PG-13 for an abusive Peter Parker. Someone gets part of their face blown up. There's some pretty consistent stabbing and head injury in this one. Venom, if you squint, can get pretty scary. Everything else isn't significantly explicit, so much as it has some contextually questionable things. Like, Spider-Man does some not-so-nice Spider-Man things. We get to watch Uncle Ben die two-or-three more times. But it's a superhero movie. It matches the tone of the other two. Still less scary than the first Spider-Man movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
I'm going to be pretty consistent with my feelings about Spider-Man 3. It is not as bad as you remember it being. Yeah, it's the weakest entry in the Spider-Man franchise, but it is far better than you remember it being. I saw it on opening night. In 2007, I was 26. I just started getting my life together and I saw it at the theater that used to be the fancy theater. It had, since then, turned into the annoying rich high school hangout. I think it was prom night and everyone had gone to see the midnight show of Spider-Man 3 after the dance. Yeah, there was a lot of heckling. It was the worst experience I had in a theater. But it was like everyone who went to go see that movie that night permeated the collective consciousness and simultaneously dunked on that movie at the same time. Yeah, Spider-Man 3 has huge faults. But I kind of firmly believe that if you think that Spider-Man 3 is one of the worst movies of all time, that means you probably don't like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy.
You are allowed to not like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. As many times as I watched the first two in theaters, I can say that they aren't the best superhero movies out there. They aren't even what I would necessarily do with Spider-Man as a character. But my big argument is that Spider-Man 3 is tonally very similar to the other two Spider-Man movies. There are a handful of things that are holding it back from being the same quality as the other movies. Frankly, Spider-Man 2 is just too good. There are people out there who hate Return of the Jedi. It's because Empire is so good. But also, Sam Raimi is feeling the full force of the stupidity that is Sony Pictures at this moment in his career. From what I understand, Sam Raimi was forced to use Venom against his wishes. Venom, to Sony Pictures and all of those grown up '90s kids, was the ultimate villain. He is the product of Todd MacFarlane and he definitely feels that way. Don't get me wrong, I like Venom. (I don't like the new film and you can read about that here.) I even like a lot of things about '90s comics. But '90s Marvel was bad for all of our health. It took a medium and made it completely made of high fructose corn syrup. There was nothing nutritional about reading that kind of stuff. I know I'm making a blanket statement, but it's more right than wrong. I think Sam Raimi kind of knew that. The symbiote saga is important to Spider-Man. But there's a story here that needed to be told slowly and over time. Venom should have been a tease at the end of this movie. Yeah, have Eddie Brock as a B-plot character. Have him spar with Peter Parker, black-suited. That makes sense. But having Venom in this film is such a rush. Look what Raimi did with Harry Osborn. It took three films for Harry to become a goblin. (Yeah, I'm not a fan of the New Goblin. That might be more of a sin than what other people consider to be flawed.) But Venom needs to be earned. Venom is perhaps the most rushed villain I've seen in cinema. It should be this slow unveiling of this character. The thing about the corn syrup Venom is that he actually can be pretty great. Yeah, MacFarlane made him. But the first appearances of Venom were teased over a long period of time. He actually grew to be quite scary back in the '90s. But there's nothing inherently scary about the character. In fact, the more Venom is on screen, the less effective he becomes. It's why "Venom: Lethal Protector" is just a dumb idea. He's the Borg. Don't overuse them or else they lose their edge. Then he's balanced against Sandman, a character that is meant to have a ton of depth in this movie and is meant to be sympathetic and Harry's New Goblin, who is just terrible. The movie is asking us to be vulnerable and distant at the same time. No wonder Raimi didn't want this movie. It has tonal problems all over the place.
I said that Harry's New Goblin was the problem in this movie. He more irks me than anything else. The thing I don't really like is Sandman's tie to Uncle Ben. I loved that the Raimi films kept looking back to Uncle Ben as the moral center of Spider-Man. When he's brought back in Spider-Man 2, it's a surprise. It is this break in reality that acts as a metaphor for Peter's conscience. It is fantastic. But Dr. Octopus has nothing to do with Uncle Ben. Rather, Uncle Ben was a "what would he say if he were here". That's far more interesting. Having Uncle Ben show up in a retcon of the origin story kind of ruins it all. I can understand the temptation. The black suit brings out the worst out of the wearer. Having Peter have a moral crisis involving his origin would only make the character show the worst parts of himself. That sounds interesting, but it involves touching something kind of sacred. I know, art shouldn't be sacred. But by having Flint Marko murder Uncle Ben, it kind of undoes the mission statement of Spider-Man. SPOILER: There's a little backpedaling at the end saying that it is still kind of Peter's fault that Uncle Ben died, but in a way that makes you kind of squint and make you turn your head. Cliff Robertson is such a welcome element to the original Spider-Man franchise that I always want to see him involved. But the more complicated you make Peter's origins, the less effective he is. It's odd that the reboot movies didn't learn this mistake because this was the most problematic part of the film for me. Peter Parker should be your average nerd from Queens. Homecoming learned that lesson because Peter was written as an avatar for his reader. If Peter can't be Joe-Schmoe before the spider bite, what's the point? The thing is that I really like Thomas Haden Church as Sandman. Good golly, he looks the part with the green striped shirt, doesn't he? I always thought that Sandman couldn't be a real dude, but Raimi pulled it off. I even love the idea that Sandman has a tragic backstory. They gave Doctor Octopus a tragic backstory and it really worked. But there's this character who has pathos added to him simply because pathos worked in the past. Honestly, if the entire movie was about Flint Marko realizing that being evil with the hope of a good result wasn't a good plan, that works. In isolation, it might have worked. I think Sandman is an excellent villain because he scales up the threat past something that Spider-Man should be able to handle. The other villains are strong dudes with weapons. They are in the power range of Spider-Man. But think of Sandman at the end of the movie, where he's the size of a skyscraper. It takes Peter's intellect to beat him...if he didn't have a pumpkin bomb to just take care of the issue. Watching Sandman fly around the city as a sandstorm makes him seem impossible to manage. That's the real crime. Give Sandman the chance to crush Spider-Man, not split the bill with two other bad guys. (Also, James Franco is still terrible in this franchise. I like his other movies, but he's so bad in these. I don't know what inspires these choices, but dear me.
