Spider-Man 3 (2007) — So many ideas, not enough time

“Oooh, my spider-sense is tingling!”

Drew’s rating: Is he strong? Listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood. Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead.

Drew’s review: When Spider-Man 2 came out, I had just joined the Mutant staff — I think it was something like my third review ever. (It shows.) When the movie ended, I remember being so blown away that I dashed immediately home after a few drinks at the bar and began typing up a review; it was around three in the morning when I finally finished it and went to bed. (That also shows.) That’s not always a good idea, just because first impressions can be misleading — remember when we all thought The Phantom Menace was great? — but in this case, I don’t regret it. Better written but more negative reviews would come later, but PoolMan was drunk and Kyle was… drunk, so I don’t think those should count.

Anyway, I’ll stick with my original assessment: Spidey 2 was a great, great movie.

Well, it’s now three years later and Spidey 3 has finally arrived. After a restless week and a projector that broke twice during the screening, I can finally answer the question — was it worth the wait? Short answer: Yyyyeesss. Long answer: Well, pretty much yes.

Peter Parker’s life is finally looking up: New York is in love with Spider-Man, his girlfriend is starring in a Broadway play, and a convenient bout of amnesia has restored his friend Harry Osborn to him. So, being Peter Parker, naturally that all turns to crap. In short order his uncle’s true killer Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escapes and gains the ability to turn himself into mighty sand, his relationship hits the skids, a snotty little punk steals his job, and some nutty alien snot takes over his costume and starts making him act like the world’s geekiest badass with new flame Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). All that, plus he just might have to fight his own dark side made manifest and a giant sand monster before the movie’s over. Oh well, at least his aunt’s not dying. Again.

Let’s start with the positives: Topher Grace was an amazing choice to play Eddie Brock. He owns every scene he’s in and makes you buy him as the dark reflection of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. (Frankly, I prefer the movie version of Eddie to the comic version.) Also, I was worried about Gwen Stacy being portrayed as a vixen out to steal Peter from MJ… instead, she’s clearly unwillingly caught in the middle and comes off looking quite well. Bruce Campbell’s cameo is hilarious, far more so than the last two films. The CGI on the initial Sandman transformation really conveys a creepy, horrific vibe. Oh, and I groaned about Harry’s gear as much as anyone when the first images were released, but the costume actually looks quite functional on screen, and the “snowboard” in motion seems more like the bat gliders from the comics than even Norman’s version from the first movie.

But the thing is, when the film was over I asked myself, Could that have been spaced out over two movies? And the honest answer is: Yes. There was definitely enough material — you could cover the Sandman and his connection to Ben Parker’s death, as well as Harry’s amnesia and Peter’s darkening via the black costume in one film, then devote the next to his failing relationship with MJ, eventual rejection of the suit (and its bonding to Eddie Brock), and he and Harry’s final reckoning. Just typing that makes me realize how much plot Raimi and co. crammed into 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Now, credit where credit is due — the fact that it only feels somewhat rushed is a monumental achievement. I was concerned that two villains would be pushing things, let alone three, but they all receive fairly equal screentime. It’s hard to imagine every element coalescing any better than the writers managed with all that material, and the frequent in — and out-of-costume action should placate fans who found the last film boring. But still, it feels like all those elements might have had more time to breathe over the course of two movies, not one.

What are some of the other negatives? Well, Peter is more of a nerd than ever… I understand the reason for doing that (to heighten the difference when the black suit starts influencing him), but it makes him seem like a complete tool. The guy’s not in high school anymore, give him a little game. During some parts of the movie, J.K. Simmons stops talking and being on screen, which is a major con. Kirsten Dunst is fine (in every sense of the word), but I wasn’t really feeling her and Maguire as a romantic couple. And the film contains both plot holes (the symbiote just… hung out in Peter’s apartment for days?) and some the worst deus ex machina I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil it, but I’m sorry, the omniscient, forensics expert butler completely came out of nowhere, wasn’t in the last two films, and just generally can’t be taken seriously. There had to be a better way to convey that plot information.

At their core, the Spider-Man films are about relationships — romantic, family, friends, enemies. There’s a reason Spidey fights who he does, instead of random bank robber supervillains with no connection to him. For the movie to be a success those relationships have to ring true, and for the most part they do. I loved Peter and Harry’s rekindled friendship after Harry’s amnesia, and heavy-handed or not, their final scene together won me over. The Sandman’s involvement with Ben Parker’s murder didn’t take too much away from the elegant simplicity of Spider-Man’s origin (even if the dying daughter is a massive cliché). And Topher Grace, as I mentioned, is outstanding as the guy who deserves what Peter gives him… but it’s still not right that Pete’s the one dishing it out.

