Back in Black
After 2 highly successful films, Sam Raimi’s time as the director of the Spider-Man franchise came to an unfortunate close with Spider-Man 3. While the history and story behind him leaving is a little less clear, watching the final product of Spider-Man 3 makes it evident what made him want to leave the company: studio interference. At its core, Spider-Man 3 is not a bad film at all but the flaws of it are more apparent than its previous two entries. It is plagued with one too many subplots and characters, and an ambitious prospect for Sony to include plot points so they could make the most money. The end result clashes with Sam Raimi’s original vision but still manages to provide some entertaining and fun moments throughout its runtime. Sadly, the pattern of studio interference from Sony was just getting started from here.
There are many different story threads going on throughout the film. You have Peter Parker’s relationship with Mary Jane Watson, the conflict Peter has knowing Uncle Ben’s killer is still out there, Harry Osborn being mad at Spider-Man for killing his father, Peter wrestling with his responsibility as Spider-Man, Mary Jane’s performance career, and the appearance of the symbiote. You also have significant new characters from the Spider-Man universe in the form of Gwen Stacy and Eddie Brock, two of Peter Parker’s most significant influences in the comic books. There’s so much happening in Spider-Man 3 that its no wonder people don’t look back fondly in this film. A lot of these plot threads are rushed, resolved without any impact, lazily written together, or forced into the overarching conflict and that is the main problem this story faces. It bites off a bit more than it can chew.
However, this doesn’t make it bad film! In fact, upon rewatching it many years later there still is a lot to appreciate from Spider-Man 3 especially when compared to the modern superhero age or some of the bonkers decisions Sony made with The Amazing Spider-Man movies. All of the action scenes are exciting and thrilling, both in due part to the direction of Raimi and the story threads he set up in the previous two films. Whenever Spider-Man is fighting against a villain, it is absolutely thrilling whether that’s his fight with Harry Osborn in the opening moments or his clash with Sandman in the sewers. Each of these scenes are helmed confidently and have an emotional weight to them. We understand why Harry is angry at Peter making their clash feel more tense and we know why Peter is enraged by Sandman so their battle feels brutal and cathartic. Each scene is elevated by beautiful direction, and even though some of the scenes in this film can be cringe worthy, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring scenes. Raimi also employs a lot of visual storytelling moments that range from emotional to tense. There’s Sandman’s first transformation as he fights for his daughter or when Spider-Man is ripping off the symbiote from his suit. These scenes feel both weighty and exciting.
The conflict between Harry and Peter is what the previous two films were building toward, but sadly Harry gets bonked in the head and forgets his anger for a good portion of the movie taking away the valuable tension and build up to this clash. It could be argued that Harry should have been the main and forefront villain of this film, and the conflict between best friends turned enemies would have been the event of the century. I do really enjoy the team up at the end of the villain against Venom and Sandman. It gives me goosebumps everytime as you see Harry come in to save the day and gives a preview of what a superhero teamup could look like in the future. Sandman is a decent villain with some understandable motivations, but he isn’t given much to flesh out as his own character. The film focuses more on the fact of what he did, rather than allowing us to understand him more and develop into a fully three dimensional villain. He serves mainly as a source of Peter’s anger to fuel the symbiote. Finally, Venom’s inclusion in the film is forced as he only appears in the third act. While I do love the fight between Spider-Man and Venom in the end, Venom isn’t given much other than being someone to punch in third act. As arguably Spider-Man’s most iconic villain he deserved a lot better.
The symbiote’s influence over Peter ranges from exciting to cringe-worthy. When Peter first obtains the symbiote and fights Sandman, you see how powerful this suit can be and the way Peter can lose himself in his anger and rage against others. This was especially evident in his fight against Harry with the symbiote, another stand out scene. But the symbiote also brings out his cocky, prudent, and irresponsible side and it makes cringe at seeing such a sweet guy go so far down a beaten path. The dance numbers and dialogue, while definitely meme-worthy, still make me tense up to this day. The way it affects his relationship with Mary Jane as well becomes even more nonsensical. After two films of fighting to be with her, it would have been refreshing to see them support each other well instead of consistently bickering over menial things and mistakes. Raimi didn’t even want the symbiote in his film, but Sony wanted him to include it to drive up ticket sales and merchandise. In the end, this interference killed what is arguably the best set of Spider-Man films we have gotten to this day.
Knowing that this was Maguire’s last film in hindsight is sad, but the film does end with a sense of finality. Peter and MJ are back together, Uncle Ben’s killer is finally put to rest, and Peter begins to mend the hurt he has inflicted on others. While It is a bit more dour ending with Harry’s death, I do hope Maguire is in No Way Home to give him a finality and conclusion he most certainly deserves. Spider-Man 3 is far from the worst of all superhero movies, but it definitely is the weakest in the Maguire trilogy. The overabundance of plot points and characters bogs the film down instead of smartly focusing up on one to two villains that the series has been building towards. It is still an entertaining ride, one I would rather watch over any of the Amazing Spider-Man films but a sad end nonetheless! Here’s to hopefully seeing Maguire back one day for fitting end to his amazing tenure as the character.