Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Written by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and Alvin Sargent
Directed by Sam Raimi
By 2007, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film series had been a massive success. The following year would see Marvel’s first production of Iron Man, which, as we all know, would kickstart the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audiences were incredibly hyped for this third installment. Through the marketing, it made it clear that we’d finally be seeing the Spider black suit and Venom in the movie. However, we were also told the conflict with Harry would be resolved, and there’d be a third villain in Sandman. Pretty crowded movie, but Spider-Man comics are often filled with subplots and supporting characters. So when I went to see the picture, I didn’t have any apprehensions about going into the theater.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is reading to propose to his longtime girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) as she makes her Broadway musical debut. One night while stargazing, a small meteor crashes nearby, and without Peter’s knowledge, the slimy alien passenger sneaks onto his motorbike. Peter is attacked by Harry Osborn (James Franco) on his way home, now using his father’s Green Goblin technology. Harry is struck on the head during a fall and has lost his recent memories, which seems to put that conflict to rest for now. On the other side of town, escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) has one last moment with his ailing daughter before a police pursuit causes him to fall into a particle accelerator full of sand. When the experiment ends, his molecular structure has been transformed into silicon, turning him into the Sandman. He decides to use these abilities to rob banks to have enough money to help his daughter.
As if all of this wasn’t enough plot, Spidey has become New York City’s darling while M.J. finds her acting career floundering after a bad review. Peter learns that there was a second man responsible for killing Uncle Ben, and this, combined with the aggression his new alien black suit brings out, turns him into much less of a hero. Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is a new Daily Bugle photog who wants to one-up Parker while impressing Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). There is just so much happening in this movie it can be overwhelming. Yet, some heart is put into the story when it focuses on human relationships.
We’ll get this out of the way; Raimi clearly did not want to include Venom in this movie. Eddie Brock is presented as an annoying twerp, a sort of anti-Parker, and the audience is intended to dislike him to the point they don’t want him in the film either. Venom shows up in the third act, leading me to believe Raimi tried to have him in the movie as little as possible if Sony insisted he be in it. Some fans will remark on this and the “Bully” Parker subplots as why the film was terrible, but I don’t think it boiled down to anything that simple. Yes, seeing Maguire’s attempt at being a ‘bad boy’ is comically cringey; the real problem with Spider-Man 3 is too many storylines at once so that nothing ever feels fully developed, and resolution comes too quickly.
Blaming Spider-Man 3’s failure on Sony forcing Raimi to include Venom ignores some other things. Spider-Man’s love life is complicated by Gwen Stacy, which doesn’t ever really have a resolution. She sort of disappears from the movie when the plot refocuses on more immediate threats. Sandman’s storyline feels like a whole movie unto itself, the personal connection with Peter. I can see the symbiote’s influence on Spider-Man’s character in that story, but you could strip that element out and still have Peter struggling with his rage over finding someone else responsible for Ben’s death. Then we also have Mary Jane’s struggles with realizing her dreams are not coming true and living in the shadow of Peter’s fame as Spider-Man. Running alongside that is the Harry/amnesia story, leading to him and M.J. kindling a romance. That, of course, sidetracks into Harry’s revenge and the emergence of a new Green Goblin.
There are incredibly strong moments in the movie. The origin of the Sandman is an absolutely fantastic birth of a villain moment, a showcase for Raimi’s strength of making us empathize with the antagonists of his Spider-Man movies. That’s why the half-hearted presentation of Venom is most undoubtedly intentional. There’s a lot of fun, chaotic energy all the way throughout the film. It definitely evokes the feel of reading a Spider-Man comic at its peak under Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and/or John Romita. Spider-Man 3 feels more faithful to the comic book roots than a single MCU Spidey film has ever felt. The personal problems of Peter Parker are just as much a hook into this world as the colorful villains & battles are. If anything, Spider-Man 3 is another piece of evidence that a live-action series would suit the character better than a two-hour movie every couple of years.
This would mark the end of Raimi’s tenure on the Spider-Man franchise, followed by the abysmal Amazing Spider-Man movies (though Andrew Garfield is great in the role). The heart of these first three pictures has never been recreated by anything since, and at the rate things are going probably won’t ever happen again unless radical changes are made to the tone and writing of Marvel movies. Spider-Man 3 is a deeply flawed movie, but there are so many lovely things in it that it’s worth revisiting if you’ve shied away from it since its release.