I’m not sure whether to dislike Spider-Man 3 for being too complex in its narrative or praise it for at least trying to top its predecessor. Maybe both. See, in this one, there seems to be every attempt made to best the previous entries in the series, with some of these endeavors paying off, but the majority falling flat. This is unfortunate because, with only a few tweaks, Spider-Man 3 could have been better than the first two movies. As it is, it’s the worst of the three.
Some of the problems don’t just stem from over ambition, instead coming from the story itself and how certain characters are portrayed within the film. The primary example of this is the way that the villain Venom is handled, being entirely different from his comic book origins. What’s most surprising about Sam Raimi‘s rendition of Venom is that he ends up being the only “pure villain” within the trilogy.
In the previous two films, Spider-Man’s enemies were not that way by their own will. The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) had gas injected into him that turned him evil, while Dr. Octopus’ (Alfred Molina) mechanical arms made him act out of order. This is the case again with two of this installment’s villains as well. There are three in this movie: The aforementioned Venom (mentioning the actor playing him would be a spoiler), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the new Green Goblin (James Franco). The other two villains are misunderstood and reluctant characters, actually warranting some sympathy from the audience—just like the villains from the first two films.
What’s odd about this is that Venom is a perfect character to have this same dynamic. In the comics, I’m told, Venom believed that he was doing the right thing—that he was a hero. He thought that by fighting Spider-Man, he was doing the city of New York a favor. He even saves the lives of some citizens. Here, he’s in it for one reason, and that’s his evil self-interest. This just seems like an odd choice to me, especially given the trilogy’s past.
The way that Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is portrayed is also inconsistent with the rest of the series. Now, some of this is due to the events that occur within the film, but some of it is just due to poor choices on the part of the writer. Once again, Parker seems to make poor choice after poor choice, making us question his maturity levels. And then, mid-way through the movie, he is infected with the parasitic symbiote that landed on Earth earlier on.
This turns him into a darker character. Picture a stereotypical “emo” character, and apply that to Peter Parker, and you’ll get a pretty good idea about what happens to him. However, he still seems happy, just more reckless and with a worse hairstyle. During this transformation, one of the more cringe-worthy scenes that I have ever seen occurs. It’s intentionally supposed to be that way, but cringe is cringe, I guess.
For you to enjoy Spider-Man 3, you need to mostly ignore the plot and, instead, enjoy the set-pieces that $258 million can produce.
There’s one other painful scene, and it occurs much earlier in the plot. Harry Osbourne found his father’s Green Goblin outfit at the end of Spider-Man 2. He dawns this outfit in the first real action scene of this film, attacking Spider-Man. During this fight scene, it is glaringly obvious that it was all special effects, and it took me out of the moment. All possible emotion it could have had was removed just because it was so easy to see that it wasn’t real.
These two scenes are the bottom of the barrel when it comes to this movie. The good parts mostly come from the battles that take place between Spider-Man and the multiple villains within it. These are special effect spectacles—with the exception of the early Spidey-Goblin fight—and they are very entertaining. With a budget as large as the one this film had—$258 million—you should expect a lot of entertainment in the action scenes, and for the most part, that’s what you get.
There are also some exciting developments regarding the non-superhero plots. Some, not most. Only a few are interesting; others are just annoying or dull. It’s a superhero movie that attempts to make us feel for its lead characters. It tries to do this, but it rarely succeeds. The series was successful at doing this in the first two films, particularly in the case of its villains, but in this one, it just fails.
By the end, you are unlikely to feel any sympathy for anyone, even the two villains for whom the movie wants you to care. Sandman apparently isn’t a bad person because he only wants the money to help his sick daughter. Osbourne isn’t bad because he doesn’t know the whole story about what happened on the night his father died. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is treated poorly, another character has his life ruined—but, by the end, none of it matters because you won’t care.
Unlike the first two chapters, Spider-Man 3 needed to be taken in a different direction. The first two films had real drama regarding their characters, and you would grow to like and care about some of them. In the third movie, this doesn’t happen. For you to enjoy Spider-Man 3, you need to mostly ignore the plot and, instead, enjoy the set-pieces that $258 million can produce. There are too many characters that don’t get enough development, but the action scenes are fun enough to warrant a watch, especially if you enjoyed the previous two Spider-Mans. Spider-Men? Whatever.
Conclusion: Spider-Man 3 is the first mixed entry in Sam Raimi’s franchise.
Recommendation: Spider-Man 3 isn’t great, but it’s not all bad and some of the action is great.