"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Spider-Man 3

SPIDER-MAN 3 is Sam Raimi’s most financially successful movie to date, having raked in $894 million at the worldwide box office. That’s about 41 ARMY OF DARKNESSes. But it’s also his first (and only?) infamous movie. Looking back at the reviews surprised me – they were more positive than I remembered. But it almost immediately became one of those movies that the conventional wisdom decides is bad, and that reputation has stuck. Remember how I showed you all those articles declaring SPIDER-MAN 2 the best super hero movie ever? Well, a list on Comic Basics ranks part 3 as the #4 “Worst Superhero Movie That Hollywood has Ever Puked Up,” Goliath ranked it #5 “Most Terrible Superhero Film,” the much more thorough Comic Vine calculated it as #53 “Worst Superhero Movie,” but that means they consider it worse than GREEN LANTERN. In recent years, C-Net, Business Insider, comicbook.com, Complex and Gizmodo all included it on lists of the worst superhero/comic book movies. If it’s ever mentioned positively, it’s in the context of defending it,with the understanding that it’s an uphill battle (for example Sandy Schaefer’s 2020 Screen Rant piece “Is Spider-Man 3 Actually Bad? Why Marvel Fans Hate It So Much.”)

Of course, you know how I am. I always kinda liked it. In my review at the time I said it was “more flawed than Part 1 or Part 2. But not by much,” and concluded, “This movie is worse than the other two in some ways and better in other ways. Lots of interesting characters, great action scenes, good emotional climax, some sloppy writing and a weird tangent for the history books.“

Watching it now, I still like what I always liked, and not a single one of the things I used to dislike bothers me anymore. In fact, what seemed like its big weakness at the time – the hurried, three-villained plot – now makes it feel refreshingly different from other comic book movies, and honestly more faithful to these stories as they once existed in their original medium.

Arad knew Venom was popular because he made his living selling these.

I’m not saying that was necessarily intentional. This is the only one where Raimi and his brother/DARKMAN-co-writer Ivan received writing credit (alongside returning Alvin Sargent), and he said at the time that their script was originally about Peter, Mary Jane, Harry and Sandman. But producer Avi Arad (CEO of the toy company Toy Biz, who had taken over Marvel after bankruptcy and was the chief creative officer of Marvel Studios pre-MCU) convinced him he was too concentrated on the ’70s villains, and should add in the most popular ‘90s one, Venom, “to make some of the real die hard fans of Spider-Man finally happy,” as Raimi put it. Whoops. Instead, most fans of the character seemed to think he wasn’t done justice, non-fans got to that part of the movie and said “Huh?,” and everyone agreed that Raimi wasn’t as invested in that character as he was the others.

But he really is invested in the others. I love SPIDER-MAN 3 for being goofier than the previous chapters and even more grounded with genuine heart, paying off the established relationships and teaching Peter new lessons through both his mistakes and his encounters with the new villain Sandman.

Like part 2, part 3 begins by showing us the results of Peter’s decisions at the end of the previous chapter. Now that he’s decided he can be Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s boyfriend he seems much happier. The city is peaceful, the newspapers finally love Spider-Man, he’s showing up to class on time, and even Mary Jane’s plays, sitting there with a big smile on his face telling the people next to him “That’s my girlfriend!” like the unapologetic dork he is. There are still people picking on him, like a guy who cleverly reflects light in his eyes to trick him into raising his hand in class, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it.

The one thing is he can’t get Harry to talk to him. And then we see Harry at home in an evil lab filled with Green Goblin masks, walking around in boxer briefs breathing green vapors. Oh well, I’m sure it’s nothing.

Peter’s still hiding his secret identity from everyone who doesn’t already know it, but it seems in this new balanced lifestyle he’s relaxed enough to fly his freak flag high. For example he brings M.J. to the park and just builds a huge web (out of costume, we gotta assume) for them to lay on and watch a meteor shower. Because they’re making out they don’t notice that one of the meteorites crashes near them and some shiny black space slime climbs out and attaches to the license plate on his scooter. Oh well, I’m sure that’s also nothing.

Oh, here we go. Here’s something. A guy hiding in the shadows of a dark alley, wearing an orange jumpsuit. That means an escaped convict is loose! His name is Flint Marko and he’s played by Thomas Haden Church (TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT), looking uncannily like a big, brick-fisted lug from an old comic strip. He sneaks away from a nosy patrol car and climbs up a fire escape into the window of an apartment where there’s an innocent little asleep. A sick one, we can tell, because she has an oxygen tank.

