One universal truth in the world of cinema is that sequels will always be a tough nut to crack. Though there have been a handful of follow-ups that have arguably surpassed their cinematic originals — Terminator 2, The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens spring to mind — Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 can also be added to the list as it too helped buck the ‘inferior sequel’ archetype by delivering a bonafide classic in the superhero sub-genre.
‘But we’re here to talk about Spider-Man 3!’ I hear you shouting. Well, here’s the thing: I can safely say that Raimi’s third, and final chapter, won’t be joining the pantheons of greatest sequels of all-time, unlike its immediate predecessor. That said, I do believe that Spider-Man 3 deserves some love, too.
On that note, come join us as we take a look back at Raimi’s oft-maligned third entry into Marvel’s beloved web-slinging series. It may arguably be the weakest outing in the trilogy, but there’s still a whole lot to appreciate — as well as a few things that don’t quite stick the landing.
So, dust off those cobwebs and put your spidey senses to good use, as we dive into a few reasons why Spider-Man 3 isn’t anywhere near as bad as you remember it.
The Action Sequences Are Great And Come Thick And Fast (At The Expense Of Character Development)
One of the biggest criticisms levelled at Spider-Man 3 is the fact that the studio forced the director to shoehorn in way too many villains into the overarching plot. Instead of the singular focus of a sole antagonist — like its two predecessors — Raimi was strong-armed by studio executives (at the last-minute, no less) to include an extra villain in the already jam-packed storyline.
The studio insisted upon an appearance from Venom, mainly due to the character’s ardent fan following, which not only helped to get bums on seats, but also assisted in giving the feature a considerable boost to its merchandising potential. As you may’ve guessed, though, three big bads jostling for the spotlight was always going to be a tough balancing act for Raimi.
On the one hand, three villains resulted in a pic that doled out the visually arresting action to an unyieldingly satisfying clip — I mean seriously, the action sequences are some of the best in the series, despite leaning a little too heavily into CGI green screen territory. On the other hand, character development was the unfortunate sacrificial lamb that was executed in order to help grease the wheels for the unrelentingly balls-to-the-wall action. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
Studio meddling may’ve taken some of the wind out the film’s sails, whilst disrupting its pacing and characterization, but it’s pretty amazing how the final product is still an authentically enjoyable feature nonetheless. Granted, there are a few rushed scenes (the final climactic act in particular), and a noticeable lack of breathing room for the three main antagonists makes it difficult for them to really find their footing as three-dimensional, fully fleshed out characters (except for maybe Harry Osborn, who has had the advantage of appearing as a central figure in both of the movie’s forebears).
Still, for the most part, Raimi made the convoluted script work and did a decent job at injecting just enough characterization into each of the antagonists to get the audience invested. Truth is, 156 minutes just isn’t long enough to fully flesh out the myriad of characters that were thrown into Spider-Man 3’s jam-packed runtime.
The Sandman’s Transformation Is One Of The Best Scenes In The Whole Trilogy
Sure, Venom may’ve felt a wee bit tacked on, but The Sandman undoubtedly feels like the centrifugal force that Raimi envisioned at the heart of his movie (he also wanted Ben Kingsley to play a supporting role as Vulture, but that idea was cut early in pre-production). Though Flint Marko (played by the terrific Thomas Haden Church) and his small time crook character arc is a little on-the-nose, the pivotal scene in which the infamous villain is brought to life is, in a word, fantastic.
When Flint Marko accidentally falls into an experimental particle accelerator (that ol’ chestnut), his molecular structure binds itself with the swirling sand that surrounds him, gifting him the unique ability to shape-shift. His transformation is a poetic one. As he grasps for his daughter’s pendant — a symbol of the sole motivational force in his tragic, lonely life — it fittingly slips through his sandy fingers. This is the catalyst that gives Flint the impetus to solidify the sand within his body and morph himself back into his human form.
Add to this Danny Elfman and Christopher Young’s brilliant orchestral collaborative score for Sandman’s theme, and you have one of the most emotionally impactful scenes in the whole trilogy. Poetic, tragic and heartfelt, The Sandman will forever be one of Spidey’s most sympathetic villains, second only to Alfred Molina’s incredible Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
Tobey Maguire Is Still A Fantastic Peter Parker/Spider-Man Combo
Say what you will about the newer iterations of our beloved wall-crawling superhero, but if I was tasked with choosing my favourite of the Spidey bunch, I’d take Tobey Maguire’s nerdy charm any day of the week. The thing is, Maguire absolutely nails the geeky aspect of Peter Parker, which is something the more modern interpretations fail to truly capture.
Setting aside that scene for the moment (I’ll touch on it shortly, don’t worry), Maguire is the perfect embodiment of Peter Parker’s uber geeky character. Sure, it’s open to interpretation, but personally, I’d go as far as calling Maguire’s rendition of the famous web-slinger as one of the most iconic and most resonant cinematic portrayals yet. No small feat.
He may come across as a socially awkward nerd, but I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so enamoured with him. Peter Parker, particularly in the comic book source material, is supposed to be a full on geek, and not uber cool. I think Maguire strikes the right balance between loveable and nerdy really well, which is something that hasn’t been as authentically re-captured since.
Kirsten Dunst’s Melancholic Turn Shines Through Brightly
A strong Mary Jane is another critical component in helping to weave together the disparate elements at the heart of Raimi’s third instalment. Thankfully, Kirsten Dunst once again steps up to the plate in this regard.
Dunst’s understated portrayal of a fragile star on the edge of failure is paralleled effectively with Maguire’s inverse rise to fame. There’s a surprising air of believability in their ineffectiveness in communicating with one-another; Two contrasting stars going through radically different trajectories within their lives.
On top of this is their character’s chemistry, which has been refined to a sheen over the course of Raimi’s trilogy. Yep, though Tobey Maguire arguably steals the show as the nerdy central superhero, Dunst’s strong nuanced performance and melancholic charm is another clear highlight that complements Maguire’s socially awkward turn perfectly.
That ‘Cool Peter Parker’ Scene Is *Supposed* To Be Cringe-Inducing
So, here we are — one of the biggest bugbears in the whole pic is undoubtedly that ‘Cool Peter Parker’ scene. You know, the one where he struts his stuff down a side-walk as women gawk at him. Yep, it’s silly. Like, really silly. But it’s supposed to be cringe-inducing (it always reminds me of David Brent’s ridiculous dance-off in The Office).
Parker’s recently acquired black symbiotic friend serves to amplify the characteristics of its host, and this in-turn magnifies what Parker thinks is cool. The end result is a deliberately eye-rollingly cheesy and super awkward representation of what his personal version of ‘cool’ is supposed to look like… which winds up looking, well, the complete polar opposite. Sure, it feels a little tonally off, but the scene works better if you’re mindful of how uncool ‘cool’ looks through the eyes of Peter Parker.
Even though it’s one of the weakest moments in Spider-Man 3, it really doesn’t get any worse than that Jazz Club scene. I mean, wow, that scene is seriously something else…