Dissecting Sam Raimi’s Spider-Men: Part 3 – Spider-Man 3

This intro is re-purposed from the Part 1 in this three part series on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films.

For The Other Entries: Part 1: Spider-Man, Part 2: Spider-Man 2

I’ll be honest, I never connected with Raimi’s Spider-Man films. That’s not to say I wasn’t a fan of the comic book movie genre in 2002, sparse as it may have been up to this point, and I have been a proponent of it ever since. I loved the first two X-Men movies, Batman VHS’ were staples in my house in the 90s, Ninja Turtles!, The Rocketeer!, Dick Tracy!, hell, I even liked Stallone’s Judge Dredd. I was a mark for these things. So why didn’t the Web-Head suck me in?

I never read Spider-Man comics, so hold that against me if you wish, but I never read any comics, so, why didn’t these Spider-Man movies fire on the same level its contemporaries did?

I immediately felt on the outside after seeing the first Raimi Spider-Man on opening weekend. At a graduation party (high school), right after coming from the theater having seen the film, I was baffled to hear everyone else who had also caught it to have loved it. I must have carried a confused face that whole night as I tried to debate with friends that the movie was, in fact, bad.

But, my opinions on this introduction to the character didn’t stop me from going out and seeing the other two Raimi films when they were released. And, I got to say, I didn’t like those a lot either. In fact, the almost universal “Masterpiece” praise for Spider-Man 2 probably actively worked against my opinion on the film as the years ticked by. After all three of these films were out, I was the guy who said 3 was the best, and “emo Peter” was the best part.

I promise, I wasn’t trolling.

So, where does that leave me now? Well, I originally tried to write this article with my last re-watch of these films four years ago, and my continued apathy towards them must have knocked that idea out of me? That re-watch was sparked by Spidey’s impending appearance in the MCU (in what turned out to be the second of THREE better interpretations of the Web-Slinger that we’ve gotten in cinema since Raimi’s [yes I like the Andrew Garfield staring Amazing Spider-Man films more than Raimi’s 1-3] {FOUR better adaptations if you count Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4}), so maybe the joy of seeing Tom Holland as Spider-Man tampered the urge to be negative about the character; even if I am probably on the record as saying the Spider-Man diversion was the worst part of that movie (it felt out of place! [man, this, fucking, sentence!]).

With no new comic book movies in sight, and fresh off a play through of the aforementioned PS4 game, I got the itch to give these Raimi films, yet again, another shot. So, let’s see how they hold up, shall we?

Jump To: Part 2: Spider-Man 2 or Part 3: Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Ok, another alternate cut, this time the “Editor’s Cut” of Spider-Man 3 that appeared in the last box set of all of these movies, and this is the first time watching this version. Coming out of the theater, I thought this was the best of the Spider-Men movies. I wouldn’t say I was a champion of the movie, but after not digging the first two films, this one clicked with me. I was the guy defending the “emo Peter” sequence of the film, as I genuinely found it hilarious, and thought the action was good.

What’s interesting, after watching these movies back to back, three days in a row, is just how much this feels like Raimi course correcting and actually diving into these characters in a way that he couldn’t in the first two films. Which seems counterintuitive to the supposed behind the scenes struggles around this film, but this is a film that actually feels like it is trying to be about something; in an interesting way and not just through lip service.

Anyways, lets just get into, shall we…

What Works?
The Romance!: I know, this is shocking. I spent a lot of time tearing apart the romance, or lack there of, in the first two films, but here, Raimi actually shows it to us. While I might not believe that these two ended up together over the course of the first two films, I was almost offended they wanted us to believe in their love, this film takes the first fifteen minutes to really let us see how much they care about each other. Funny how that works, huh?

Pete is adorably dorky (another good development to get into) and getting to see him so smitten at MJ’s performance, backstage, and as they snuggle up on a web in the park, I believe these two’s connection. Both in the writing and the performances. They feel like real, normal people in love. Maguire is also great in the scene with Aunt May, telling her he’s going to propose, and this all does a great job to quickly establish where Peter and MJ are at, or where he thinks they are at, as we head into some completely reasonable turbulence in their relationship.