For those reasons, Spider-Man 3 has to be counted as mostly a success. Should it have been two movies? Yeah, maybe… but at least you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with just one. Take it for a swing, I’d be surprised if you regret it.

Al’s rating: I was gonna snark here about Venom being emo instead of evil, but the movie’s only two days old and I’m already sick to death of that joke.

Al’s review: Spider-Man 3 had everything I knew it would. Evil Spidey, Eddie Brock as Peter Parker’s evil twin, Harry Osborn getting down and dirty with Daddy’s experiments; all the usual suspects were rounded up. So how is it that being what I expected means it failed to meet my expectations?

In fairness, making a movie that has what I want to see in it ought to be all I should ask out of a director, but Sam Raimi has always been different for me. I go to a Sam Raimi movie wanting him to rock my world. He’s supposed to take what I think I’m going to see, turn it on it’s head, and say “This is what you *wanted* to see and you didn’t even know it!” And he’s always right. This happens occasionally during Spider-Man 3, and those scenes are far and away the best part of the movie, but so much of it seems like the studio could have just turned the franchise over to Brett Ratner and washed their hands of the whole thing.

Now, I didn’t mean to get so negative so fast, so I’m going to take a moment here to examine the good stuff this movie gives us. Overall, Spidey 3 is tremendously enjoyable. Really. Tobey Maguire is still awesome, getting to explore some areas of Peter Parker that we haven’t seen yet. Kirsten Dunst made me like her again, because, even if she’s not the comic book MJ, she and Tobey have excellent chemistry and they make me believe them as a couple. James Franco continues to boggle my mind as someone with a great deal of talent who, outside of Spider-Man, only seems to end up in low-budget war movies.

Even while fighting for screen time, the newbies are good, too. Topher Grace could have just phoned in a slimy Tobey Maguire impression, but instead he puts a lot of energy into Eddie Brock and manages to create a three-dimensional character within the few scenes he’s given. Similarly, all Thomas Hayden Church had to do was put on that stripey green t-shirt to become The Sandman, but he instead elected to really jump inside his character’s head and lend some gravity to Flint Marko’s otherwise rather cheesy backstory.

Actually, I think said cheesy backstory is a good example what’s ultimately my problem here. The Sandman is a down-on-his-luck schmoe who turns criminal in order to steal enough money to pay for his sick daughter’s operation. While on the run, he accidently stumbles into an extremely dangerous particle-physics testing facility (conveniently located just outside Queens) and gets caught in a rather vague experiment involving a pile of sand. It’s make-believe science that can’t be taken seriously. This Sandman is straight out of a comic book. Compare that with Doctor Octopus, who is similarly goofy in the comics, but is given a darkness and a weight during his movie that makes you believe in him as a threat that could exist in the real world.

In fact, most of Spidey 3 suffers because it has to be compared against how pitch-perfect it was done the last time around. Spider-Man 2 was a date you didn’t just want to drop off at it’s apartment. You wanted to take it inside for a cup of coffee, get it a little more comfortable, turn down the lights, put on some Al Green, maybe show it your etchings… With Spidey 3, you may just be content to give it a peck on the cheek and a friendly hug goodnight because, as much fun as it was, the action, the intensity, and the spark that engages you just isn’t there.

I feel like I’m drifting back into negativity again, and I really don’t want to. There’s some great stuff offered up. When the studio gives Sam Raimi the necessary elbow room to be Sam Raimi, we get scenes that are interesting, unexpected, and hysterically funny. They’re actually so good that I’m not sure I want to talk too much about them. I’ll just say the Evil Peter Strut deserves a Best. Walk. Ever. and move on.

Spider-Man 3 could have been a disaster, especially given some of the rather gutsy changes to the mythology they made, and it didn’t turn out that way, so I think Sam and Co. really deserve a lot of credit. But for every funny walk or nifty sand effect they throw at us, it’s diluted by something that’s not quite as Spectacular, Amazing, or Sensational as it ought to be. I feel like there’s a Special Edition director’s cut of this film languishing in some corner of Sam Raimi’s fruit cellar that would put a few much-needed band aids on the not-quite-so-good bits.

As it stands, there’s so much that remains unsaid and a little too much that the audience is expected to infer. It’s a decent effort and not a bad note to close out the trilogy on, but you can’t help thinking there’s more story to tell. Maybe another film, maybe just an extended DVD; I don’t know. This franchise has imbued Columbia Pictures great power over we fans, I’d like to see them take a page from Uncle Ben and give it the treatment it deserves before they’ve washed this spider out for good.

