10 Years Later: Spiderman 3- The Movie That Changed Our Lives

10 Years Later: Spiderman 3- The Movie That Changed Our Lives

For the anniversary of one our the most hated ever 'threequels', I've decided that a re-visit was in order to see if it holds up better or worse.

Spider-Man 3 was one of the most anticipated movies of 2007. The first film was a watershed moment for superhero movies, and the second is considered one of greatest comic book movies ever made (not to mention one of the best sequels ever.) It stood to reason that after the monumental triumphs of its predecessors, the third movie was on track to similar success. And why not? The advertisements leaned heavily on a popular storyline fans couldn’t wait to see: The black suit, and the alien symbiote, Venom. After Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, Venom is another major player, and one of Spiderman’s greatest foes. Plus, the idea of going a little bit dark, and corrupting our charming hero had some great storytelling potential. Unfortunately, what we wanted and what we ended up getting were two very different things. So what happened?

I should preface this by saying, when I first watched this movie, I actually liked it a lot. Like, A- a lot. I loved the action sequences, I loved Spidey having to deal with multiple villains (which happened a lot in the comics) I loved the casting of Sandman, and the heart of the film, and how the story threads carried through, and how everything wrapped up. Hell, I was even amused at the casting of Eddie Brock (because I saw the irony in how much of a Peter Parker Topher Grace really is- Sam Raimi might have been going for anti-Tobey Maguire with that one). I only had a few issues: Gwen Stacy was nice to see, but she didn’t have much to do. Retconning Flint Marko as Uncle Ben’s killer was lame. And a misguided approach to Dark Peter; Emo style + Jazzy douche all culminated in a weirdly awkward DANCE sequence that should never have been put to film. But all in all, I had a good time, which might have been helped by the audience I saw it with.

But were we wrong? Like so many franchises that win our favor, sometimes we want a movie to be good so badly, that we just will it to be so in the moment. Because although my audience came out of opening weekend buzzing, public opinion on Spider-Man 3 took a nosedive pretty fast. And over time, it only got worse. As of this writing, it has a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 59% Metacritic. Most fans consider it a massive disappointment, and one of the worst comic book movies have to offer. Are they being too harsh? Am I being too easy on it? I've decided to look back...

I’ll start with the good. A lot of what I liked… I still like. As a fact, CGI ages, so some of the effects obviously don’t look as great as they used to, but for the most part, the action is still great; While nothing quite tops the train fight in Spider-Man 2, the action here trumps anything in the first Spider-Man, and I’d go so far as to say it is the most fluid and exciting of the trilogy. The two biggest highlights are the fights with Harry, both of which gives us an opportunity to see more character with Peter in the fights than we’ve seen before. I was particularly fond of Peter trying to save his engagement ring mid-battle. Peter wanting to get married is nice progression from the previous films, and while he is supportive of MJ, he is also oblivious to signs she is unhappy because he’s so swept up in his own success. Once in the black suit, this is amplified, and while I didn’t care for the emo/jazz thing, I did like seeing Peter be more aggressive at work or with women. Sure, it’s played for laughs sometimes (DANCING outside a clothing store), but the serious beats still land when they need to...like when he hits MJ.

That leaves the real problem most people have with this film: The villains.