Pitting Peter’s celebrity rise as Spider-Man against Mary Jane’s ousting at her Broadway show introduces an actual angle for MJ to have some agency in this story and Dunst plays this inner turmoil really well. Yes, withholding the truth of her firing exacerbates the situation a bit and is played for a plot device in the end, but we also understand she doesn’t want to step on Pete/Spidey’s big day. Their little fight around the review also feels like a course correction from the previous films, with MJ getting a chance to defend herself, her place in the relationship, and point out that Peter’s sort of in the clouds about everything in his life at the moment. It also builds on the obvious tension that was going to be in their relationship with him being Spider-Man. They so blatantly try to plaster “true love” over this dilemma at the end of Spider-Man 2, but reality comes roaring back here, and Pete always swinging out conversations is going to cause a rift in their relationship, no doubt. Again, MJ is given the right words to say in their relationship, but this time it actually plays out in a believable way.

Yes, having Peter let Gwen kiss him is a pretty dumb move on his part, even if I buy it as being completely non-sexual for him. And yes, giving MJ a streak of blind jealousy at the restaurant scene is a bit reductive too, but I think the film gets away with it as she is boiling over from getting a bad review, fired, and then seeing Pete kiss Gwen. I buy it! She’s stressed, she’s a little pissed, but their divide for the middle chunk of the film is not as sharply painted as the beginnings leg work to establish the relationship on the screen. Mostly, I just wish MJ would have told Peter she was fired, it’s inexcusable that they don’t put that in there, and they totally could’ve had the same emotional through line if she had done it during the scene where black suit Peter flippantly dismisses her.

Speaking of black suit Peter, the way it drives him to try and spite MJ at her work (with Gwen!, I love how she apologizes to MJ, doesn’t make it a cat fight, which wouldn’t have been surprising given the way the first two films treat female characters) is a great way, in this heightened montage, to culminate what the symbiote does to people, and Peter specifically. We know he would never treat MJ that way, so it makes sense this was the final straw for him and the suit.

I even buy into the MJ/Harry scene at his apartment. Amnesia Harry lets us see a side of him that the movies have never shown us. We don’t understand why these two dated in the first film, and Harry is such a one note villain in the second film, this is, finally, a chance to see who Harry was, and we totally get why MJ and Peter were drawn to this guy. He’s funny, goofy yet charming, he’s a good friend! And Franco and Dunst sell us on the chemistry between the two of them, both in the park and back at Harry’s place. Again, it’s a bit plot devicey that MJ couldn’t just pick up the phone and call Pete instead, but the actors make it work. Even the stolen kiss works in the moment! Pete hasn’t been there for MJ, she’s super vulnerable, as is Harry, and they both immediately realize they fucked up. It works! I felt a bit forced that this bit of rejection would unlock his memory block, but, it had to happen sometime.

And then the ending. The previous two films both ended on cringe and rage inducing moments of completely unearned expressions of love and supposed romance. Here, Raimi shows restraint and doesn’t go with the seemingly obvious set up to finally have a big romantic proposal the first half seems to be building towards. The closing scene, Peter walking into the bar, hat in hand, as the two broken individuals slow dance with a chance that they might be able to rekindle their lost love, is kind of a beautiful final beat for these two.

Peter Parker, Person: Hey, Pete isn’t a hollow wooden shell of a human in this movie! Right from the start, Peter has a personality. He’s dorky, he’s corny, he feels alive in the way that the husk of a man that wandered through the first two films (except when he was ANGRY). We can believe he is someone somebody might love. It’s so refreshing, and after watching all these back to back to back, I think this is why 3 always stood out to me, it gave me people to care about, instead of just assuming I would based outside associations with the character.