Oh no, don’t harm her! And then oh wait, we realize. He’s not breaking in – this is his daughter Penny (Perla Haney-Jardine – B.B. from KILL BILL!). He leaves her the stack of letters he wrote to her that the prison never delivered, changes into a striped shirt that makes him look even more like an old timey palooka, and is thrown out by his wife (Theresa Russell, WILD THINGS).

“I’m not a bad person,” he tells her. “Just had bad luck.” Well, it’s about to get worse, pal.

Peter goes to Aunt May late at night and tells her he wants to marry M.J. They have a nice talk and she decides to give him the ring Ben gave her. I like that in the middle of this outlandish movie there’s such a heartfelt scene between these two. Aunt May didn’t expect him, and is wearing an old nightgown like she was about to go to bed. There’s something that rings very true about it to me, this time when the kid has grown up and is on his own and now has a little different relationship with the older relatives. They’re happy to see each other and talk about important things in their lives.

I like how this one emphasizes Peter not having alot of money. We really see how small his apartment is, with a bathroom sink right next to the front door (which gets stuck easily), and he has to use a pay phone in the hall to make his calls. We see him eyeing an engagement ring in a window, and aren’t sure he could ever afford it, so Aunt May giving him the ring is as much a relief as it is a touching gesture.

Then a huge action set piece just sneaks up behind him out of the blue. We get another great cluelessly-riding-his-scooter shot as Harry flies in on a snowboard style Green Goblin glider, grabs him and carries him up into the sky to beat the shit out of him. So we get Peter in suit and tie swinging above the city, shooting web blobs at Harry, getting smashed into a brick wall, crawling on a chunk of falling brick, getting dragged along and banged against a row of buildings, stuff like that.

Shit gets even more real when he’s thrown right through the corner of an office building and drops Aunt May’s ring. The battle briefly becomes about trying to catch it as it falls.

I remember feeling at the time that there was an artificial green screen sort of look to this sequence, and that it didn’t matter because Raimi’s action chops are so strong. And I was right. This is a great sequence of momentum and suspense. Once the priceless family heirloom is secure, Peter leads Harry on a chase through a narrow space between two rows of buildings and eventually distracts him enough to trick him into crashing into a web, knocking him to the pavement. Then it immediately becomes about Peter trying to revive Harry with CPR.

What happens next is kind of hilarious and also a sign that Peter is gonna start fucking everything up. Harry wakes up in the hospital with short term memory loss, not remembering that Peter is his enemy, even making it clear that he doesn’t remember what happened with his dad. So Peter just goes along with it and walks out of there with a smile on his face like hey man, it’s my lucky day, everything is fixed now.

Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus were scientific geniuses turned into monsters and villains by their own dangerous experiments. Flint Marko is a regular joe who becomes Sandman by coincidence – he climbs over a fence running from the cops and happens to fall into a pit where a super-collider experiment is taking place. I hate when that happens! Raimi and Bill Pope, being Raimi and Bill Pope, launch the camera into Marko’s fingertip, inside his cellular structure as it mutates, and then pull back out as his fingers and then the rest of him turn to sand and blow away. His head dissolves from the back forward so that his screaming mouth is the last part to disappear.

But later he re-forms from the sand – a very well done scene where the camera rotates around him as the grains of sand struggle to hold together a human shape. He finds his locket with a photo of his daughter and it reminds him of his humanity, just as possessed Ash did when he found Linda’s locket. So he manages to become human-like, and then to walk. Then he learns to mimic skin and fabric, a T-1000 made of sand. So he’s a shapeshifter who can become Marko or (when needed) turn into a giant hand or a sand Hulk or things like that.

Peter may be happy now, but Mary Jane’s having problems. She’s upset about getting poor reviews for her performance, and then about getting fired. Peter keeps not being there for her, or upsetting her more when she tries to talk to him because he compares everything to being Spider-Man. Worse, in the middle of her opening up to him he has to run off for another coincidence-laden Spider-Man job – the floor of an office building collapsing from a crane accident. A woman he saves, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, LADY IN THE WATER) happens to be a friend from science class, her police chief father (James Cromwell, SPECIES II) happens to be on the ground when it happens, and so does her boyfriend Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, TRAFFIC), who happens to be competing for Peter’s job as photographer at the Daily Bugle.

Peter really fucks up later when he’s given the key to the city by Gwen and gets wrapped up in the adulation, swinging in high-fiving people, and getting Gwen to “lay one on” him when the crowd chants for her to, because “they’ll love it!” Re-enacting the upside down kiss with just some girl from class. Let me tell you, there are at least two people in the crowd who do not love it, for different reasons.

