Spider-Man 3 is a mess. A glorious mess at times but a mess nonetheless. But it’s not the dumpster fire the internet would have us beieve it as. Hell, more often than not it’s even called out for the wrong reasons. We don’t want to throw out this spider-baby with the bath webbing. At times Spider-Man 3 aims to be the most mature entry in the franchise and at others, wants to be the goofiest. It’s all so broad, lacking the wit and consistency of the prior films. By this point it can maintain the energy of the series , capitalized on its inertia with bombastic action sequences, which prove to be a major saving grace.
Raimi orchestrates blockbuster-defining action in a variety of set pieces. Each one of these would be considered a showstopper in other comic book movies, but Raimi allows them to sing through with pure spectacle. For all the flaws surrounding it, the action is married to legitimate pathos. While not as dynamic or cathartic as the train sequence in Spider-Man 2, there is still passion and ferocity to them, which is often lacking in other genre fare. From the jumbo tag-team finale to an isolated fist fight between Harry and Peter, the stakes are all clear and present as Raimi plays with every tool in his director’s box. But the best fight sequence is the newly cursed Spider-Man in a black suit hunting down Flint Marko through a labyrinth of underground trains. “What does it matter to you anyway?” Peter shouts “Everything!” and the fight is off. Peter is fighting for the wrong reasons and the tragedy bursts through with every super-powered punch.
Raimi also adds to his visual precedent set in the prior installments. There is much more CG in the film, given the use of creations like Sandman and the Venom symbiote, but with minor exceptions, the effects are simply stunning. The silent rebirth of Flint Marko as Sandman, an emotional distraught man literally rebuilding himself for his daughter, is one of the great moments of Raimi’s career.
Joss Whedon has brought up the idea of action movies and musicals not being so different. In musicals, people reach emotional high points and break out in song and dance. In action movies, emotions reach boiling point before people explode into a whirlwind of fists. The action in Spider-Man 3 is made to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
The dance sequence is a stroke of brilliance only someone like Sam Raimi could manifest. Peter Parker isn’t cool. He’s an emotional outcast trying to do the best that he can in spite of life continuously handing him the short end of the stick. He doesn’t understand perceptions of popularity or suave. Of course he should have two left feet on the dance floor. So watching a cringe-inducing faux-cool Peter Parker awkwardly strut down the street set to James Brown’s “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul” is perfectly imperfect for the character.
Peter is unaware of his own buffoonery in a manner that only Peter Parker could be and Raimi homes in on this for the appropriate amount of time. What doesn’t work is the extended dance sequence set in the bar with Gwen Stacy. The acute focus on balancing tone goes entirely out the window and drags on for too long. It doesn’t feel true to the character to have him be the belle of the ball in a jazz club. It’s well directed but not something that should be in this movie. However, re-watching this solidifies my stance that Sam Raimi should probably do a musical at some point.
Back to Gwen Stacy, it’s unclear what purpose she serves in the movie. Peter ends up using her to make MJ feel jealous and she’s out of the picture. It doesn’t add anything to Peter’s character and she’s not defined by anything of her own right. Gwen Stacy in the comic may have died of a broken neck but as far as I’m concerned, she’s been twice murdered on the big screen.
It always felt like Mary Jane Watson always got a bad rap from audiences in the first two movies. She made choices of her own free will, for her own free will. She always ends up in danger because Peter put her there and she makes the conscious decision to face the challenges of life together. So it’s absurd how the first big challenges they come across together,result in them keeping secrets from one another. What starts as a sweeping, classic Hollywood romance ends up becoming a major bummer, and even abusive at the end of the jazz sequence. A disappointing casualty of a film far too busy.
Harry Osborn’s arc might be the most damning because it also has the most potential for poignant closure. The idea of Harry’s impotence is still on display though it ends up withering away until the finale where he sacrifices himself to save Peter. It’s hilarious that his first big supervillain fight ends with him getting amnesia, but it’s everything in between that results in wheel spinning for the character. His arc still has a nice ending with a shot of MJ and Peter by his side, sun rising in the distance.
Then there’s Peter himself who goes through a story that should shift his perspective on the criminals he comes across. Raimi says the inspiration for using characters like Sandman was to show Peter the world wasn’t black and white. Criminals wouldn’t be motivated by hatred a necessity to do wrong, but rather out of necessity given situations or the lives they’ve lived. It’s another great concept worth exploring. Ultimately, it’s undercut by the use of Eddie Brock as a simply villainous version of Peter Parker. As someone not usually a fan of Venom, I find myself so interested in this approach. Venom isn’t exactly a nuanced character so the route Raimi took is a measured one in comparison. In juxtaposition to Raimi’s attempt at Sandman’s emotional side, the storytelling takes a serious hit.
There are other characters in the movie but none of them get the agency they deserve. Shout out to J. Jonah Jameson for still being perfect casting but major points are taken away from this movie for not giving him a farewell. In fact, while I enjoy the big action and emotional climaxes at the construction fight, the few minutes after don’t feel earned. Peter and MJ come together after Harry’s funeral and embrace one another.
All things considered, Spider-Man 3 isn’t too shabby. It’s the first movie with the webhead that feels bent by corporate overlords, but it’s not broken. It’s more frustrating than terrible, constantly short-changing interesting ideas and characters. After the calm, nuanced emotional triumph of the first two movies, Spider-Man 3 still feels like a Spider-Man movie. Just not a very good one, but it does its damnedest, hopping around and trying to be better. It’s not a bad movie, just one caught in a bad situation. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Featured Image: Columbia Pictures