Three Years Later… "Spider-Man 3"

Many would agree that the comic book movie has somewhat run its course in film. We have seen all the big guns of the comic book genre tackled on the big screen and we’re now being reduced to watching obscure superheroes and indie comics be adapted and fans are pretty exhausted. Even those who are die hard readers. One thing is for sure though: the fad is not dying any time soon even though they breed surefire controversy.

Such an example is the upcoming reboot of the “Spider-Man” movies. Upon reading the news many fans of the films and comics shouted from the rooftops at the sheer gall Sony studios had of wanting to restart the series. So far Sony is planning to completely revamp the big screen vision for the web slinger kicking out director Sam Raimi, and the entire cast and basically starting over from scratch. Obviously it’s to cut the cost of salary, but they insist it’s to completely rethink the direction the series is going in. Sony surprised many by this decision after talks ensued for months about their meetings with director Sam Raimi about plans for part four of the original franchise and even had the original cast contracted for parts four, five, and six.

Believe it or not it’s been three years since “Spider-Man 3” was released. Thanks to an alliance with Sony, indie horror director Sam Raimi was able to come out of left field and storm the box office and critics with his vision of one of the most popular superheroes of all time, Spider-Man. From out of the gates, “Spider-Man” was a huge success raking in millions and Raimi proved that he could really stretch his abilities and pay some service to the fan boys in spite of controversy. I mean there was the organic web shooters petition launched by legions of comic readers, and the casting of Tobey Maguire who fans protested upon learning of his casting.

In spite of the ballyhoo, Raimi made Spider-Man a household name yet again and continued his reign with two more films. Things seemed to be going well for the director who’d taken it upon himself to make the movies his own pet project enlisting his brothers to help in the writing and even cast them to make appearances in the film. And then there were three. “Spider-Man 3” seemed to have everything going for it. Raimi could do no wrong at this point. Except there were some definite warning signs that it had every chance to fail. Sony released the concept art for the character Venom and there was incredible hype surrounding the famous comic book villain’s introduction in to the big screen universe. Fans even took to bootlegging the teaser trailer that featured only a two second look at the forming of the character.

In the bootleg you could hear crowds roaring at the glimpse of the alien menace and jaws dropped across the world. People obviously cared more about Venom than they did Sandman who was, in reality, the primary villain of the piece. Then suddenly before the movie was actually brought in to theaters there was news that Raimi adamantly opposed the inclusion of Venom and that he had no actual desire to include him (or Carnage) in the storyline for the film series. Another big red flag were reports that Sony had bullied Raimi in to including the famous villain whether he agreed to it or not. Upon making its debut in theaters “Spider-Man 3” managed to break many records and was a hit grossing over three hundred million dollars domestically. Just one problem: The movie was awful and it managed to disappoint many fans of the film series. I hated it so much I trashed it in my review and included it on my list of the Worst Films of 2007.

At this time it’s become heavily debated on whether “Spider-Man 3” was actually bad, but it’s this man’s opinion that yes, Raimi bombed out big time with the third leg in his Spider-Man series. It’s not “Batman & Robin” bad, but definitely “Superman IV” bad. I can still remember watching it in theaters sitting there and slumping in my seat more and more as it went on and thinking “Is it me or does this movie just blow?” By the time I was walking out of the theater I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. So what went wrong, exactly? Where to start?

First, let me preface this article by including my conspiracy theory. After watching “Spider-Man 3” three times I was able to come to this conclusion: Raimi made the film really bad on purpose. If you go over the movie with a fine toothed comb there are some interesting elements that indicate Raimi had composed some really ridiculous scenes in the movie purposely and it was to get back at Sony. Sure, it sounds like I’m being an apologist for the man, but if you’ve ever read an interview with him you’ll see that in actuality he’s a pretty smart cookie and if you’ve seen some sequences there’s no way any sane human being could have possibly assumed they would be taken seriously. The fans of the third film (they’re a considerable minority) attribute it to Raimi’s penchant for dark and goofy comedy, but then why are the first two films so stern and dramatic?

“Spider-Man 2” was so dramatic that a good portion of the children in the audience I was in were bored senseless. “Spider-Man 3” watches like a prank from the director, a big flip of the bird to Sony for basically strong arming him in to making the film their way without him, and there are many instances where the man just seems to not even be trying at all. You can tell right from the opening scenes where Peter (as Spidey) is web slinging across New York and is instantly attacked by Green Goblin 2 aka Harry Osborn. The attack is big and epic and rather fast. Spidey is web slinging, he’s attacked by surprise and we get the hint that Harry is obviously avenging his father, but then… what happened to his Spider senses? In the first two films he’s able to anticipate a sucker punch from school bully Flash Thompson, and in a famous moment Peter tackles Mary Jane to the ground as a car is thrown in to a coffee shop window almost crushing the romantic duo.