Then the next day this dummy, completely oblivious to how M.J. is feeling about all this, decides it’s time to propose to her! He uses her getting a role in a Broadway musical as the excuse to take her to a fancy French restaurant, not knowing she’s been replaced. He doesn’t pick up that she’s upset and tells her “I know exactly how you feel,” then starts bragging about how popular Spider-Man is as a comparison to her situation. Things get even worse when Gwen happens to be there and comes over to say hi. It turns out he never mentioned to M.J. that he knew the lady he rescued and then kissed in public. And why would he not mention that? Is there something he’s hiding? So Mary Jane leaves before he can propose.

As wrenching as this scene is, Raimi makes it really funny by giving Bruce Campbell his biggest role in the trilogy as the maitre ‘d who Pete arranges with to bring out champagne with the engagement ring in it. It’s a whole comedy routine where he keeps thinking Pete is signaling him and then realizing that he’s not. Bruce even got his name in the opening credits this time!

When Spider-Man first fights him, Sandman is robbing an armored car to pay for his daughter’s surgery. He tells Spidey he doesn’t want to hurt him, but Spidey makes his cocky little wisecracks, and now he seems like such an asshole. He has a great line afterwards though:

Later the police tell Peter and Aunt May that they’ve determined this guy named Flint Marko who escaped from Rikers was involved in Uncle Ben’s carjacking and actually the one who shot him, not the guy who Spider-Man kinda sorta killed. Which means Peter isn’t as responsible for his uncle’s death as he thought, but also leaves him wanting revenge again. Mary Jane, being a good person, hears about the revelation and goes to be there for him despite everything and he says “I’m fine. I don’t need your help.”

Oh yeah, but remember when that blob of space goo hitched a ride on his scooter? That finally comes up again. It crawls on him while he’s asleep, covers his face, and he wakes up on the side of a building feeling extra-powerful and wearing a cool all black Spidey suit. All the better to avenge you with, Flint Marko! In the new suit he starts to do things he wouldn’t normally do, like breaking Eddie Brock’s camera and saying, “See ya, chump!” or turning Marko into mud, thinking it will kill him. Worse, he combs his bangs down and starts being kind of rude.

Okay, let’s get to the part people hate. According to Dr. Connors, the Venom symbiote “amplifies characteristics of its host. Especially aggression,” so it brings out the worst in Peter, like his vengefulness and his ego. It makes him act like a bully after Harry gets his memory back and resumes hostilities.

And notoriously, amazingly, this leads to a scene (set to James Brown’s “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul” from the SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF soundtrack) where Peter, with his bangs down and his collar up, struts down the street like Tony Manero, snaps and makes finger guns at attractive women, hits on Betty Brant, buys a black suit (regular, not Spider-Man), brings Gwen to The Jazz Room, where M.J. works as a singing waitress, calls the hostess “hot legs,” interrupts M.J.s song with an unauthorized piano solo, runs across the bar, swings on the chandelier (swiping someone’s martini, guzzling it in the air and tossing the glass to someone else) and does a dance number, aggressively eyeing M.J. while dipping Gwen.

(Choreographer: Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks, SHOWGIRLS, AUSTIN POWERS trilogy, CHARLIE’S ANGELS.)

I distinctly remember thinking, “Holy shit, Sam Raimi is trying to get fired from Spider-Man,” as memorialized in my original review. I wrote then that “I can see why most people would hate [this scene], but it was so ridiculous and so ‘what the fuck’ that I think I sort of liked it. You really need an evil piano solo to keep the audience on their toes.” Watching it now I would adjust that opinion: I think all the “evil Peter Parker” sequences, and especially this one, are really fuckin funny, and I love them. That Arad wanted Raimi to deliver for the fans who loved the anti-hero edginess of Venom, and Raimi instead gave them a corrupted Peter who boogies for the wrong reasons, is only the cherry on top. I think there actually is a darkness under the silliness, from Peter being such an asshole to M.J. in this specific way, even before he ends the scene getting in a fight with security and knocking M.J. to the ground (causing him to finally recognize his Venom problem).

(Note: There’s an earlier scene where Mary Jane and Harry have a fun day making omelettes and doing the twist, so there’s a fair balance between evil and non-evil dancing in the picture.)