Raimi also uses Peter to look at some interesting ideas about humanity, with what celebrity can do to someone and what happens when you give in to all your worst tendencies. The film is so explicitly damning both of these mindsets, it’s quite shocking in hindsight that people couldn’t see what “emo Peter” was all about. People HATED this element of the film, but it is clearly a farce, everyone is repelled by this version of Peter, and it echoes with how Pete’s self-absorption over his fame distanced him from MJ too. Raimi spends so much of this movie looking at why you need somebody by your side, and he is earning that argument. That’s why the final scene works so well to, it’s not about grand romantic gestures, it’s just about agreeing to walk alongside someone to figure it out. It’s so human, even if Raimi really heightens things a bit with “emo Peter”. Speaking of which…

Emo Peter: I love him. When they reference this in the Spider-verse movie, it’s a dig, and I laughed hard. I get it, it is quite jarring to some, but I think it fits within the tone Raimi is going for in these films. 3 feels like it balances the over the top comic book vibes with a grounded humanity the best of these films, and the final scene with this version of Parker is the perfect encapsulation of that.

Peter is in the middle of this over the top, and hilarious, musical number, trying to make MJ jealous, and it snaps us (and Peter) back into reality the instant Gwen figures out what is going on. Raimi turns the tone on a dime, bring us back to how all of these choices are effecting the people around Peter, and he (rightfully) gets rejected by both of them.

The sequence at the Daily Bugle, where he first wears the black suit as Peter is quite good as well, as Maguire gets to play nega-Peter basically, asserting himself and expressing his frustrations, instead of sighing and slinking away. The scene also sets up Brock’s frustrations for Parker about as best you can, but we’ll save Eddie for later.

The best use of “emo Peter” is how Raimi uses Peter’s amped up confidence/cockiness to tear down the idea that Peter is, quite often, driven by rage and revenge in the first two films. Sure, he has something to be upset about, but it doesn’t feel right for the character, especially in the rearview of all the iterations of Peter Parker that have followed. Black suit Spidey giving into his previously just under the surface murder tendencies in his subway fight with Sandman is immediately pointed out as being horrible. Dark and serious was beginning to take hold in the comic book film genre at this time, post Batman Begins, but Raimi seems to be fighting against that trend by openly lampooning the dark and serious crowd through tough guy “emo Peter”. He’s immediately admonished for this act, rightfully, as it goes against his local hero aesthetic, but I feel like Raimi is arguing for a more balanced tone (which wins out, thanks to the MCU) for the genre going forward. Raimi clearly wants us to think this dark and stormy version of Spider-Man is a bad dude, and it works.

On top of all that, the montage of Peter acting entirely out of character, being a douche bag, dancing in the streets is a lot of fun to watch from an acting perspective, as Maguire just gives himself over to the gag while never losing that this is what Parker would look if he gave into his id. He is just so silly, and so funny, I really just don’t get why people were so turned off by this segment.

Mary Jane Watson, Person: Kirsten Dunst, finally, gets an actual character to play here, and she knocks it out of the park. Dunst is wasted in the first two films, seemingly lost in the first and unable to pull a terrible turn for her character out of the disaster the writing put her in, but here she gets to be vulnerable, assertive, and have some interiority that was sorely lacking from anyone besides Norman Osborne up to this point.

I mentioned above, but Dunst really gets to play a part here about someone dealing with a lot of shit. The sinking/rising duality of her and Peter’s success/fame could have so easily been played a few ways, but she doesn’t play it for jealousy, or anger, or negative in any way really. MJ just wants to be seen be the person she loves and to be understood and sympathized with. It’s great, human stuff, and Dunst plays it with a weariness and exasperation that feels right. There is so much subtlety in her performance, it really is a shame they still, ultimately, just make her a damsel in distress at the end again. Still, MJ is such a breath of fresh air in this film, and Dunst gives the film’s best performance; easily.

J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons Goes 3 for 3!

