Spider-Man 3 is baffling. All the ingredients are there for a fantastic ending to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, with the returning cast at the top of their game, the newcomers being suitable stars and the CGI finally catching up with the ambition of the action. Unfortunately, about an hour into the movie, the tone changes dramatically and undoes all the perfect foundation the film has established.
That first hour feels like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies that were so well delivered in 1 and 2. Following on from the happiness that Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker had finally achieved at the end of Spider-Man 2, he is loved as Spider-Man, loved by Mary-Jane and loving life. The best aspects of the Raimi Spider-Man movies have been the fact that there is a deeper plot than just villain versus hero and as Parker’s life is on the up, Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane is on the descent. They aren’t connecting and it builds a very relatable and real story with Spider-Man as the backdrop.
The second aspect that makes Raimi’s Spider-Man movies successful are the villains. For starters, Thomas Haden Church is introduced as Sandman and is such a great development from Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. He is cinematically very satisfying and delivers some great set-pieces and a really credible threat to the strongest Spider-Man yet. Add to this a tragic back-story for the villain and a very effective origin for his abilities, and you have a bad guy as strong as the two that preceded him.
To its credit, before shared universes and huge franchises were every studio’s aim, Raimi had built an effective three movie story-arc with Harry Osborn and his hatred for Spider-Man. That first hour also delivers a resolution to that tale too, with a great action sequence where James Franco’s Hobgoblin takes on the surprised and seemingly out-matched Peter Parker, not even in his Spidey suit!
This is just one of the many very well-created set-pieces. When Spider-Man is battling a villain, the movie is at its strongest. The dodgy CGI of 1 and 2 has disappeared and the sand battles, Hobgoblin chase through the New York alleys and even the finale when all the different aspects come together, is thrilling and very entertaining.
This is where Spider-Man 3 becomes baffling. This movie also makes the bold choice to introduce the suit which turns Spider-Man (and ultimately Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock) into Venom. Its a cool idea, with the black suit giving Spider-Man better control of his powers but a darker edge which makes him more violent. Unfortunately, this isn’t how Raimi decides to direct it. The Venom suit turns Peter Parker into a dancing creep, who shakes his hips, dons an emo haircut and letches on every woman he passes. All of this is played for comedy rather than a darker drama which it so obviously lends itself to. These sequences are also really difficult to watch without cringing. It is so obviously not the character or even tone that Raimi had created with the excellent Spider-Man 1 and 2 that it heavily detracts from the movie.
There are also some other bold choices. Gwen Stacey is wasted as a throwaway sub-plot love interest, Grace’s Eddie Brock is a slimy creep rather than a proper character and the movie completely rewrites the circumstances for Uncle Ben’s death with little logical reason. It doesn’t make sense considering how effective the first hour of this movie is.
The finale manages to save some of these errors and the final action sequence is a cool one. There are some very satisfying endings for some characters too but it isn’t enough to undo all the terrible dancing.
Overall, Spider-Man 3 is a film of three distinct acts. The first act is superb, classic Raimi Spider-Man, with a great story, cool action sequences and the introduction of a decent villain. The second act is a mess, with Maguire’s Parker turning into a completely different and very uncomfortable character and the film devolves into silliness. Luckily, the finale is a great action set-piece and has some cool sequences but not enough to save this movie.
Rating – 3
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