(originally published 11 July 2014)
SPOILER WARNING: I spoil pretty much the entire damn movie. Proceed with caution.
I really didn’t want to hate this movie. Like, really.
And you can accuse me of just wanting to be a contrarian. Like, I only want to like it to go against the grain. But there are a lot of people out there that give this movie a fairer pass than most people have. Seeing as I’m pretty much reviewing this to basically cover the entire trilogy, I was hoping I’d find something to connect to this movie that others haven’t!
And it’s not like I haven’t gone against the grain on opinions of movies before! Just to use comic book examples, I actually don’t think the X-Men: The Last Stand or Green Lantern are that bad! Hell, I actually quite enjoyed Elektra (moreso than Daredevil, anyway) and the first Fantastic Four movie (despite the hilarious miscasting of most of the key players in the latter). Don’t get me wrong: none of these films are masterpieces by any regards, I just think people judge them too harshly.
I also wanted to like it because, let’s be real; what the hell can I say that everybody and their grandmothers hasn’t said negatively about Spider-Man 3? What can I bring to the proceedings of the dislike people already have of this movie that nobody else can? I really can’t; like I said, I’m mostly reviewing this movie for completion’s sake.
So, if you haven’t guessed, to say I didn’t care for Spider-Man 3 is a bit of an understatement.
What exactly doesn’t work about it? The answer is pretty simple and well covered: the movie is bloated with extraneous stuff! We have the Black Costume, 2 new villains that need to be fleshed out and explored, continuing plot threads like Peter and MJ’s relationship and Harry’s descent into villainy. Aside of that, we have a subplot of Peter letting people’s love of Spider-Man get to his head, the introduction of Captain and Gwen Stacy, the revelation that Sandman was the one who killed Uncle Ben and, of course, we need appearances of the series’ mainstays like the Bugle staff, Aunt May and the obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo.
I hope you find French Waiter stereotypes funny!
Now, this is a lot to cover, but it doesn’t necessarily need to sink a movie. X2 had about as much story, but managed to remain balanced and consistent. Hell, the movie is over 2 hours long, so it has the time to try to flesh this stuff out. The problem is that it doesn’t flesh it out! Most of the new elements are either rushed or quickly ignored for the most part. Gwen Stacy, who was set up to replaced Mary-Jane in case Kirsten Dunst chose to leave had they continued the franchise, is basically a plot device for the stupid dancing. Sandman comes in and out of the movie at its convenience. Eddie Brock gets a ton of focus, but is pretty much ignored and rushed into ‘villain’ as soon as Venom comes around. None of these plot threads are well fleshed out or have a lot of weight.
One great, and insanely annoying, example of this is Harry’s ‘arc’. After two movies of build up and development, we get one fight between Peter and Harry 20 minutes in and Harry hits his head and gains amnesia. Ignoring the fact that this is the laziest storytelling device in the history of story, it really only serves to put Harry out of commission until the plot needs him to come back in. There’s some awkwardly forced implications of a love triangle, Harry gets his memories back, blackmails MJ into breaking up with Peter (HEY, MARY JANE, WHY NOT TELL YOUR SUPERHERO BOYFRIEND YOU’RE BEING BLACKMAILED?!?!?!?!), he convinced Peter she left him for him, let’s Peter know through a look his memories are back (why?!), Peter puts him out of the movie AGAIN for a chunk of the film, his butler tells him stuff he should have told him in the last movie and saved us a lot of grief (seriously, Harry’s butler was the true villain of the Spider-Man saga), this completely makes him do a 180 and he sacrifices his life to save Peter.
Another problem is the lack of a concise theme. While the Raimi Spider-Man films aren’t exactly deep and philosophical, they usually had an overarching theme that ran through it. The first movie was pretty basic ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. We saw that with Peter rising to the occasion and Norman falling. The second movie is how this hero can inspire people. Again, rise of Peter after he loses faith in it, fall and rise of Otto and just simple fall of Harry.