What Kind Of Works?
The Action: Like the previous film, Raimi’s action sequence are big, epic battles playing out on the streets of New York. Also like Spider-Man 2, the effects feel just a tad, not quite up to snuff with where they want them to be? Still, Raimi finds tons of cool shots, ways to mix up the action and peppers each set piece with at least a couple of really great moments. The tight squeeze of the Harry/Peter fight, all the ways they let the sand add an interesting wrinkle, and I’ve always appreciated the defeat of Venom/symbiote with the pipes. There is a lot of really well executed stuff, I just wish the effects felt a tad less dated. Somehow, the first film still feels like it looks the best?

Sandman: It still feels really forced to retcon in that Flint was the one who, accidentally, killed Uncle Ben (I hate how much these films care about Ben, [“They are bringing him back again!”] this one cares the least, which is also probably why I like it most), but I also appreciate what they were going for with the forgiveness angle around him, Ben and Peter. I do wish it wasn’t so jarring, as Sandman just sort of pops in and out of the movie, with almost no motivation for him; even with a scene added to the Editor’s Cut of him visiting his daughter as a sand castle (sounds weird, but it works!). That final conversation just feels forced too, even if, again, I appreciate what they were going for. Church doesn’t get much a chance to do much of anything in this movie, but I still found Sandman as compelling/interesting a character as Doc Ock.

What Doesn’t Work?
The Forcing Of Venom Into This Movie: Now, I’m a bit of two minds on this one, as I above stated my appreciation of what they did with black suit Spidey/”emo Peter”, but the way the symbiote is introduced into the story is just so weirdly done. It just, hangs out on the sidelines until it needs to be implemented into the plot. The studio forced Raimi into including Venom in the film, and while I’m glad he figured out a way to make it thematically relevant through Spider-Man, it also just feels like a fast cure all to turn Eddie bad and get to the big fight featuring Venom. Oh, well.

Eddie Brock As Venom: Brock himself is fine in the film. Topher Grace is quite good at playing a sleazeball, and an interesting double to the stalker vibes of Peter Parker in the first two films when it comes to Eddie and Gwen (intentional reflection by Raimi?), but once the symbiote takes over, the character just exits the reality and tone of this movie. The one liners suck, the effect of his face coming out of the Venom face is really weird, and the performance just gets too crazy and absurd. I know, that might sound rich coming from a guy defending “emo Peter”, but there is nuance there and a respect for who Peter is and what that heightened version of him might look like. Brock/Venom is just a cartoon that feels so out of place. Thankfully, the movie ends quite quickly after this and Venom’s death is quite good regardless. So, not much harm done.

The Rushed Ending: Eddie becomes Venom, recruits Sandman, because, well, just because, Peter recruits a scared up Harry who was just trying to kill him, and Mary Jane gets kidnapped by Eddie driving a cab with a perfectly timed roll up to be hailed by MJ before she goes to work, what! The fight itself is kind of fun and makes the most of the two on one, but Harry calling Peter “buddy” and so easily sacrificing himself to save Peter (getting stabbed, ultimately, with the same device that killed his dad, *groan*) just doesn’t land in the slightest. Why did this have to get tied up so inelegantly? I mean, this all happens at like the two-hour mark, so I get it, but a smoother transition to the ending could have cemented this as a great movie, instead of a good one. Still, Raimi gets painted into quite the corner with all the elements he was asked to juggle, and he saved it by giving Peter and MJ, finally, a happy ending we can believe in.

Lots More Women Screaming: Seriously, what is going on with Raimi and these shots of women screaming their head off?

So Where Do I Stand?
Well, I’m back to where I started. As you might have noticed, I cut out the “What Kills The Movie?” section because this one is actually good! The snafus around the finale withstanding, I quite enjoy this film. Raimi keeps things moving, has some interesting things to dissect, makes actual characters out of his characters, gets good performances from his leads. There is a lot to like!

I’m here to say, Spider-Man 3 is good.

For The Other Entries: Part 1: Spider-Man, Part 2: Spider-Man 2

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