The Green Goblin, main villain of the first movie in the Spider-Man series said to Spider-Man “The only thing they like to see more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you’ve done, eventually they will hate you…Why bother?” This fall from grace occurs in Spider-Man 3, both in the story of Peter Parker and in fan reaction to the series.
The original Spider-Man was an origin story; it was Peter Parker learning to be Spider-Man. That first installment was hardly perfect; it was marred by many small problems that really added up. The second film, Spider-Man 2, focused more on Peter Parker learning how to be Peter Parker as well as Spider-Man. That second installment was light years ahead of the original, a near-perfect sequel. The second film left Peter as a relatively well adjusted young man; there was really no where to go but down after the seminal second film for both Peter Parker and the series. One must keep that in mind when looking at Spider-Man 3.
The film opens with Peter Parker and Spider-Man at the height of their fame and happiness. Peter is planning to ask Mary Jane to marry him and the public is really beginning to appreciate Spider-Man as a hero. Thing quickly begin to fall apart for both hero and nerd. Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane dissolves when he becomes to full of himself to notice her plight when she is fired from a Broadway role. Spider-Man on the other hand is highly frustrated in his inability to defeat the Sandman, a nemesis who was reportedly the true murderer of Peter’s uncle Ben. All the while Peter must deal with the new green Goblin; this time his former friend Harry Osbourne who is consumed with revenge because of his father’s death. All this is too much challenge for even Spider-Man to deal with. It seems that the solution literally falls from the sky in the form of an Alien symbiote called Venom which develops a more powerful black suit around Spider-Man’s costume. But when the symbiote begins to negatively affect Peter’s behavior it becomes clear that this “solution” may be peter’s biggest problem of all.
As most everyone predicted before the movie was even filming, Spider-Man 3 has one villain to many. But it’s hard to pick one to cut out. James Franco’s decent into becoming the new Green Goblin was built too heavily into the plot of the last to sequels to hold onto for another sequel, and he provides some of the movies best action sequences. Thomas Haden Church as The Sandman provides something the Goblin can’t, a nemesis that Spider-Man can’t defeat without the black suit. The final villain may be a waste of a character, but he isn’t in the movie long enough really hurt it. Raimi probably shouldn’t have set Harry Osbourne up to be the Goblin so soon, that’s the problem with this kind of foreshadowing; it can be bad if it isn’t perfectly planned.
The human story is also problematic, Peter’s blindness to Mary Jane’s feelings is a bit unbelievable and Mary Jane is too quick to jump to conclusions about how Peter is behaving. One reasonable conversation could probably solve most of their problems. It must be understood, however, that this is based on a comic book not an Emily Bronte novel; serious relationship insights isn’t what this medium is known for. One must accept some of the weaknesses of the comic book medium being adopted along with the strengths when a medium is captured so faithfully on film.
The action scenes here are of the highest level. The Spider-Man movies really have a monopoly on aerial hand-to-hand combat, there’s really no where else to go for this type of action. The special effects are top notch, the spectacle elements alone are worth the price of admission. The opening battle is probably the best, Peter Parker fights the new Green Goblin un-costumed in mid-air in stunning fashion. This type of scene shows how much special effects have progressed since the original Spider-Man opened in 2002, this puts the fights against the original Goblin to shame. The fights with the Sandman are also interesting; they’re like high speed fist fights with the T-1000.
There are some definite script problems in Spider-Man 3. The largest of these problems is an over-reliance on coincidence to further the story. There is also a comedic turn in the movie that is mostly too successfully funny to really complain about, although this is taken just a little to far at one point. There is also a problematic sub-plot in which Topher Grace blames Peter Parker for something that is really his own fault.
Spider-Man 3 should really be judged for what it is, not what it could have been. It doesn’t succeed as well as the second installment of the series or as well as better super-hero movies like Batman Begins. It should also be given credit for being a lot better then lackluster superhero movies like X-Men 3 or Batman and Robin. It is a lot better then the average summer blockbuster. It has better action thrills, funnier intentional comedy, and less melodramatic romance. It will probably be remembered the way The Return of the Jedi is, still liked but not up to the level of its predecessors.
*** out of four