Kyle’s rating: Easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen

Kyle’s review: Before I get too bitter and unapologetically negative about Spider-Man 3, you might wonder why exactly all my friends and I even wanted to see a movie that none of us (after the debacle that was Spider-Man 2) honestly believed could be any good. My girlfriend, who is watching me type this review out, still has no idea why we went to see it. More specifically, she has no idea why we (really I) sent her and her friend out to the IMAX screen in Ontario at 6 p.m. to snag us seats for the Thursday night sneak preview 11:59 p.m. showing.

“Why would you want to see a movie that you know is going to be bad? Why would you send me to stand in line for eight hours for a movie that you know is going to be bad?”

Originally, according to her, I responded with “I have to see it. I work at a comic book store.” At that point, I had nothing. “Um, if you’re going to see a superhero ‘blockbuster,’ you have to see it on the biggest screen possible, as soon as possible,” I explained, “That way you can clown on it in the store and people who liked it feel like they’re bad people.”

Now, because of what I’ve done and my plan to be “mean,” I not only have to go see Lucky You, but I have to like it. Thanks, Tobey Maguire! Thanks, Sam Raimi! Thanks, Kirsten Dunst!

I’ve already discussed at length with friends and co-workers, as well as the occasional customer, the weaknesses and single strength (that it eventually ends) of Spider-Man 3. My manager said it best: Its major failing is that every time things seem to be building to a significant and cool superhero moment, Tobey pulls his mask off and he or someone else in the scene starts crying. Which is fine for something like Steel Magnolias 3. For Spider-Man 3, it’s absolutely atrocious.

The problem isn’t that the characters and storyline can’t accommodate such drama. It certainly can, considering the labyrinthine emotional connections between Peter Parker, Mary Jane, and Harry, as well as the massively overbearing “With great power comes great responsibility” sacred gospel that hangs over Peter’s head courtesy of long-dead Uncle Ben. It’s just that, gee, in a superhero film, I would kind of like some superhero action!

Unfortunately, Spider-Man 2 was a absolutely massive success so of course its sequel was going to be more of the same. I guess Part 2’s Doctor Octopus was a saving grace of that film (Alfred Molina doing an exceptional job, outclassing even Tobey’s odd and inappropriate Jesus impression), so one of the only things we all thought could possibly, and at the very least, salvage Spider-Man 3 with Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman. Imagine our shock and surprise when Church did an adequate job but was sadly hamstrung by the nearly nonexistent demands of the script. I guess all the drama was left for the kids, which leaves you with a bunch of sad whiny youngsters who, specifically in the symbiote-infected Peter’s case, come across as very, very emo.

I felt guilty about basically hating Spider-Man 2, but I feel perfectly okay thinking Spider-Man 3 is a ridiculous piece o’ crap. None of us who went truly enjoying it. Even our craziest and most fervent Marvel Comics apologist admitted that while he knew he would see it again, he could understand how we all thought it was garbage. Everything about the film is dependent upon some sort of intense affection for Peter and Mary Jane, and the intense belief that their relationship is one of the most important couplings in the history of cinema. The fact that a seeming majority of comics fans very much wish Mary Jane would either divorce Peter or die off in the comic books (ostensibly to return Peter to his swinging-in-many-different-ways roots; more likely so their hero-for-life will be single and lonely again [apologies to my girlfriend and all others for being mean again]) is ignored by the film series. This is either good or bad, I’m not sure.

I do know that if I never hear Kirsten Dunst sing again, or see Tobey Maguire play at an amateur impression of The Mask, I’ll be very happy. I think I read Dunst said something like if she wasn’t playing Mary Jane in Spider-Man 4, that movie would be a financial disaster. If she’s not in it, I guarantee I will see Part 4 at least ten times. Promise!

Justin’s rating: It’s mastalicious!

Justin’s review: Poor Spidey, he’s fallen on hard times. No, I’m not talking about tense relations with Mary Jane, or an evil symbiotic alien life form that’s urging him to kill, or a rival photographer, or even the discovery of his uncle’s real killer. Spidey’s true threat comes from his own success, and it’s the greatest threat of them all.

Like bringing cult filmmaker Peter Jackson in to do the monumental Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sam Raimi’s call to take on the Holy Grail of superheroes raised quite a few eyebrows both in Hollywood and outside. Long since known for doing quirky movies that shied not away from chainsaw appendages, Raimi swung on the cult pendulum to direct character studies and crime dramas (such as A Simple Plan) in the late ’90s. Neither type of filmmaking seemed ideal for Marvel’s baby, but somehow it clicked: Raimi’s long love of superheroes (Army of Darkness and Darkman both harken to superhero archtypes) and his energetically creative style merged wonderfully with the web-crawler. Spider-Man, although not without its flaws, stepped up alongside of X-Men as the new wave of comic book movies that not only were good, but masterful.