This movie seems to be overcoming the darkness within and not letting it consume you…I guess? This would be paid off if Peter’s ego over being Spidey was more fleshed out or the costume was more focal earlier on in the movie, or even if the Sandman’s story…ended, but it’s clearly not as consistent as the first two were. It fails to get some basic tenants of storytelling right!Keep in mind that all of this takes up, like, about 20 minutes of the movie. It’s so lazily rushed and is an insult to the great story they’ve been building for the character throughout the three movies. This lack of structure and cohesion completely sinks this ship. Say what you will about the first two, they had very straightforward focuses and their plot progressed and developed naturally. The second one was particularly airtight as the plot seemed to evolve with Peter’s story, allowing everyone to have their moments and concise development around his story.
The villains? Well, everyone knows the amazingly awful job they did with Venom! Topher Grace’s Brock is a hard character to get a grip on. Is he supposed to be the slimey, smooth-talking opportunist who shows Peter up only for Peter to make him lose his job (due to his own corruption, but that’s pretty in-line with his comic book counterpart, so there you go), or mentally unhinged? His relationship with Gwen is ill-defined and pretty creepy. He’s obsessed with her after one date (and yes, like the love triangle, this goes nowhere). He takes Peter’s nonsensical ‘Find religion’ comment seriously and asks God to kill our Mr. Parker! He’s such a weirdly written character. And, of course, Venom is underused, they didn’t need to keep pulling his face back and they took all the menace out of his character. I know Raimi really didn’t want to use Venom and the studio played his hand, but while you have him, you might as well try to make him more compelling!
Sandman, however, fares much better. Thomas Haden Church is an excellent choice. Not only is he note perfect looks-wise to his comic book counterpart, he gives the role a lot of nuance with very little action. The birth of Sandman scene is beautiful in every level: editing, pacing, effects, lighting but especially music (yes, the bird thing is dumb, but everyone complains about the bird thing, so…yeah, we all know it’s dumb). The effects on the Sandman are amazing and still hold up; they’re fluid and natural, rarely ever feeling like an effect (though, obviously, sometimes they do). And that’s about it. He’s in the movie so little that it’s hard to create a bond with the character. Like Peter’s ego boost, there’s the potential for a good story here, it’s just squandered by a bloated script and very little time allocated to the character. The retcon with Uncle Ben is appalling; it absolutely robs Peter of all the guilt he has to do with his uncle’s death and does nothing to add to the story outside of making Peter angry enough to rush the black costume story later on.
Oh, yes. The infamous black costume story. Let me just say this straight out, it’s incredibly goofy! Peter does not look cool, dangerous or menacing throughout the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ scenes or the dance at the club. He looks like a dork! And the fact that people are taking him so seriously is laughable. Nobody would take this dweeby guy so seriously, they’d likely just beat him up harder! What’s even worse is that both Harry and Sandman are out of commission by the time this story roles around, so there’s nothing to break up this awfulness and the movie stops to a screeching halt with only half an hour left! What’s worse is that we get some pretty great stuff with Peter’s attacks on Sandman and Harry (Tobey Maguire sells the hell out of angry Peter instead of dorky ‘dark’ Peter), and even the scene where he confronts Brock, that if they had just not gone for laughs (Sam Raimi’s amazing inappropriate comedy strikes again!) it really would have played a lot better despite how late into the movie the story is started.
And, being honest, all of this could be okay if it wasn’t such a drag to watch! Due to the odd pacing issues and how badly handled the villains are, not a lot really goes on in this movie. It seems to primarily focus on Peter and MJ’s boring romance that doesn’t get much better here. A lot of the characters that added life to the last movies, like May and Jonah, are pushed to the sideline and get borderline cameos and the plot starts and stops so much that it’s impossible to get engaged with any of this. It doesn’t help that the tone is all over the map; unlike the second one, it cannot find a decent balance between drama and fun and usually screws the pooch on both. It just makes it even harder to keep engaged and seriously hurts the movie.
