Much like X-men 3: The Last Stand and The Matrix Revolutions, Spider-Man 3 was initially received as yet another disappointing trilogy conclusion during the mid-2000s. Given the tumultuous development of a planned fourth installment, it seemed that the third Sam Raimi helmed film was not meant to be the closing chapter. However, that is unfortunately the film’s ultimate legacy whether warranted or not. A decade has passed since its release and the onslaught of mainstream superhero blockbusters has only increased. While some flaws are still glaringly evident in retrospect, that doesn’t mean the film fails to get anything right. It’s impossible to accuse Spider-Man 3 of not trying but perhaps it’s biggest sin is that it is too ambitious.
Even though the movie is chock full of ideas both fulfilled and unfulfilled, the film mainly serves as a perverted take on Spider-Man’s origin from the first film. By this point in the series, Peter is overcome with power and Spider-Man is beloved by the masses. The duality between the insecure Peter and brash Spider-Man is no longer present. The confidence derived from putting on the suit has embellished both personas. He has become an overwhelmed celebrity and fame has gone to his head. Instead of learning about power and responsibility, he learns about power and revenge during the film. The recreation of the famous rain-soaked kiss from the first film is a literal showcase of the reverse origin story.
The utilization of the black suit as a tool for revenge works to the film’s advantage. It helps clear up something that I took issue with in the first film. Peter looks like a murderer when the burglar who killed Uncle Ben (or so we thought) mysteriously falls out the window and it’s hard to tell if it is somewhat Peter’s fault. Nevertheless, he looks satisfied with himself. This shows Peter has a dark side and is afraid of what may happen to him if pushed too far. When MJ brings this up, he sounds unsure of himself when he says the burglar fell. While the Flint Marko retcon is problematic, his apparent demise in the subway by Peter’s hand reinforces the dangers of vengeance versus personal responsibility.
Speaking of Sandman, his characterization feels like a direct result of how much praise Doctor Octopus received for being a sympathetic antagonist. However, Sandman’s story is not of sympathy solely. He has a sob story and resorts to crime because of his situation. He never goes to anyone for help and says, “I’m not a bad person…I’ve just had bad luck.” This renders Marko as a totally unlikable and unreliable character, a far cry from Doc Ock’s characterization in the previous film. His fate is left ambiguous and unsolved. Peter forgives him and he blows away to help his sick daughter. Even though his characterization is confusing, the scene when he comes together as sand for the first time is a remarkable moment. The music and animation work in brilliant unison. It feels almost like a short film and in a way is the best scene in the movie.
Not only do we get Sandman, we also get Eddie Brock/Venom. He’s essentially filling the role Harry had in the last film; the antithesis of Peter and someone out for revenge. If Venom is intended to be the traversal of Spider-Man, Topher Grace is an effective foil. Maguire and Grace share a great deal of physical similarities, which makes Brock feel more like Bizarro then Venom. Despite his limited face-time (literally), Venom looks terrific and his physicality is very distinct. Collectively, the action sequences in Spider-Man 3 are the best in the entire trilogy. With the increased amount of distorted camera angles and quick close-ups, these action scenes feel the most distinctly Sam Raimi.
Raimi interpreted Mary Jane Watson in a much different manner compared to the source material. By this installment, his deviations work to the film’s advantage and her arc also mirrors the reverse origin trope. Because Peter spends the bulk of the film as arrogant and self-serving, MJ becomes rather sympathetic. Instead of being swamped by celebrity status like Peter, MJ has hit rock bottom and is back to waiting tables. Dunst gives her best performance in the trilogy, which is much easier to appreciate now with her recent trajectory. By the same token, James Franco’s performance comes across as campier and more self-aware than it initially seemed.
Speaking of self-awareness, this brings up the infamous and often maligned dance sequences. Much like Army of Darkness, the dance sequences and emo elements are not meant to be taken seriously. They’re meant to be silly. Peter is the ultimate good guy and those scenes represent the most “evil” he could become. The idea of sticking up MJ at her place of employment is true to the character, especially given his goofy demeanor in the previous two films. Peter trying to be cool fails miserably. Girls look at him in disgust and he cannot dance to save his life. It’s thematic on top of being humorous. Evil does not look good on Peter. With the amount of backlash DC and Warner Brothers has received for their dark and brooding superhero films, the dance scenes in Spider-Man almost feel like a parody of those movies.
Beyond some of the story elements, Spider-Man 3 contains some worthwhile minutia. It has great production values and an excellent score, particularly the haunting Venom melody mixed within. Peter engages in more scientific based elements of the movie; Aunt May’s scenes feel necessary and provide Peter with his voice of reason and Jameson is even funnier in this film, having one my favorite scenes in all three movies. These elements don’t balance out the film’s flaws, but they make it worth a revisit. With Spider-Man Homecoming on the horizon, perhaps it’s time for this film to warrant some additional retrospection.