In Defense of Spider-Man 3

"You'll get your rent when you fix this DAMN DOOR"


In 2002, director Sam Raimi amazed critics and audiences alike with his live action adaptation of Marvel’s Spider-Man. This movie helped popularize the superhero genre and set the stage for the modern day comic book film. Two years later, Raimi released Spider-Man 2 which not only lived up to its predecessor, but surpassed it. Raimi created the perfect balance of camp, emotion, and action in the 2004 blockbuster, with many people seeing it as one of the best superhero flicks of all time. It was this film that perfectly exemplified the formula that made the comics so endearing, which is that when Peter succeeds, Spider-Man suffers and vice versa. This was the main plot of Spider-Man 2, which takes place immediately following the events of its predecessor. There’s a strong villain, snappy one liners, and one of the greatest fight scenes in action cinema (go watch the Spider-Man vs Doc Ock train sequence if you haven’t already). By the end of the film, Peter learns to accept that his life as Spider-Man is his responsibility and, as a result, his life in the real world will be difficult and imperfect. Although Peter tries to push Mary Jane away to protect her from his other life, she decides that being with him is worth the risk. The success of this sequel proved to be both a blessing and a curse for Raimi. He was granted a third installment of the series and the bar was set astronomically high. Spider-Man 3 hit the theaters in 2007 and was a financial success, earning just under $900 million at the box office. Although lots of people came to see it, the general audience and critical reactions to the film were severely mixed. Some of the problems often pointed out in regards to this film is it’s bizarre pacing, inclusion of not one but TWO goofy dance sequences, and use of three main villains which lead to an overly dense storyline. This campy and convoluted third installment is heavily criticized and is often ranked very low on the long list of Spider-Man adaptations. However, I believe that this movie is an underrated gem with future cult classic potential, and that many of the elements Spider-Man 3 is torn apart for is actually what makes it great. Sam Raimi did the best he could making a superhero film with a lot of heart in spite of ruthless studio interference and astronomical audience expectations and I think he deserves much more credit than he is given. And if you haven't seen this film in a while, I highly recommend revisiting it because I guarantee nothing happens in the order you remember it happening in.


 

The Villains

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The biggest general critique of this film is its excessive amount of villains, which include Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman, James Franco’s New Goblin, and Topher Grace’s Venom. Sandman’s character arc is the most well developed of the three, with a humanizing backstory and a complex relationship to Peter. The scene in which Flint Marko becomes Sandman is beautifully shot and is regarded as a highlight of the film. Harry, who becomes the New Goblin to avenge his father, is a very interesting character in this film and is who I’d like to focus on. His character is the epitome of typical Raimi camp. One of the first times he appears on screen he is watching Peter Parker through a pair of tiny binoculars from the balcony at Mary Jane’s Broadway show, and this perfectly sets the tone of his character for the rest of the film. To put it into context, in Spider-Man, Harry’s father Norman is secretly the Green Goblin and is accidentally killed by his own hand during a battle with Spider-Man. Peter returns his body to the Osborn home, where Harry sees the web crawler and assumes he is responsible for his father’s death. In Spider-Man 2, Harry spends the film frustrated at Peter for continuing to take pictures of Spider-Man for his job at the Daily Bugle. Harry wants revenge against Spider-Man and even goes as far as recruiting the villainous Doc Ock to capture him. Harry discovers that Peter is Spider-Man, putting a wedge between the two former friends and enraging Harry even more. The film ends with Harry finding his father’s secret layer, revealing that Norman had been the Green Goblin. So Sam Raimi had been setting Harry up to be an eventual villain for quite some time, and the payoff to this buildup was definitely done in an interesting and unsuspected way. A fight sequence between Harry as the New Goblin and Spider-Man takes place severely early on in the film, during which Harry obtains a head injury that puts him into a coma. When he awakes, it is revealed that he has amnesia and conveniently does not remember that Peter is Spider-Man or how his father was killed. So the build up to Harry becoming a villain has been going on for five years, yet he spends the majority of the third installment acting as a clueless dopey side character. He eventually regains his memory and once again begins plotting revenge against Peter, so the choice to give him amnesia literally serves no other purpose than to give screen time to the two other developing villains in the story. Some complain about this plotline, but I personally find it extremely comical. It’s like a mini soap opera that snuck into a superhero film and I think James Franco did a great job with what he was given. Harry devises a plan to hurt Peter emotionally by blackmailing Mary Jane into breaking up with him, all while pretending to remain in his forgetful state. Harry then goes to a café with Peter and tells him that Mary Jane left him to be with Harry and not-so-subtly implies that he regains his memory. One of the best scenes in the movie occurs when Peter leaves the café. He looks back at Harry through the window who smiles at him and winks, before disappearing behind a bus that drives by. It is the epitome of camp and I will not allow any criticism to be made about it. Another silly Harry scene occurs towards the third act when he talks to his butler about how Spider-Man killed his father, to which the butler reveals that Norman died from the blades of his own glider. This is meant to be a revealing and emotional scene, but I just love how this butler has been sitting on this information for three movies and never thought to mention it. In the end, Harry ends up helping Peter fight the two other villains in a big final battle. Harry ends up dying in the same way as his father: stabbed with the blades of his glider. However, Harry died while sacrificing himself to save Spider-Man, while Norman died attempting to kill him. A very poetic ending to a very chaotic character.


