Directed by Sam Raimi
Screenplay by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent
Produced by Avi Arad, Stan Lee and Laura Ziskin
Based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
The SPIDER-MAN movies taken as a whole gets a thumbs up from me for one thing: the same cast and director hung in there for three movies. If nothing else, having the same actors and directors give the movies a unifying feel that you can’t get from watching the “Batman” or “Superman” movies. Taken individually…well, I got a whole other opinion there. I thought that “Spider-Man” was just as good as say, ‘Superman: The Movie” “Batman” or “Batman Begins” but I was bored with “Spider-Man 2” and even more so with SPIDER-MAN 3. The problems with SPIDER-MAN 3 are some of the same problems I saw with “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin” And just like Joel Schumacher was obliged to fulfill the mandate of his employers I’m willing to cut Sam Raimi some slack for the mess that is SPIDER-MAN 3. I imagine that the suits at Columbia Pictures said something to him along these lines: “Okay, Sam. We stayed outta your ass and let you do the first two movies the way you want. But now we got the fanboys all over the internet screaming for Venom and they’re the ones who are going to give us our Opening Weekend. So he’s in the movie and no backtalk. We paid a gazillion bucks for a CGI Department just to work on movies like this so you’re gonna have as many villains in this one as you can handle, savvy?”
Okay, maybe it didn’t go quite like that. But I don’t think I’m far wrong.
SPIDER-MAN 3 presents us with a Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) who has grown up a little bit and got his priorities together. As Peter Parker he’s doing great in school, he’s tutoring a knockout blonde named Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), he finally makes it on time to the debut of the Broadway show that the love of his life Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is starring in and even his boss at The Daily Bugle, the irrepressible J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) is giving him a break. As Spider-Man he’s proved to the city that he’s a true hero and now, instead of being pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables when he shows up, he’s greeted with cheers and fans singing The Spider-Man Theme Song (“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can…spins a web any size, catches thieves just like flies LOOK OUT!!! HERE COMES THE SPIDER-MAN!!!”) and he’s secure enough in his life that he’s seriously contemplating asking Mary Jane to marry him. It’s a decision that has the blessing of his beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris)
Unfortunately things never seem to go right for very long for this hard-luck hero. Peter is attacked by his best friend Harry Osborn who has become The New Goblin to avenge the death of his father Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) who was Spider-Man’s archenemy The Green Goblin. Mary Jane is fired from her show which sends her into a tailspin of depression and jealousy over Spider-Man’s popularity. A rival photographer at The Daily Bugle named Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is gunning hard for a permanent staff job on the paper and that means he’s got to cut Peter out by any means necessary. Peter and Aunt May are informed by Gwen’s father NYPD Captain George Stacy (James Cromwell) that the man they all thought killed Peter’s Uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson) wasn’t the real killer. The true killer is Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) who has escaped from prison. Flint Marko’s only desire is to see his daughter cured of her debilitating disease but his wife (Teresa Russell) forbids Flint to see her. It’s while trying to evade the extensive police dragnet around the city that Flint falls into some kind of experimental test area and has his molecules accidentally fused on the atomic level with sand molecules and so Flint Marko becomes the super powered Sandman. If all that wasn’t enough, an alien symbiote has latched on to Peter and taken on the form of an all-black version of Peter’s red-and-blue Spider-Man costume. The symbiote not only enhances Peter’s already formidable superpowers but also increases his aggressive tendencies which causes Peter to take a more…shall we say…proactive attitude in his dealings with Mary Jane, Flint Marko, Gwen Stacy and Eddie Brock both as Peter Parker and as Spider-Man.
