Special Note: The paperback version of ATOMIC REACTIONS: MARVEL COMICS ON FILM is now available for purchase at Amazon. Taken from my reviews here, MARVEL COMICS ON FILM contains every single one of my Marvel reviews, and covers every single instance of Marvel Comics on film.
Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Directed by Sam Raimi – Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Dylan Baker, Cliff Robertson, Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, and Willem Dafoe.
After creating one of the very best superhero movies of all time with SPIDER-MAN 2, Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Company come back to deliver one of the all-time stinkers.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment where SPIDER-MAN 3 turns to crud because there’s no one singular moment. The film starts off perfectly fine for a few scenes and then … then Harry shows up as the Goblin in Black to kill Spidey, gets amnesia, and … well, before the film is over, we’ve got Assh*le Peter dancing at a club with Gwen Stacy to rub it in Mary Jane’s face and …
How does this crap make it onto the screen?
It’s amazing to me that this film franchise could go so amazingly off track in one film’s time. Almost as amazing as the fact that Topher Grace is no more than the fifth or sixth dumbest thing in the film. As the saying goes, you have to work godd*amn hard to be this awful.
It’s the slow, gradual fall that makes SPIDER-MAN 3 stand out. When the film opens, we’ve got Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) on Broadway, Harry Osborn (James Franco) plotting his revenge against Peter/Spidey (Tobey Maguire), and Peter thinking of asking MJ for her hand in marriage. Of course, things can’t stay good because we need some dramatic conflict to justify all that popcorn and Diet Coke we’ve shelled out for, and so Sam Raimi decides to dump all manner of nonsense into Peter’s life.
First, we’ve got the Harry Osborn/The New Goblin (honestly, that’s what the credits call him – the New Goblin …) subplot coming down on Peter. They have a rather lame fight across the city. Harry’s changed the Goblin Glider from something that looks bad-ass into something that looks like the X Games’ ugliest snowboard. Pete ends up knocking Harry for a loop and his best friend goes crashing to the Earth. He ends up in the hospital where he gets a Plot Contrivance in the form of short term amnesia. I know, right? It’s a total convenience the film comes up with so it doesn’t have to deal with Harry being mad at Peter for the first hour of the film. It’s lame and it’s terrible but we’re still barely 20 minutes in, and SPIDER-MAN 2 is still ringing in my head, so I’m willing to give the film this bit of hack in the hopes it improves.
Astonishingly, it doesn’t.
Without knowing what else to do with Mary Jane, Raimi knocks her back down to square one. She gets fired from her Broadway gig because all the critics hate her, and the only job she can get is a singer-slash-waitress at a jazz club. Of course, she doesn’t tell Peter about this because he’s all, “Don’t let critics get you down, MJ. I know what that’s like, because the papers hate Spider-Man and blah blah blah.” The real reason MJ doesn’t tell Peter, of course, is that no one ever tells anyone anything in these Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies until after all possible damage has been done.
With Harry’s revenge quest sidelined, we’ve got room for the other two villainous subplots: the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the Venom symbiote.
Well, kinda. The Venom symbiote crashes to Earth, hitches a ride home with Peter and MJ, and then waits around for half the freaking movie to make its move. I almost forget about him but then there’s some weird shot of the symbiote lurking around Peter’s crummy apartment. Speaking of which – if Peter is all about making responsible choices, why didn’t he move back in with Aunt May and put his rent towards her keeping her house?
The Sandman plot is more promising as Flint Marko is a crook trying to raise money so his daughter can have surgery. It’s a strong angle. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do anything with it. It’s almost like they picked this back story because they don’t think Church can act without a blank look of dumbness on his face. Which is not true because I’ve seen Wings. Yup, a Wings reference because they asked Church to provide more acting there than they do here.
It’s a shame because Church is a good actor and the Sandman angle is a good one. But all we get is a touching scene where his wife (Theresa Russell) kicks him out of their apartment when he comes to visit after he busts out of jail. Then he gets turned into the Sandman. Then he robs bank trucks and fights with Spider-Man.
The fight scenes are all rather lame, especially compared to the fantastic fight scenes in SPIDER-MAN 2. Part of it is the choice of villain – the Sandman is made of sand so Peter keeps fighting blowing rocks. Sometimes the rocks are really tall. Sometimes the rocks are really small. Sometimes the rocks make Spider-Man fall. Sometimes the rocks are like punching a wall. And almost always the rocks just don’t work.
There’s even another villainous subplot with Peter’s new rival photographer at the Bugle, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Grace was perfectly fine on That ’70s Show, playing a likable dweeb who gets the hot girl who’s way out of his league to go out with him, but he’s awful as the total jerk. Every scene he’s in until Peter busts him for being a photography fraud is full of, “Hey guys, I’m ACTING!”
When Venom finally makes his move and turns Spidey’s suit black, it’s done just to make Peter transform into Assh*le Peter, and it’s painful and tedious to watch.
It does, however, lead to the one of the two genuinely nice scenes in the movie. Peter is still living in the same apartment, and he’s got the same landlord, Mr. Ditkovitch (Elya Baskin). Mr. Ditkovitch is always giving Peter a hard time about being late with his rent, and when he starts in again this time around, Peter explodes at him, telling him he’ll get his rent money after he fixes the gosh darn door. Peter storms into his apartment and Ditkovitch’s daughter Ursula (Mageina Tovah) says that wasn’t a nice thing for him to do, but Ditkovitch actually stands up for Peter. “He’s a nice boy,” he says. “There must be something bothering him.” It’s a really nice moment to see that the landlord has genuine affection for Peter and is willing to cut him some slack.
Of course, it makes Peter’s decision to use Ursula later in the movie for milk and cookies seem all the more scummy. Which is maybe the point. Well, great, I still don’t want to watch it.
The other genuinely nice moment in the film comes from Bernard, the Osborn butler (played by John Paxton, father of Bill). He’s been lurking in the background, but now, after Peter comes to Harry for help and Harry tells him to go pound sand (get it?), Bernard steps in and plays Alfred, telling Harry he loved his father and he loves him and he’s seen lots of stuff in this house and that Peter definitely did not kill Norman.
This leads to Harry donning the New Goblin costume and going to help Peter fight the Sandman/Venom duo. It’s another silly fight and as thanks for doing the right thing and helping Peter, Harry dies.
Shoulda stayed home, Harry.
Peter ends up reconciling with MJ, though he never comes out and says, “Sorry for smacking you in the face,” but it’s a quiet, dour end to the film. We go through all this nonsense and all this melodrama, and this is how Raimi chooses to end his trilogy? With a funeral for Harry and a limp hug in a jazz bar?
Ugh, ugh, a thousand ughs. SPIDER-MAN 3 starts off strong and becomes nearly unbearable to watch. It’s painful and tedious, full of dumb moments and forced melodrama. There’s too many villains and not enough time devoted to them. There’s Peter acting like a dick (even before the symbiote latches onto him), and MJ regressing, and Harry with amnesia. It’s all so … so tough to watch. There’s no sense of fun or real dramatic conflict. Everything feels forced and lame.
And until Avengers came along, it was the highest grossing Marvel movie.
Go figure. It’s a terrible movie but it brought in the big cake, so … congratulations? It’s the one Spider-Man movie I’ve never bought and the one Spider-Man movie I have no intention of buying.