I am an unapologetic fan of Spider-Man. When I was a child in the mid-80s, I wouldn’t leave the house without my Spidey action figure. So much so, the red and white colouring of his iconic suit became faded, and his limbs lose, and he was joined with an identical toy. Not as a replacement, however, just as reinforcements.
Trying to replace recent memories of two well-made-but-faltering Amazing Spider-Man movies starring Andrew Garfield, is Spider-Man: Homecoming, which arrives in summer 2017. What better time therefore, to revisit the moment our friendly neighbourhood web-slinger fell to Earth: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 from 2007.
When Tobey Maguire confidently first appeared as Peter Parker in 2002, audiences were treated to the type of superhero movie they had long since thought impossible. It was fresh, funny, exciting and glorious to look at. Kirsten Dunst was sexy, James Franco spooky and Willem Defoe deranged as the actors clearly all enjoyed themselves. Rami directed his cast and camera with a realised big screen flair we’d seen before in The Quick and the Dead, and Evil Dead trilogy.
The sequel followed swiftly after in 2004. Its villain was the imposing Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, who genuinely pushed both Peter Parker and Spider-Man to their limits. I saw Spider-Man 2 on a date and openly wept on more than one occasion.
Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox had done surprisingly well with two X-Men movies, Warner Bros. had seen their Batman franchise die in the 90s (although lurking in the nearby shadows, was one Christopher Nolan) and Marvel was still four years away from their first MCU hit with Iron Man. Thanks to Spidey, Sony were ruling the superhero roost.
In the light of the startling Batman Begins, however, suddenly the tone was set for darker superhero movies, and the game had changed. Also in 2005, Sin City served as a pitch black comic book adaptation, which didn’t shy away from twisted violence and menace. In 2006, Superman Returns was a non-event and X-Men: The Last Stand was the the catalyst for the quasi-reboot that emerged under Matthew Vaughn five years later.
When Spider-Man 3 was released to much-expected hype and fanfare in 2007, it was hugely disappointing. But returning to the scene of the crime a decade later, does it still warrant the criticism it received then?
The opening title sequence serves only to remind us how enjoyable the first two films were. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there, even the cheesy first scenes and dialogue set the movie up for a fall: Everybody loves Spider-Man, so what could possible go wrong?!
Perhaps the intervening years had too much of an affect on Sam Raimi. There was no break for him between helming the trilogy, and seeing the start of Nolan’s own three-piece must have led him to up the sentimentality, darkness and bad guy count. On this evidence, in all these respects, three is not the magic number.
Balancing three villains is impossible. Many superhero movies since have suffered by over-stuffing the adversaries. Thomas Hayden Church’s character gets a three-minute introduction, designed to tell us everything about him and why we should be sympathetic to his cause. If Sandman serves as the metaphor for unwanted powers being thrust upon a lost soul and a warning for trespassing into particle accelerators, where do Venom and New Goblin fit in?
Harry Osborn gets amnesia, forgets why he hates Peter, who in turn is so busy saving lives he ignores MJ, who’s also jealous of Gwen Stacey, thus re-opening one and starting a second love triangle.
By sheer force of coincidence, a sentiment alien creature hitches a ride on Parker’s scooter and winds-up infecting one of his superhero suits. The same…reasons…sees a preposterous set-piece involving Gwen falling 62 storeys from a skyscraper, as her police captain father, and wannabe boyfriend (“the new guy, Eddie Brock”) casually spectate and exchange emotionless pleasantries. Brock has a camera, so is therefore also a threat to Peter’s livelihood.
The presence of two competing photographers at the Daily Bugle sadly serves to blunt the comic impact of J.K. Simmons as editor J. Jonah Jameson. In fact, all the film’s one liners and quips fall flat. Not even Bruce Campbell’s obligatory cameo can cause a titter.
Oh, and it was really Sandman who killed Uncle Ben, because these characters aren’t already smashed together enough.
All of Peter’s emotional turmoil leads to the emergence of Venom. All the marketing for the movie featured the iconic black Spider-Man costume. The duality of the Symbiote alien verses the boy next door superhero is what we were promised. This is what should have been the main focus of the film. Spider-Man’s battle against his literal dark side. Instead, we get emo-angst Peter with a fringe.
After another improbable fight between besties, the film reaches its nadir. Venom is such a badass, he drinks milk, orders freshly-baked nut-based cookies, doesn’t listen to his teachers, understands basic Photoshop, simultaneously attacks and repels women all while strutting to funky soul music. These are scenes we try to forget, but are even worse than we remember.
Eventually, because Eddie seeks heavenly vengeance for losing his job and girl to Peter, he stumbles into the very same church in which Parker sheds the black alien suit. Thus, Venom comes to inhabit Brock, to the delight of literally nobody.
Ultimately, three villains result in three times less jeopardy in fight sequences. Even when the multiple nemeses rule calls for team-ups (it doesn’t matter why or how) it just dilutes everything, rather than amplify. The entire third act feels incredibly false, with the overall message being… forgiveness?
In the fulness of time, we can probably forgive Spider-Man 3 for its sins of the past. It suffered by being not as good as the first two, and arriving right after Nolan turned the genre upside down and just ahead of Marvel’s masterplan making its mark. Sam Raimi made an immediate return to form with the relentless Drag Me To Hell, but Tobey Maguire has never been the same since. After a solid start in the spider suit, let’s wish a similar fate doesn’t befall Tom Hollland.
Here’s hoping that this brief Sony/Marvel partnership combines the best of made the start of Raimi’s trilogy and the MCU thus far, so successful. They may have already failed with the poster, but, oh boy, something will have to go spectacularly wrong for Spider-Man: Homecoming to be as disappointing as Spider-Man 3.