You’re probably saying to yourself right about now: “Man, that seems like an awful lot for one movie” and you’d be right. It is an awful lot. And SPIDER-MAN 3 never felt like one unified story to me. There were scenes and performances I liked but on the whole the movie just didn’t do anything for me. I liked Thomas Hayden Church’s performance as Flint Marko/The Sandman a lot. It’s another example of a real life human being looking so much like the comic book character it’s downright scary. A perfect example of this is right in the same movie: J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He’s so damn good in the role it’s frightening. But on the other hand I’d pay full price at any movie theatre for a “Daily Bugle” movie if Simmons was guaranteed to star as J. Jonah Jameson. I liked seeing Teresa Russell show up as Marko’s wife even if it was only a cameo that you would miss if you sneezed. I loved how Peter Parker transformed into a real jackass after wearing the black suit. In fact, if the whole movie had been about Peter exploring this new darker, more aggressive side of his personality I would have liked the movie much better. But no, we’ve got to have a scene that depends on the most convoluted coincidence I’ve seen in a movie in the longest time so that the alien symbiote can leave Peter and attach itself to Eddie Brock so that Eddie can become the villain Venom in the last 20 minutes of the film.
What else was good about SPIDER-MAN 3? Topher Grace was really good as Eddie Brock/Venom. Peter Parker’s hilarious badass strut down a Manhattan street to a James Brown song while finger shooting the babes who give him these incredulous “He’s gotta be kiddin’” looks as he passes by. Rosemary Harris as Aunt May as she walks off with every damn scene she’s in. The scene where Flint Marko is trying to pull himself together after his accident and recover the locket with his daughter’s picture in it. It’s a scene that’s poignant and even beautiful in a way. James Franco has a lot of fun as Harry Osborn/The New Goblin and even manages to make some his scenes with Peter and/or Mary Jane quietly touching. The final battle between Spider-Man and his enemies takes place in a construction site where so many battles in 60’s and 70’s Marvel Comics took place. Peter Parker’s fight with Harry Osborn in Norman’s old lab where Peter stops bullshitting around and shows Harry what he can do when he really gets pissed.
What did I find wrong with SPIDER-MAN 3? Well, if you took coincidence out of this movie then you wouldn’t have a movie. Every damn thing in this movie happens by coincidence. Peter and MJ just happen to be in the same part of Central Park where the meteor containing the alien symbiote lands. And I suppose meteors land every day in New York and nobody notices. Eddie Brock just happens to be in the same church where Peter is getting rid of the alien symbiote so that it can latch onto Eddie.
Gwen Stacy just happens to be not only Peter Parker’s college classmate but also the student he’s tutoring and he rescues her as Spider-Man from a midtown Manhattan disaster where a crane goes berserk and demolishes a skyscraper. There’s hardly a reason for anybody to wear a mask in this movie since they unmask every chance they get. The CGI fights were boring with the first fight between Peter Parker (using his powers out of costume) and The New Goblin being the worse. I could not see what was happening or who was doing what to whom at anytime during that fight sequence.
What else was wrong? Okay: Kirsten Dunst. I liked her well enough in the first two movies but here she was just unlikable. It struck me that she had a lot more feeling for Peter Parker when he was a loser. After he starts getting confidence in both his identities MJ starts having problems dealing with him. And why didn’t her agent let her know that she was being replaced in the show? You’re going to try and tell me that she landed a major role on Broadway without an agent? And how exactly did Flint Marko think he was going to get the money he stole to his daughter to cure whatever affliction she suffered from? Why was Flint Marko a sand monster for much of the final fight?
I could go on for another thousand words but I think you get the point: I didn’t care much for SPIDER-MAN 3 and was actually bored by most of the movie. There’s too many storylines, too many characters and not enough focus. I do think that SPIDER-MAN 3 is superior to “Daredevil” “Fantastic Four” or “Ghost Rider” in terms of entertainment, performances and special effects. And as part of the trilogy it ties up a lot of story elements and leaves the franchise open to continue which is all I suspect anybody who worked on this movie wanted.
So should you see SPIDER-MAN 3? I suspect most of you already have and so ignore everything else I’m going to say. For those of you who haven’t: if you’ve seen the first two movies then go ahead and watch this one. Understand me: I don’t think the last two “Spider-Man” movies are bad. In a lot of ways they’re superior superhero movies. But this one is really a disappointment in terms of story. Sam Raimi didn’t learn the lessons of “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin”. There’s too many villains, too much story, too many special effects and not enough heart and soul.