 

Raimi vs Sony


As strange as the pacing was for developing Harry’s character in the film, Venom’s development has it beat. If Venom is to be discussed, it is important to mention that Sam Raimi had no intention of putting this character into Spider-Man 3. Sony felt that Venom would be a marketable villain since it was more modern, so they forced Raimi to include him in the film. This studio interference was a big shift from the first two films, of which Raimi had full creative control over. Raimi shows in his films an appreciation for and exploration of humanity, so he was frustrated with the inclusion of a villain that lacked this element. Venom first enters the story as a symbiote from outer space in an early scene of the film. The symbiote latches onto Peter, who unknowingly brings it home. It is then forgotten about for quite some time (in order to tell the stories of the two other villains). It eventually fully latches onto Peter, creating a black symbiote suit and causing him to act strange and aggressive (more on this later). The symbiote eventually latches onto Eddie Brock, a character who butts heads with Peter throughout the film. Though the scene in the church where Eddie becomes Venom and the CGI used for the suit is visually amazing, Topher Grace was not fit for this role. Venom teams up with Sandman to fight Spider-Man in the final battle, during which Peter gets the symbiote to unlatch from Eddie in an attempt to save him. However, when Peter attempts to destroy the symbiote with Harry’s pumpkin bomb, Eddie realizes he doesn't want to live without the suit and dives into the explosion. This is important because it upholds the principle that makes Spider-Man such a likable character, which is that he does not kill his enemies. There are definitely some good Venom moments in the movie, but this is a perfect example of the danger of studio interference and what can happen when a director is not impassioned with the characters they develop.


 

The Fourth Villain


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It is finally time to talk about the infamous secret fourth villain: known by many as Emo Peter or Bully Maguire. This is something that has been the butt of endless jokes regarding the Raimi trilogy, but I think it is actually a really well-developed and interesting example of character development. One of my issues with the MCU Spider-Man movies is that, although the casting of Tom Holland is genuinely perfect, the films never seem to show the character struggling. I love how Sam Raimi uses Spider-Man 3 to unapologetically show Peter as a flawed character. Many people assume that Emo Peter comes as a direct result of the symbiote latching onto him, but Raimi was planting the seeds in the very beginning of the movie. Spider-Man 3 picks up where its predecessor left off, with Peter in a relationship with MJ and Spider-Man loved by the city. It has been established in the previous two films that Raimi likes to use a formula in which when Peter’s normal life is going well, Spider-Man struggles and when Spider-Man does well, Peter struggles. Since both aspects of his life are seemingly perfect in the stasis of this film, Peter develops an intense ego that blinds him of his prominent self-obsessive behaviors and dismissive attitude towards MJ. The black suit that the symbiote forms reflects and enhances this behavior. At a Spider-Man parade, Peter recreates his iconic upside down kiss from the first film in front of the crowd with Gwen Stacey as MJ watches in disbelief. He later plans on proposing to MJ, showing how oblivious he is to how his actions are affecting the ones around him. A lot of people like to poke fun at the first dance scene of the film, but I don’t think it gets enough credit for how self aware it is. Raimi shows Peter dancing through the street, gesturing at women and being embarrassingly over-confident. He also is sure to show the women’s reactions, who are generally unimpressed and confused. This is another way to show that Peter’s “coolness” is completely in his own head. All of the Bully Maguire scenes are comically over-the-top and campy, my personal favorite being when Peter’s neighbor makes him cookies and he asks her to make more, but with nuts this time. The second dance scene is the climax for Emo Peter. Peter takes Gwen to a jazz club where MJ works in an attempt to make her jealous. When MJ is about to perform, Peter hops on stage and steals her spotlight. He acts as a bandleader and performs an over-the-top dance number, ending with an intimate slow dance with Gwen, who notices that Peter was doing this to get back at MJ and leaves. As security attempts to kick Peter out, he aggressively fights back and accidentally hits MJ in the process. This is eye opening for Peter and causes him to get rid of the symbiote. So although the dance scenes and Emo Peter as a whole is often made fun of, it is not something that is just randomly included. It is used as a tool to show the natural progression of Peter’s character that makes the ending where Peter goes back to his normal dorky self so much more rewarding.


 

Conclusion


Spider-Man 3 is by no means a perfect film. It has its flaws, but I think it deserves much more recognition than it receives. I have a problem with people who mainly criticize the film for its goofiness, as I think this is the perfect vibe for a superhero movie. I think when superhero movies are too serious and bland, it actually makes it harder to suspend the audience’s disbelief because it lacks self awareness of all the craziness going on in the film’s universe. I would also much rather watch Sam Raimi’s interesting and bizarre “f*ck you Sony” movie than either of the forgettable Amazing Spider-Man films that directly followed. This has all the potential in the world to go on to become a cult classic with its bizarre pacing, soap opera-esque plotlines, and snappy one liners. Although Spider-Man 2 is objectively the best in the trilogy, there is something about the third installment that always keeps me coming back and I will continue to defend it as more Spidey adaptations continue to be made.


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