation of Mary Jane, Peter permanently scarring Harry’s face, Harry lying about being with Mary Jane, Mary Jane breaking up with Peter, and Peter hitting Mary Jane all go completely undiscussed both before and after the fight. This complicated web of deceit and betrayal didn’t necessarily need to be untangled strand by strand, but at least some acknowledgment of Peter and Harry’s horrible actions could have relieved the movie of the unspoken awkwardness that the third act carries as a result. Instead the movie assumes that Harry and Peter’s actions in the final battle are enough to settle theirs and Mary Jane’s problems. Harry and Peter both commit such horrible acts that not acknowledging them in any way just feels awkward.
Spider-Man 3 is good. Who would have guessed? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and it’s certainly not as good as its predecessors. It’s bloated and too big for its own good. A lot of the plot threads and character arcs feel rushed and underdeveloped even as the movie feels a little long. The villains aren’t great and the action scenes don’t match the fights from the original Spider-Man, let alone the fights from Spider-Man 2. But even with those flaws, Spider-Man 3 is still distinctly a Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie with all the positive and negative connotations that brings. It may be cheesy and awkward and goofy but I love it for all that. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is fun and sincere and bursting with life and Spider-Man 3 is no different. Now with Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy under my belt, let’s move on to one of the most polarizing superhero movies in recent memory: The Amazing Spider-Man.