The anticipation for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was almost unreal. Hot on the heels of the universally-acclaimed Spider-Man 2, Raimi’s 2007 film had a lot going for it: people loved the first two movies and were dying for more. Plus, Sony and Raimi had revealed that the third movie would contain Venom, perhaps the most-loved Spidey villain. This was a time when the movie landscape wasn’t crowded with other superhero films, the Spider-Man franchise was one of the only ones in the game. People were ready for Spider-Man 3. Fans were practically walking down the street salivating at the thought of Spider-Man 3. People were craving Spider-Man 3.
And people generally hated Spider-Man 3. What should have been a triumphant conclusion of a beloved franchise ended up being a complete dud with audiences. To this day people look to the third Raimi film as an example of what NOT to do with a superhero movie. Fans hate so much about it: the plot, the excess of villains, Venom. The film is seen as a misstep, a complete punchline.
But are people being too harsh on poor Spider-Man 3? Believe it or not, it’s been 12 years since the movie debuted and as the celebrated Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters, it’s about time we look back at Raimi’s last Spidey film and give it a fair shake.
It’s time to be kind to Spider-Man 3.
The movie isn’t ALL bad. In fact, there are some bright points. So let’s discuss those first. Let’s keep things light before we jump into the dark.
Sam Raimi’s brings the same sort of kooky energy that he gave us with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. I have a lot of qualms with his work and we will get to that later but the movie most definitely feels like a Raimi film and that’s a huge plus because he is a talented filmmaker, even when the work at hand is troubled.
You can feel which stuff Raimi liked the most. He was obviously a big fan of Sandman. That’s no surprise given his love of creature features and body horror. He saw the tragedy in the character and was inspired by it. He gets a damn good performance out of Thomas Haden Church and the scenes with Sandman are some of the best in the film. It’s just a damn shame that he had to share so much time with other villains.
Raimi also loved Peter Parker’s decent into darkness, even if audiences (or I) didn’t. Tobey Maguire’s work as what I like to call “creepy Petey” is right up Raimi’s alley. You can practically feel him grinning ear-to-ear during these scenes. The dark hair, the obnoxious smile, the painfully lame dancing — that’s the sort of stuff Raimi gets off on. He surely loved all that. And while it might not have connected with me and others, it at least feels like something wanted by the man behind the camera.
He also seemed to really enjoy working with Kirsten Dunst. He gave her some heavy dramatic acting and the actress carried it, which brings us to my next point: Kirsten Dunst is one of the bright points of the film. She was finally able to shine as the talented actress she is. As I’ve said before and will say again, the script to Spider-Man 3 is bland — even atrocious at times — but Dunst brings her A-game throughout. A lot of the cast is impressive, to be honest, but Dunst feels like she’s in an entirely different film. It’s a damn shame that it took three films to really show her abilities but at least we got to see it a bit before the series concluded.
As I just mentioned, Sandman is a strong aspect of the film too. Thomas Haden Church has long been an under-appreciated actor and that becomes apparent in Spider-Man 3. The guy really understands the pain and heartache of his character. He doesn’t play the part like a cartoonish baddie, he plays it like an aching father. Physically he’s daunting but you can feel his sorrow. His performance is filled with impressive CG but nothing is more powerful than those sad, sad eyes of his. This was the sort of drama we weren’t yet used to in superhero films and it was a refreshing change of pace.
Okay, now we all get to the stuff you came here for.
Obviously there are elements I like about Spider-Man 3 but, man oh man, there is A LOT I don’t like. What it basically comes down to is a series of missed opportunities. There are so many parts of the movie that I wanted to like but just couldn’t and nothing is more guilty of that than Raimi’s take on Venom.
I know, I know, it’s been said so many times that Raimi didn’t want Venom in his film and I totally understand how hard it must be to be forced into something. At the same time, he really missed the ball with this. Yet, I can’t see any way to do it differently. One of the biggest issues with the movie is the crazy amount of villains in the film but Raimi had been backed into a corner. He had to conclude the Peter Parker/Harry Osborn storyline and he wanted Sandman. Meanwhile, Sony demanded Venom appear in the film. So we have a director who has one villain that was mandatory because of story, one that was wanted by him and one that was non-negotiable because of the studio. How could he pull this off?
Poorly, it seems. Venom is mostly an after-thought for much of the film. He finally makes an appearance at the tail-end of the movie and is promptly killed after one action sequence. Sure, he looks cool but he feels utterly wasted and doesn’t add to the story one bit. His symbiote is an essential part of the plot but Venom is not, sadly. And that feels like the biggest waste of potential in the whole film.
But let’s talk about James Franco and his storyline because, holy moly, that’s a dozy. Franco isn’t a bad actor and Harry Osborn isn’t a bad character. But Harry’s concluding plot in Spider-Man 3 is nothing short of cringe-worthy. His motivations are muddy, his redemption feels weak and even Franco’s performance feels like someone phoning it in. It should have been the strongest part of the movie, the previous two installments had been building to this. But it wasn’t strong, not by a long shot. Instead it felt hokey, half-baked and emotionally dull. There’s even an amnesia storyline in the movie. Amnesia! In a major motion picture!
The film ends with Harry passing away and it was met with a shrug from audiences. They weren’t surprised by his demise and, sadly, they weren’t moved.
And don’t even get me started on the scene when Harry’s butler reveals that Spider-Man didn’t actually kill Norman Osborn. Why did he have to wait until after Harry had vowed to murder his best friend to relay that information? Didn’t feel like something you should have mentioned before? I sure hope he was fired by the Osborns because of that.
So we have two weak villains and only one we care about. But luckily we have a lead character we can rely on, right? Well, not exactly. Another massive misstep of Spider-Man 3 is the portrayal of Peter Parker. It’s not that Maguire does a bad job but the places they take the character are just…odd. The symbiote is definitely amusing but it feels so completely bizarre that you’re not sure if you’re laughing with or at it. The movie has some surprisingly deep and dark moments (Sandman’s storyline, Peter accidentally hitting Mary Jane, Mary Jane’s fear of losing Peter) but the decision to play much of Parker’s evil transformation for laughs just feels woefully out-of-place, even for a Raimi film. It throws the balance of the movie way off and never feels completely thought-through. In any other film, Maguire’s performance would be a welcome comedic relief but the dramatic parts of Spider-Man 3 are the best parts — that’s what we want more of. The silly dances and awkward haircut and goofy smirks throw everything out of whack. It’s fun to laugh at but it messes with the deservedly human and emotional tone of the movie.
I said earlier that Raimi’s direction wasn’t lacking in Spider-Man 3 and I believe that, it’s a fun movie to watch. But except for a few aspects, you can feel his lack of enthusiasm throughout the picture. The movie often comes across as unoriginal and it holds few surprises. It feels like a paycheck film and that’s a huge bummer because Raimi is such a special director and Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are such special films. There are a lot of reasons why the movie ended up being a flop with audiences and there’s enough blame to go around. But it can’t be denied or sugar-coated: all these years later, Spider-Man 3 is still a mess of a movie.