The third movie in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy should have been the home run to end all home runs. A great, fun first movie dealing with Peter Parker’s humble super hero origins was followed up with the sequel’s Spider-Man: No More plot, which delivered one of the genre’s best efforts to date and one of the greatest action scenes of all time.
With news that the third go round would focus on the Symbiote costume, a major storyline from the comics that birthed one of the wallcrawler’s most endearing villains, dribble-happy, alien, mental case Venom, fan fever was at a pitch.
What we got was an overstuffed, compromised and very, very messy epic.
Take The Sandman, for example, whose shape-shifting powers should have rendered him somewhere between a granulated T-1000 and The Thing, but instead the movie elects to keep him simply as a big, sandy, computer generated, giant, utterly devoid of character. Or James Franco’s long overdue villain turn as Harry Osborn, whose early rampage, whizzing around on a flying skateboard looking like a gimpish paintball enthusiast, is neutered by a mid-movie bout of amnesia. And finally the treatment of gooey, fan-fave Venom, the once-hulking drool monster included almost as an afterthought and horribly miscast as a whining Topher Grace.
The heroes get similar treatment, with everyone from Peter Parker’s landlord to Harry Osborn’s butler getting character arcs left, right and centre while female lead Kirstin Dunst and to a lesser extent Bryce Dallas Howard hang off things and scream a lot. Now I accept there are (seriously outmoded) plot tropes that come with these kind of movies but seriously, this is Mary Jane’s THIRD TIME AROUND when it comes to being kidnapped for the climax. It’s beyond worn thin.
Sam Raimi is one of my favourite directors but not even he can keep all the plates spinning that he’s got on the go here. Multiple plot points drop out of the movie for long stretches of run time, the Symbiote for example literally just drops out of the sky a the beginning of the film and then just sits on it’s tendrils for half the movie. Thomas Haden Church does fine emoting when he’s actually on screen and not a pixelated sandstorm, but he too just vanishes when the bloated plot has no immediate use for him and yet Raimi has time to cram in an excruciating dance off in a jazz club.
Credit where it’s due, when Raimi finally gives himself time to stretch his legs and just have fun you can plainly see the old magic’s still there. Any scene with Bruce Campbell (playing a French waiter) or J.K. Simmons’ pitch perfect J. Jonah Jameson are a joy to watch. Plus two, almost wordless super-villain scenes are some of the best in the trilogy. The scene of The Sandman first trying to reform himself after his wacky sci-fi accident is a wonder, hugely moving without a single spoken word or facial expression. Similarly the scene where Peter sheds the alien Symbiote in a church and it pours out of a bell tower, ensnaring a new host in the form of the hapless Eddie Brock is sublime, bringing something to live previously on seen in a single flashback comic panel.
However, when it comes to the two on two superhero smackdowns at the end, the movie sprints in a desperate attempt to weave all of it’s chaotic plot strands together, maybe hoping that it would get a part 4 so it could finally iron everything out. Alas, we’ll never know as Sony eventually moved into it’s even more poorly judged Andrew Garfield reboots.
It’s telling that the previous two Spidey films ended on Peter Parker joyously swinging through the skyline of New York, whooping and looping as he goes, while the third film ends with Peter and MJ on the street, hopeful but uncertain as to what comes next.
These days, what with his admission to the MCU causing him to swing to new heights, it’s easy to lump Spider-Man 3 in with other past superhero slip-ups such as Stallone’s Judge Dredd, Batman & Robin and Spawn, which is a misconception that’s as incorrect as it is unfair. However, the fact that it still remains a deeply unsatisfying trilogy capper and that’s a web the movie simply cannot wriggle free from.