Rating: 3 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Boy, there’s a lot going on in this one.
Flint Marko, a convicted thief who confessed to some other prisoners that he’s the one who actually killed Ben Parker and was subsequently tattled on by them, has escaped from Riker’s Island. Despite being on the run from police, he’s still determined to steal enough money to cure his daughter’s unspecified fatal illness. While hiding in a sand pit outside an unspecified experimental facility, he’s blasted with unspecified science-rays, turning him into a sand elemental. Once he learns to control these new powers, he sets out to rob an armored car.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborn has been experimenting with his father’s Goblin serum and equipment, and is finally ready to put on a supervillain costume and attack Spider-Man. They fight for a while, but Spider-Man gains the upper-hand and knocks him out. Harry wakes up in the hospital, only to be diagnosed with Soap Opera Amnesia Syndrome, causing him to forget that he blames Spider-Man for his father’s death and freeing him from his sworn vendetta, if only temporarily.
Meanwhile, Eddie Brock is a new photographer in town, and is given the staff job at the Daily Bugle that Peter wanted after Brock delivers a photo of Spider-Man committing a crime. After Peter proves that the photo was faked, Brock is fired and blacklisted. He swears revenge on Peter Parker for ruining his life.
Meanwhile, Gwen Stacy is Peter’s new lab partner at his University. After Spider-Man saves her from falling off a building, he’s awarded the key to the city and a kiss from Gwen, causing Mary Jane to fall into a jealous funk. M.J. was already upset about being fired from her Broadway play after her first performance got terrible reviews, and annoyed with Peter over how oblivious and cocky he’s become since Spider-Man has been accepted as a beloved hero of New York, and this final straw is enough for her to run out on him before he can propose.
Meanwhile, a meteorite landed in the park where Peter and Mary Jane were canoodling earlier, releasing an alien organism that hitches a ride on Peter’s motorbike. It follows him back to his apartment where it rests for several days, eventually deciding to become a black Spider-Man costume. Peter decides to wear this mysterious costume because it enhances his strength, despite warnings from one of his professors, Dr. Curt Connors. But soon the costume is affecting Peter’s personality, turning him into an aggressive dickhead.
Can Spider-Man resist the influence of the alien costume? And fix his relationship with Mary Jane? And defeat the Sandman? And defeat the new Green Goblin? And defeat Eddie Brock aka Venom? And is Gwen Stacy actually all that necessary to any of these plots in any way?
Under Sam Raimi’s direction, it’s still tons of fun to watch Spider-Man do his thing. The fight between Spider-Man and the new Green Goblin at the beginning is completely insane and over-the-top, but I enjoyed that about it. Likewise his first two fight scenes with Sandman, first in the armored car and later in the subway system, were really well-done.
Sandman looks incredible. The scene where he’s waking up in the sandpit, slowly trying to form new limbs and figure out exactly what he is now, was awesome. I have plenty of other issues with Sandman in this movie but the design of the character and the execution of his powers were complete successes.
The performances from the returning cast are all pretty strong. Kirsten Dunst seems more awake and alive than she did in the last film, and even James Franco is slightly improved. Rosemary Harris’s Aunt May is a secret MVP, and delivers a perfect take on the character whenever she shows up.
The much-reviled scenes with “dark” Peter Parker I now claim are actually some of Spider-Man 3’s best bits, because they demonstrate an understanding of Peter’s underlying character: he is a dork. And evil Peter Parker is an evil dork. He struts down the street with unearned confidence, firing off non-stop finger guns, while every beautiful woman in New York City watches with confused disgust. Though I’m not sure where he learned the piano, his performance at the jazz club made perfect sense in context as what this evil super-powered dork would consider an impressive display, and Gwen’s horrified reaction when she realizes she’s just a tool in his revenge against ex-girlfriend Mary Jane almost justifies including Gwen in this movie (though couldn’t it have just been Betty Brant?).
For as much as Venom does not work at all, I kind of liked pre-Venom Eddie Brock. He’s such a ridiculous slimeball. He wins me over when he walks up to Betty Brant doing the name game for no reason, all like, “Betty! Betty Betty bo-Betty, banana-fana fo-Fetty!” and she is just repulsed by him and his “Nice & Easy” cologne.
Spider-Man was born when an act of selfishness allowed a criminal to get away, and that criminal later killed his beloved Uncle Ben. In that moment, he realized these new powers meant he had to live a responsible, selfless life. In this movie, they say actually someone else killed his Uncle Ben, and it may not have been his responsibility at all. What a boneheaded idea to try to somehow make fighting the Sandman more personal. I’ve said it before, but heroes, especially Spider-Man, fight to do what’s right even when it’s not personal. In fact, it costs Spider-Man things in his personal life to do what he does, but he does it anyway. Making every fight a personal one undermines that.
Speaking of making it personal, at any point in this film’s development did anybody stop and say, “Hey, wait, didn’t we end the last two films with Mary Jane kidnapped by the villain?” It’s so absurd and so, so tired. Once they show her trapped up in that taxi hanging by some tendrils or whatever, I started to check out. The only way they could’ve even partially redeemed this choice in my eyes is by having the news broadcast, which zooms in on her face and identifies her as Mary Jane Watson, actress, is by throwing in “and frequent hostage.” At least that would show some self-awareness about how every single one of these films has the same ending.
Growing up, one of my personal favorite Spider-Man moments was in Spectacular Spider-Man #200, where, spoiler!, after a couple years of stories of an increasingly insane Harry trying to kill Spider-Man, right before he’s about to finally succeed, he pulls back, flying Spider-Man to safety from a death trap, because through the madness and pain he realized he couldn’t actually kill his best friend. I’m botching it, but it was a real tear-jerker. Anyway, instead of trying to provoke that kind of emotional reaction, in Spider-Man 3 Harry stops being evil because his butler, who is not by any stretch of the imagination an important character in these movies, talks him out of it.
Venom is also not good. I’m not a huge Venom fan in the best of circumstances, but some of the things about Venom that make him cool and unique—he has a twisted sense of fairness and justice, he doesn’t affect Peter’s spider-sense, he has a psychic connection with the symbiote, always referring to himself as “we”, which is also how he knows so much about Spider-Man’s life and his weaknesses—are all absent here. Instead he’s just a jerk who has the same powers as Spider-Man. And every time the mask peels itself away from Topher Grace’s face, which is often, he looks completely ridiculous.
Are we supposed to be glad that Peter and Mary Jane end up back together? They are a terrible couple. How much of this film’s conflicts would have been avoided if these two had even basic communication skills?