Teased at the end of Spider-Man 2, Harry Osborne goes full villain for the franchise’s final act… except when he doesn’t. Inexplicably, he is conveniently given amnesia for a chunk of the movie (one of my biggest pet peeves) but magically gets his memory back when the script needs him to. From the start, he’s relentless in his pursuit of Parker- and that’s awesome! His New Goblin concept design is shitty, but he’s out for blood, and it’s fun to see a villain that knows who Peter is, and can play games with him. But it seemed like the writers were afraid to keep that up, so they needed to sideline him, to get the other plots rolling. So James Franco gets to do his happy stoner smile, and DANCE with Mary Jane. Perhaps these moments serve to remind audiences of how great a friend he used to be. But then he gets to be bad again. So he has to die, but not before being good one last time. Somehow the story couldn’t quite figure out how they wanted to use him, and it’s a shame because he deserved better. On the positive side, the idea of Spidey teaming up with a partner to fight overwhelming odds, is a nice nod to a theme of the comics.
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The heavy of this film is Flint Marko’s Sandman. He’s an escaped con trying to raise money to see his daughter. It’s a sweet little backstory to humanize him, and the ‘Birth of Sandman’ sequence is beautiful and haunting, but he surprisingly doesn’t have that much screen time, or any real development outside of that bedroom visit. From here on, he’ll be robbing armored trucks and punching Spiderman. Because he’s so disconnected from the rest of the stories, the writers straight up force a personal connection with Parker by making him the real killer of Uncle Ben. This still doesn’t work for me. Not only does it [frick] with the temporal aspects of how that night went down, but it also undercuts the entire genesis of why and how Peter became Spiderman in the first place. I suppose Flint gives Parker an excuse to funnel his anger when he gets corrupted, and it serves a lesson about revenge, and forgiveness, but Peter already learns about revenge in an authentic way from his greatest mistake. Now Spiderman’s whole origin story is a misunderstanding.

Reportedly, Raimi was a big Sandman fan and wanted to use him, but wasn’t a big Venom fan and didn’t understand the character (in which case, get someone to help who does)- The studio pushed for Venom and that’s why the movie is so bloated. It was old-school fandom vs new school fandom, but as it stands, I think the studio was actually RIGHT, and Raimi, director or not, should have dropped Marko. Fans would take Venom over Sandman any day of the week, and the story even dictates that the black suit be the focus (this was even teased at the end of Spider-Man 2 with the introduction of JJ Jameson’s astronaut son, who accidentally brings the symbiote back from space). Spider-Man 3 is all about Parker trying to maintain finally being happy, getting too arrogant, and eventually hurting the ones he loves. Flint Marko had no real purpose in this story, and I strongly feel the movie would have been better not if Venom was cut, but if Sandman, was cut, for a more focused film.
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The reason I wish Venom was more prominent is because he’s handled the weakest, and he could have been so much better. My amusement of the little dork aside, I can still admit Topher Grace sat as the worst cast character in a CBM until Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor took the crown. This Eddie Brock just isn’t intimidating in the least, and even if Brock wasn’t totally screwed for screen time, his leap from snarky rival, to absolute hatred doesn’t track. Nothing is shown in the character that he would embrace evil so fully. Eddie is just never given anything substantial besides popping up randomly at inopportune times. This is a shame because there are several facets to making this work: The alien symbiote is handled decently, the black suit is handled decently (more or less), and Full Venom onscreen for the finale is kind of Spider-Man 3’s best part. But Eddie is the connective tissue between those phases, and they left him as an afterthought.  

At the end of the day, I think Spiderman 3 suffers from what happens to most Part 3’s after two successful predecessors- for whatever the reasons, they crumble under the pressure. It’s not the best movie, but not the worst thing ever either, as some exaggerators are inclined to say. There are parts of Spidey3 that deserves every bit of criticism it gets, and parts that don’t. Unfortunately, the series was rebooted afterwards, despite some interest in a 4th film. That gives it the distinction of being a franchise-killer (a label I don’t agree with because they made a [frick]-ton of money and wrapped up the story anyway), and it's failings are a lesson learned for all CBMs going forward. At the end of the day, I’d say Spider-Man 3 is middle-ish, but from a history of pretty bad threequels, perhaps it's one of the better ones. Incidentally, here is my ranking of CBM Threequels:
  1. The Dark Knight Rises
  2. Captain America: Civil War
  3. Iron Man 3
  4. Spider-Man 3
  5. Batman Forever
  6. X-Men Apocalypse
  7. Blade Trinity
  8. X-Men: The Last Stand
  9. Superman III
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That's not so bad!
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