What happened?

Did Raimi just completely dismiss this important character trait to keep the element of surprise? Did he just tire of including his spider senses? We then enter in to what is basically an almost endless series of plot threads that just never cease and are hardly resolved by the time the movie’s two and half hours (?!) have run its course. It’s almost like Raimi and co. had about five or six ideas for a plot and figured they could squeeze all of them in without anyone noticing. I noticed. Peter and Mary Jane are falling in love, Harry is getting back at Peter so Harry begins to manipulate their relationship, but Mary Jane is finding increasing problems with her relationship with Peter, so Harry’s plan works, then we’re introduced to Flint Marko who has a sick daughter and becomes the Sandman, then we get to meet Gwen Stacy a blonde bombshell of a model who begins to take a liking to Peter, then we meet Eddie Brock a rival photographer to Peter who likes Gwen who Gwen doesn’t like back (are you still with me?), she wants Peter, and Eddie begins to resent him for that.

Then we’re introduced to the alien symbiote that attaches itself to Peter, we’re even introduced to Captain Stacy an important character in Spidey’s supporting cast, and it goes on and on and on. Raimi just seems to want to squeeze in so many characters and storylines and just flat out exhausts all of the audience’s patience with a movie that could have seriously benefited with some wise editing and foreshadowing. I don’t know who to blame here. My natural impulse is to pit the cluster fuck on Sony studios because without the introduction of Eddie Brock and Venom and the symbiote the movie could have definitely been a lot better. Raimi adheres to the formula that the original Batman movies did. He sticks in too many characters and too many villains, and as the film progresses you can see the entire arc gradually falling to pieces.

One of the road signs up ahead that lead me to see the crumbling is that Raimi just doesn’t want forward progression for his characters.The people we come to know and love either take one step back in evolution or just become completely different personas. Peter Parker was always whiny but here he’s just insanely whiny and just can’t stop blubbering for a good portion of the film. He becomes rather petulant at times and just takes anyone’s abuse. The man has battled some big honchos, he’s claimed his one true love and yet he’s still such an insecure shell of a man. Match that with the paradoxical turn he takes once he realizes he’s a celebrity as he becomes utterly obnoxious and impossible to empathize with. He even kisses Gwen Stacy and isn’t too apologetic for it when confronted by Mary Jane.

Mary Jane is the biggest crime here as she just progresses into this unlikable person. She’s shrill and once she gets her big start in a theatrical production she fails and then pits much of the abuse on Peter. She’s almost impossible to deal with here and she makes poor Parker pay for it in the end. Raimi, for a good portion of the story, focuses completely on the love triangle between Harry, Peter, and Mary Jane where it tends to come off like an episode of “Gossip Girl.” Raimi entirely halts any and all action at this point just to feature this plot of manipulation. Harry twists Mary Jane’s head and rather than actually trusting her gut or Peter she listens to his accusations and proceeds to turn against him while Harry stands in the background twirling his mustache and snickering to himself. There’s also Aunt May who is reduced to being a Yoda-like entity who conveniently has an anecdote for every problem Peter raises for her.

J. Jonah Jameson acts like a cartoon character here. All evidence of JK Simmons startling portrayal of the character is gone and now he comes off as the lost Stooge. Characters are just utterly wasted or rendered useless. Raimi repeats himself over and over again and it leaks on to the villains of the story. Raimi had this nagging habit of taking these rather evil characters and turning them in to people who are bad on the outside but good people on the inside. Norman was a sick man but in his mind seemed to be aiming at Peter to help his son, while Doctor Octopus, once a completely egomaniacal madman, became a good man who turned evil thanks to the death of his wife at his hands. Here Sandman goes from a petty thug with a power trip in to a doting father who breaks out of jail to see his daughter who happens to be frail and sick.

In his mind breaking out of jail is the right thing to do because it means that he can see his daughter who loves him in spite of her mom’s objections. Why in the world can’t Raimi’s villains be evil for the sake of evil? Sandman is further diluted by the fact that he has no other actual intentions with his newfound powers here other than to steal for the sake of helping his daughter.

He’s not evil, he doesn’t seem to want to hurt too many people and even when battling Peter he is often hesitant. This successfully saps any and all fun we could have with the character and Raimi’s knack for repetition becomes incredibly tiresome. But his entry in to the fray becomes immediately troublesome because by the time we get to see his story it’s clear the film is becoming much too cluttered. I can forgive his ridiculous back story and the fact that he happens to fumble in to an experiment that turns him in to the sandman thanks to the incompetence of some scientists, but Sandman just isn’t that interesting a character and Raimi seems to be trying his damndest to turn him in to a complex individual. When you take a step back and look at the hype surrounding the movie he doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme because all of the fans went to see the movie just to take a look at Raimi’s vision of Venom.

Part Two >>