Stillanerd’s Retrospective: Spider-Man 3 (2007) review


Panned by critics and fans as the worst of the Sam Raimi trilogy, did Spider-Man’s third theatrical outing deserve such a bad rap?

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The first time I saw Spider-Man 3 (2007), I knew within the first five minutes I was in for a rough time. More specifically, it became apparent once Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson sings “They Say It’s Wonderful” from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of musicals. Or perhaps seeing Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker lip-syncing along with her was too cheesy even for me. Whatever the reasons, I began curling up into the fetal position in my seat. Any time I heard “it’s wonderful,” I silently screamed, “No it’s not!

The possibility of reliving this nightmarish experience is what made me dread re-watching this movie. Let’s face it: we all know the last chapter in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy isn’t very good. Raimi himself admitted that this film was “awful,” that he failed in matching the same level of quality he set for himself during the previous two films. Even those who defend this film are quick in pointing out that it’s still “pretty stupid.”

However, unlike other film franchise killers such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman and Robin, there’s a half-way decent flick buried in Spider-Man 3. The first half hour, other than that musical number and how the symbiote arrives on Earth (that must’ve been some make-out session if Peter and MJ couldn’t hear a meteor land that close!), held some promise. It properly builds from Spider-Man 2, has a strong sense of story structure, with near excellent performances all around.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from Spider-Man 3 (2007)

…the sequence where Flint Marko first becomes the Sandman is still one of the most haunting, beautiful moments from the entire trilogy.

More specifically, Thomas Hayden Church as Flint Marko / The Sandman is a great addition. Sure, his reason for turning to a life of crime because he needs money for his sickly daughter is overly melodramatic and never leads anywhere. Also, how he winds up in that atomizer is ridiculous beyond belief.  Even so, just like J.K. Simmon’s J. Jonah Jameson, Church looks like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation in the flesh. The sequence where he first becomes the Sandman is still one of the most haunting, beautiful moments from the entire trilogy.

Unfortunately, it’s also after this excellent, visually stunning scene where the film starts falling apart and, unlike Flint Marko, never reconstitutes itself. Characters randomly show up, then randomly drop out of the movie for several minutes at a time. There’s at least nine different subplots taking place, most which are completely unnecessary. It’s painfully obvious last-minute rewrites and reshoots took place, resulting in choppy, disjointed editing. Spider-Man 3 is the longest film in the trilogy, and it definitely feels like it, too.

In fairness, some of this isn’t Raimi’s fault. Unlike the first two movies, studio executives, especially producer Ari Avad, kept meddling with the film. More specifically, they didn’t approve of Raimi’s first choice of the Vulture as the movie’s secondary villain. Instead, they insisted he use a more popular bad guy. Never mind that Raimi didn’t like this particular character, and had misgivings about using him in the movie. He was assured this character’s huge popularity among comic fans would translate into a guaranteed success.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Whenever there’s a bad scene in the movie, there’s a good chance it either involves the black costumed Spider-Man…or the now infamous “Emo Pete.”

I am, of course, talking about Venom. Suffice to say, Raimi’s apprehensions proved correct. Whenever there’s a bad scene in the movie, there’s a good chance it either involves the black-costumed Spider-Man, the horribly miscast Topher Grace as “Eddie Brock Jr.,” or the now infamous “Emo Pete.” Everyone remembers and derides the so-bad-it’s-funny “Get On Up” montage, of course. But at least that part was still fun. The Jazz Club scene, however, is shockingly bad. I still couldn’t believe at how outlandish, nonsensical, and just plain mean-spirited that whole sequence was.

“But what about the bell tower scene?” All right, I’ll grant you that seeing Peter struggling to rip off the black suit was visually stunning. I have no idea why he thought about going to that church’s belfry when it was never established that the symbiote was vulnerable to sound. Also, the fight between Peter and Harry in the Osborn manor does look as well-choreographed as it does vicious. In that regard, Raimi does the best he can with what was an obvious studio mandate.

But there’s no excuse for Raimi, his brother Ivan, or screenwriter Alvin Sargent’s misguided decision having Flint Marko be the “real killer” of Uncle Ben. Yes, this does fit with the film’s overarching theme about the dangers of revenge and the power of forgiveness.  And yes, it ties directly back with the first movie. But in doing so, it also undermines who Peter Parker is at his core. Take away Peter’s culpability for his uncle’s death as this film does, and you pretty much ruin who Spider-Man is.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from Spider-Man 3 (2007)

…the more Peter and MJ’s relationship fractures, the more bored and tired [Kirsten] Dunst becomes

Then there’s how the film handles the romantic difficulties between Peter and MJ. Save for that one moment where MJ sweetly tells Peter “You are such a nerd,” the chemistry between Maguire and Dunst completely disappears. It’s obvious Dunst was ready to move on from this franchise, and the more Peter and MJ’s relationship fractured, the more bored and tired Dunst became. In addition, the inclusion of Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy served no purpose other than be the obligatory “other woman.”

As for Maguire, I’d say this was the movie which undermined his movie career the most. He was already forever associated with Spider-Man by this point, which probably made things difficult when it came to other roles. But this was also the film where he tried showing how he could be more than the just the well-mannered, boyish, dopey nice guys he often played. This was his first attempt at going “dark”—and it’s laughable.

Even J.K. Simmons and Rosemary Harris reprising their roles as Jonah and Aunt May, respectively, aren’t as impressive as before. It was definitely sad knowing this would be the last time we’d see them play the very parts which made them into household names. Also, I defy anyone to name me a more thankless and pointless supporting role than James Cromwell’s Captain Stacy.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from Spider-Man 3 (2007)

…this was the movie when [James] Franco abandoned any notions he was the “reincarnation” of James Dean, and became a better actor because of it.

What’s funny is that, after phoning it in during the first movie, James Franco winds up giving the best performance in this one. Maybe it’s because he knew this was the last time he’d play Harry Osborn. Or it could be because the script allows Harry to have so many personas actors love to tackle. In any case, Franco is having a blast going from villain to amnesiac romantic artist, back to villain again, and finally self-sacrificing hero. For me, this was the movie when Franco abandoned any notions he was the “reincarnation” of James Dean, and became a better actor because of it.

Something else I found surprising is that, despite being three years older than Spider-Man 2, the special effects took a huge step backwards. Other than the Sandman effects, it’s hard to believe this movie had a bigger budget than the first two. The movie heavily relies on green screen, and it’s especially noticeable—like the opening fight between Peter and Harry and the runaway construction crane scene.  Also, did Venom have to look so much like an actor wearing a rubber suit?

Of course, I could also talk about how the last twenty minutes is the culmination of every awful creative decision Raimi and company made. Some examples: the two newscasters giving “play-by-play” commentary on the fight; having Venom show his face just to give Grace more screen time; or the illogical reasoning behind Sandman even wanting to work with Venom. Don’t even get me started on “Bernard the Butler.” He somehow knew the truth about Norman’s death and was only now telling Harry—just when Peter needed his help.

Next: Stillanerd's Retrospective: Spider-Man 3 (2007) review

So, yes, I survived watching Spider-Man 3 for a second time. And because having seen it a second time, I don’t consider it the bleak, dark pit of cinematic despair it gets made out to be. Had it undergone a proper revision, it might even have been a decent flick. But it definitely still pales in comparison with the first two, and isn’t something I’d be ready to watch again any time soon. Besides, I’m doing my best in purging those musical numbers out of my head, thank you very much.