Although it was undeniably Raimi’s biggest break of his career, in a way the success of Spidey didn’t suit him. He’s not always a crowd-pleaser in his directing, electing more to do what he thinks is cool instead of being a middle-of-the-road crowdpleaser. Spider-Man roped him into doing two more sequels that demanded he please said crowd, and I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for his situation. On one hand, unless he screwed up massively (Stop, or My Spider-Mom Will Shoot!), the box office numbers would ensure a financial windfall that would continue to give him bank at the studios. On the other hand, it became impossible both to make everyone happy and stay true to his vision, and Raimi got pinched between these two mighty forces.

I guess what I’m trying to lead up to say is that while Spidey 3 is by no means perfect or without criticism, I have to admire the fact that Raimi essentially went, “You know what? I made two pretty good movies. I’m going to make a third, and I’m going to do it in my own style. And I don’t need your permission or oversight to make it happen.”

As Drew said, Spidey 3 crams two — perhaps more — films’ worth of events and stories into one bulging package. Although I could be wrong in this, I think that this will be the final Spider-Man movie for a while; Raimi knew this, and wanted to bring the best of the remaining Spider-Man highlights to bear. Hence, we have the ever-popular Venom storyline, Gwen Stacey, the resolution of the Goblin/New Goblin saga, the Sandman, and Peter learning that movie three in any superhero series means that the superhero has to flirt with becoming evil.

Or, at very least, faux-emo.

Do you have wishes about how this film might’ve turned out? So do I. I wish that Venom could’ve been the main focal point of the movie — instead, he only gets to be just a little bit evil before the end credits. I can’t believe they ended the movie without Peter doing something the entire film was leading up to. The Sandman/Ben Parker concept was a bit weak, and it felt as if they had to keep dragging Ben’s death from the first movie back and back just to give the characters motivation and development time.

But by no means did I leave the theater unsatisfied! The movie looks absolutely spectacular, and I adore Raimi’s ability to step away from the superhero antics to give Spidey’s alter ego some real inspection. Perhaps it was a stretch, even with Venom’s influence, for Peter to become such a jerk — but I couldn’t help but laugh in glee that Raimi makes him such a geeky jerk (Peter’s dance-walk while shopping is a moment for the movie ages). James Franco absolutely blew me away as he took his boring Harry Osborn and made him into a villain, hero and amnesia wonderboy. The fights were kinetic and inventive, the story both darker and complex, and, um, Magic Butler Guy makes his move!

I love Magic Butler Guy.

In the end, it’s neither a flawless or flawed movie, but a completion of Sam Raimi’s mindchild. I can’t think of another director who would’ve given Spider-Man such a good home.

Didja notice?

  • “New Goblin”? What marketing whiz came up with that? Just call him Hobgoblin.
  • Peter’s knowledge of acoustics… foreshadowing much?
  • Uh, gratuitous cleavage shots in a Spidey movie… I’ve missed them so.
  • Captain Stacy = Jack Bauer’s father. AWESOME!
  • MJ’s play has won Tony Awards before critics have seen it?
  • When Spidey arrives to get the key to the city, the band plays the Spider-Man cartoon theme.
  • Those scenes must have been so much fun for Tobey Maguire to shoot. You’ll know the ones when you see them.
  • Betty Brant rules. She and J. Jonah Jameson should have their own movie.
  • Peter’s hair gets darker and he looks all emo when the black suit is influencing him.
  • I’m pretty sure those bouncers are getting fired.
  • Run! It’s the Stay Puft Sandman!
  • Kirsten Dunst dyed her blonde hair red to portray Mary Jane; Bryce Dallas Howard dyed her red hair blonde to play Gwen Stacy.
  • That Sandman travels by dustball? Neat.
  • The cameo by The Bruce?
  • The ‘Doc Ock Still at Large’ headline in the Bugle office?
  • Evil Dead’s ‘disembodied hand-cam’ making a cameo with the symbiote?
  • This symbiote seems to handle fire better than it’s comic book counterpart, since it fell to Earth inside a meteor.
  • Peter never really turns evil, just sort of into one of the Roxbury guys?
  • They adapted Spectacular Spider-Man #200 into the script. Very different situation, but they captured the spirit quite well.
  • During the fight with Venom, Eddie Brock takes off Spider-Man’s mask. He, Spider-Man, falls from a great height and when he gets up the mask is back on. [thanks Star Opal!]

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