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Marvel Movies Project: Spider-Man 3

Movie poster for Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Given my extreme love of/obsession with Spider-Man 2, I was just about ready to burst with anticipation for Spider-Man 3 back in 2007. I’m sure I drove everyone around me crazy talking about it, counting down to it, analysing the trailers and ads … oh boy. My excitement took a hit when I first saw the ad which revealed that it was actually Flint Marko, the Sandman, who’d killed Uncle Ben, and not the thief we saw in Spider-Man. A major retcon like that screams trouble. Still, I really wanted to love this movie. Unfortunately, I do not. There are things I like about it, but it has so many problems.

First of all, they try to introduce too many new characters. Eddie Brock. Flint Marko. Gwen Stacy. Captain Stacy. The weird-ass alien symbiote. The big issue for me is: why did they bother introducing Gwen and Captain Stacy at all? They’re both such iconic characters that anyone who knew anything about Spider-Man comics would hear their names and think, wow! And then neither one of them does anything very interesting. Captain Stacy is barely there. Gwen is more important to the plot, but she could have been replaced with literally any other girl in the entire world and Spidey’s upside down kiss with her right in front of Mary Jane would have seemed just as cruel.

A related issue is that Spider-Man 3 has too many villains. Not only that, two of these villains are new characters with new backstories that have to be explained. Harry’s turn to the dark side makes sense; it’s something the filmmakers had been building towards since the end of Spider-Man. I can accept the addition of one new villain on top of Harry, but two is excessive, especially when Peter himself is fairly villainous for a large part of the film. The Sandman, although I hate almost everything about his backstory in this movie, is the more developed of the two new villains. Eddie Brock and Venom are completely shoehorned in. Venom does not even appear until 104 minutes into the movie, and he’s dead 20 minutes later. What was the point? There isn’t one.

With all of these new characters, the movie ends up feeling extremely cluttered. So why would they try to cram all these people into this movie? According to Sam Raimi, it was the producers’ idea. Thank you for that, Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin.

But we can’t blame everything on the overabundance of characters. There are plenty of other problems. Harry’s venture into supervillainy starts out looking like a promising plot development and the first fight sequence between him and Peter is an excellent action setpiece. Unfortunately, the fight ends with a bump on the head and one of the world’s most cliched soap opera plot devices: amnesia. Argh! They spend all that time building up Harry’s hatred of Spider-Man and then undo it with a single blow. Making things worse, it’s a pointless case of amnesia because Harry later gets his memory back. Here’s what I suggest if they ever decide to re-edit this movie and make it not suck: Harry pretends to forgive Peter, but actually works against him through the entire movie. See? Isn’t that more interesting?

I also don’t like that they use Peter/Spidey’s sudden success as the main source of conflict between him and Mary Jane. The ending of Spider-Man 2 set up that the couple would have problems, but I think the suggestion was that Mary Jane would simply find the stresses of being a superhero’s girlfriend — worry, constant danger, always being left behind — hard to handle. That alone could have worked to create drama (as it has in the comics) and it would have been very natural; adding this new dynamic of Peter high/MJ low feels overdone.

Speaking of overdone, Peter’s out of control ego is the most overblown thing about this film, and leads to its most cringe-worthy moments. There are a couple of interesting articles in defense of this aspect of Spider-Man 3: Devin Faraci’s Badass Digest post on the movie’s dance scenes is a good read, and it makes a lot of sense; Entertainment Weekly picks up the same theme. Both argue that “Dark Peter” is so ridiculous because the concept of “Dark Peter” is simply ridiculous: emo hair and douchey dance moves are about as evil as dorky, decent Peter Parker gets. It is possible that with Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi was almost trying to parody the idea of the gritty superhero movie. I can see that, and it makes sense especially given that we know Raimi didn’t particularly want to make a movie about Venom.

If this was in fact Raimi’s intention, I can relate to it: I also don’t much like gritty superhero movies (except in cases where the character’s nature calls for it — Daredevil, for instance, wasn’t gritty enough), and I am particularly annoyed by the fact that for many people, gritty equals good. A big part of the reason I love the first two Spidey films is that they are not gritty. They are heartfelt movies based on fairly normal, everyday life emotions: Peter’s guilt over his uncle’s death, his simple desire for Mary Jane to love him back, and his anxiety about finding his true path in life are things I think many people can relate to. This everyman quality is and always has been pretty much the entire point of Spider-Man.

Peter’s sudden superstar status takes all that away. And this is my major problem with the whole Dark Peter storyline. Even if it is an intentional parody, in doing it, the filmmakers destroyed everything that made the first two movies good.

As the Entertainment Weekly article I linked above points out, with Peter off making public appearances and becoming totally absorbed in his own hype, Mary Jane becomes by far the most sympathetic character in the film. I like her storyline in Spider-Man 3, probably because it’s the most in keeping with what these movies had been up to this point: she’s a young woman struggling fairly realistically in her chosen career.

Imagine if they had had Peter continue on a similar path as well: Peter and Mary Jane, now in a relationship but both struggling to make ends meet, on top of Mary Jane’s uncertainty about the whole Spider-Man thing, plus Harry working against them in secret, and (even though I don’t like this storyline) Peter discovering that the man who killed Uncle Ben was still out there … sounds like a pretty good movie to me. If they really had to include the symbiote, there’s enough potential for darkness in that scenario without turning Peter into a raging narcissistic megadouche: instead of making him even more of a self-centred jackass, the symbiote would play off Peter’s insecurities and anger about the Sandman. Rather than introducing and immediately killing Venom in this film, they could have waited and shown him right at the end. This is an awesome setup Spider-Man 4, and shazam. Franchise saved. You’re welcome.

Ah, what might have been.

There’s so much other bad stuff I could discuss — the massive amount of the plot that relies on coincidence (symbiote on a scooter, convenient butler), the terrible Greek chorus of TV reporters at the final battle, the questionable CGI, the misuse of the Daily Bugle staff, the failure to make the most of the Sandman — but I will leave it here. If Raimi and co. had stayed on the course they laid out for themselves with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, they could have made the best superhero trilogy (or maybe even quadrilogy) of all time. But they didn’t. It’s a real shame.