Let me defend one of the decisions that people hated. I'm going to lose readers, but the dance sequence makes all the sense in the world given context. Raimi's world has always been a little cornball. His sense of humor is very specific. He doesn't love grounding Spider-Man in reality. It's never writing off the story as "comic booky", but comic books get away with stuff that other media don't. He's always done this in his movie and he's in on the joke. He's not screwing it up. He's doing this on purpose. Look at the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head" sequence in Spider-Man 2. It's very stylized. The same thing is true here. I'm going deeper, so don't think that it is my only argument. It kind of works with the character, especially Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker. Peter Parker is all about being a loser when he's not Spider-Man. Before the spider bite, he never was accepted. He was a big dork. But then he got bitten; he got all these powers. He had to fake being a dork after this happened so people wouldn't suspect that he was Spider-Man. He finally found someone who accepted both Peter Parker and Spider-Man and she dumps him. (I also have some concerns about how that relationship ended up.) He's sick of being dorky Peter Parker. He always has to live a lie. He can do all these things and he has to pretend to be incompetent. The one person who let him be himself is mad at him because her life sucked for a while. People go through fights and I'm not victim blaming MJ, but Peter had no idea that her life was terrible. Yes, it is really annoying when your partner is having the time of his or her life while you are down in the dumps, but that's not really Pete's fault. He's not trying to be dismissive, but they both suck at communicating. (Yeah, he's totally the bad guy when Spider-Man kisses Gwen Stacy. I will give you that time and again.) So he's confused why he was dumped. Then he's told that she was cheating on him with his best friend. Why would he go back to being dorky Peter Parker? His toxic masculinity is rearing its ugly head and he wants to be spiteful and get revenge for being scorned. What is the best way to do that? He's going to upstage her. He's going to do what she wants to do without any effort at her place of business. He's supposed to be a jerk. He's going to hit her in a second (which I think is too far. I get it; he needed to hit rock bottom. But still, ick.). It builds up to that moment.
But it is a Spider-Man movie. The humor is the same as the other movies. It looks and feels like a Spider-Man movie. Despite the fact that it is weirdly meh about the whole thing, the Osborn trilogy is wrapped up. Harry, despite being poorly portrayed, gets his whole arc. There's fighting between the two of them. Oddly enough, Harry becomes a valid threat. Raimi finds a way around Harry's drug induced amnesia by providing head injury induced amnesia. The individual elements of this movie aren't terrible. It's trying to tie all of this stuff into the clown car that is this film. I hang this entirely on Sony. There were a million things that the studio wanted in this picture and none of theme really get the attention that they deserve. If it was my Spider-Man 3, it would have the symbiote infecting Peter. I wish there was a more organic way to bring it into the story shy of it just landing near one of the few superpowered people on the planet, but I'd figure that out later. But then it would just be a story of black-suited Peter making poor decisions on how to handle his friend who is crying out for help culminating with Harry saving MJ when Peter chooses to do something selfish. Eddie Brock is there, constantly bothering him at the Bugle, but the film ends with Peter removing the suit and it getting onto Eddie. Movie over. Slice out Sandman. Save him for a movie down the line. Maybe Spider-Man 4. Because there might have been a Spider-Man 4. Okay, let's not kid ourselves. Sony was already evil by this point and forcing Sam Raimi to make another movie in two years. But I'd like to dream that Spider-Man 3 was salvagable. I wonder if a Vulture / Sandman movie would work. Again, I'm a big fan of single villains. Well, I don't mind major villain / minor villain. But three major villains? Nope. Not a fan.
Yeah, I crapped on this movie, but it is very watchable. It certainly doesn't deserve the vitriol that it has earned over the years. It's a decent entry in the original franchise. These moments of change have brought decent movies to Spider-Man. It's not amazing, but I hate the knee-jerk reaction that comes with a movie that doesn't live up to its predecessors. It might be hard to watch the Michael Keaton Batman. If you put out Spider-Man 3 next to the movie we consider one of the greats, it would wreck Batman. (I'm just saying all these controversial things because I can.) Anyway, watch this with an open mind. It's far better than you remember...even the parts that suck.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.