If I have to give a gratuitous compliment, though, it’s that Mary Jane is not noticeably bland or annoying in this movie. Whilst her sour reaction to Peter trying to be supportive over the review is a bit much, I kind of see where she’s coming from and the movie seems to make her more of a person. Her argument with Peter after he kisses Gwen (and oh man was that out of character!) was extremely appropriate and it’s probably the best acting Kirsten Dunst does in the three movies. So yeah. If nothing else, this movie finally kind of made Mary Jane work. By making her a little superfluous in this chasm of a plot, but take what you’re given!
So, is there anything I liked about the movie, without it being ‘this character didn’t annoy me’ or ‘this so nearly worked and stuff about it is great’? Well, the fight scenes are probably the best of the trilogy. Seriously, the fights in this are so well choreographed and shot that they keep you engaged and excited when they rear their heads in this bloated mess. While they have their individual problems (what is up with the score for the Peter/Harry fight at Harry’s house?!), they’re energised and the best example of Raimi’s talents as a genre filmmaker. Also, it’s probably the best the effects have looked in all three movies. And, despite how jumbled their stories were, when Tobey Maguire and James Franco were allowed to act in this movie, they were pretty damn good! I really believed their chemistry and friendship and it did help through the painful amnesia stuff.
Outside of that, this movie is a trainwreck. Horrible screenplay with very little engaging or fun dialogue, plot threads that are wrapped up in underwhelming or rushed ways, too much going on, characters routinely ignored or shoved aside and just a really depressing way to end this trilogy. I’ve said my piece on it, I doubt I’ve said anything that others haven’t said, this movie is not misunderstood or better than people give it credit for. It’s just a mess and it’s such a shame that Raimi never got to make the fourth installment to hopefully redeem whatever happened here.
Still, it’s not like they kept the same bloated, incoherent filmmaking for the new serie-
-Stan Lee cameo: he stands next to Peter and mumbles some weird stuff about superheroes or something. You know a movie is bad when even the Stan Lee cameo doesn’t work…
-Bruce Campbell cameo: he’s the ‘French’ waiter who helps Peter set up his proposal for Mary Jane. As fun as it is to see Bruce Campbell having fun, they really milk this joke.
-No Spider-Man quips. Not a one. I guess that brings our total quip counter to five for three movies. Hell, despite my complaints about Amazing Spider-Man 2, Andrew Garfield at least made me laugh in parts!
-This was Cliff Robertson’s (Uncle Ben) last movie. He sadly passed away in 2011. Robertson brought a warmth and calm, everyman wisdom to the character that was quite endearing. May he rest in peace.
-You know what would have made Venom work better? Make him Jonah’s son from the last movie. He’s been established as an astronaut, he could bring the symbiote goo to Earth like he did in the 90’s animated show and he has a reason to hate Peter as he stole his fiancée. I mean, it would cut Eddie Brock out of the picture, but Eddie Brock sucks as a character so I don’t see the issue here. But no, we get weirdo Eric Foreman and a tacked on rivalry storyline. Wonderful.
-No Jonah quotes as he’s barely in the movie. The stuff with him trying to stay calm and the buzzer joke were pretty funny, though.
-Also, I know Norman Osborn frequently suffered amnesia until his death in the comic books, but what you can get away with in the 60’s is a little bit more liberal than what a writer can get away with in 2007. Also, as stupid and cheesy as it was even then, it served a function of keeping Norman as a recurring character after he was revealed to be the Green Goblin for the next decade or so. Harry’s amnesia only served to keep him on ice until the 2 hour movie needed him.
-What’s even worse is that I think Harry’s Gobby costume is probably the best looking Green Goblin we’ve gotten on the big screen. And believe me when I say that isn’t saying much…
-Speaking of costume, I always hated the design of Spidey’s black costume. I mean, it looks fine and real, just like his original costume, but it’s a dark version of his original costume! Say what you will about the black costume, it at least looks different! (okay, it’s based on the design of one of the Spiderwoman costumes, but it still looks different!)
-Can we ban Sam Raimi from putting dancing scenes in a movie? I’d sign it in a heartbeat.