In a way, the Venom is like the money in A SIMPLE PLAN. Just knowing that power is within their grasp makes people do stupid shit they never would’ve imagined they were capable of. Eddie Brock is a prick, an annoying schmoozer and someone willing to Photoshop one of Pete’s old photos as a new one in order to steal his job. That’s shitty. But even yesterday there’s no way he imagined he was a person who would team up with Sandman to kidnap Mary Jane inside a cab and hang it off of a building as a trap to kill Spider-Man. That’s pretty extreme behavior, you know? And yet here we are. He sees Peter escaping from the infected suit so he swoops in and lets it bond with him.

Then the plot suddenly hits the gas.

Instead of showing the whole kidnapping, it cuts straight to a TV news broadcast explaining what’s going on. This rapid escalation seemed crazy compared to other comic book movies of the time, and also compared to today’s comic book movies, and it’s definitely a wilder tone than the previous SPIDER-MANs. I respect it! And I love that he Charlotte’s-Webs a giant message to Spider-Man in the ‘90s animated series font.

In the days before cinematic universes, when a villain usually got one film with an origin, an evil plot and a death, any comic book movie with three (or sometimes two) villains was widely complained about for having too many. It’s certainly awkward the way they kind of jam these ones together. But also, that’s what many and maybe most comic books were like at one time. So especially as time passes I think the berserkness on display here is a positive feature. It gives it a tone that’s distinct. I also think it’s a more exciting and memorable action climax than plenty of the very good modern comic book movies that devolve into what we think of as CG battles at the end (even though there’s plenty of computers chugging away here as well). I love the way Peter notices Venom reacting to sound and defeats him with the vibrations of metal poles. I love that Harry decides to come with his Green Goblin shit and help save the day. And mostly I love that the finale is all about Marko telling his version of Uncle Ben’s death. “I’m not asking you to forgive me. I just want you to understand.” And Peter actually acknowledges that he himself has “done terrible things too” before saying he does indeed forgive him.

In an interview on Super Hero Hype, Raimi explained part 3’s theme like this:

“He considers himself a hero and a sinless person versus these villains that he nabs. We felt it would be a great thing for him to learn a little less black and white view of life and that’s he not above these people. He’s not just the hero and they’re not just the villains. They were all human beings and that he himself might have some sin within him and that other human beings, the ones he calls criminals, have some humanity within them and that the best we can do in this world is to not strive for vengeance, but for forgiveness.”

I think this is a genuine progression, going further than just “great responsibility,” and weaving together Sandman’s story, Uncle Ben’s story, and Harry’s story (since he and Peter also have to forgive each other). And it makes a perfect ending to what turned out to be a trilogy.

Usually when I discuss SPIDER-MAN 3 with people it means I have to defend it, so we focus on the controversial aspects. Therefore I feel like not enough attention has been paid to the character of Flint Marko and the performance of Church. The other villains in the series are two rich scientific geniuses, a rich son of a scientific genius, and a douchey bleach blond scammer dating the police chief’s daughter. Marko is the only one who has had a hard life before turning into a monster, who isn’t full of himself, and who commits his crimes reluctantly. He doesn’t skeletonize anybody, and he’s not endangering the city or the world, he’s not looking for power or glory, he really is just John Q out here trying desperately to get his daughter something the American system really ought to – but absolutely does not – provide for her.

And the movie happens to have been made during a tiny window when the perfect guy to play that type of character was hot enough for a studio blockbuster. Between SPIDER-MAN 2 casting Molina off of FRIDA and this one casting Church off of SIDEWAYS, I think Raimi is the one who kicked off the now longstanding tradition of comic book movies plucking actors from the awards circuit. Church was most associated with the sitcoms Wings and Ned and Stacey until co-starring in SIDEWAYS, which earned him Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG nominations, and wins from the Independent Spirit Awards and a whole bunch of critics groups. Still, most of the movie roles he got were comedies or voice roles. Only SPIDER-MAN 3 really took advantage of his unique physical presence and his ability to convey a damaged guy working to get by. So hats off to Flint Marko and Thomas Haden Church.

Even among people who hate the movie, I think few would dispute that it’s up to snuff on technical levels. Part 2’s stunt coordinators Dan Bradley and Scott Rogers returned, along with fight choreographer Clint Cadinha, doing more great work. After winning an Oscar for SPIDER-MAN 2, John Dykstra decided not to come back as visual effects supervisor, so the job went to Scott Stokdyk (who had worked under him on the others). He had done 3D animation on the terrible home video MORTAL KOMBAT: THE JOURNEY BEGINS but also was digital effects supervisor of HOLLOW MAN. He went on to supervise VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, so obviously he knows what he’s doing. I guess people would disparage the design of Venom, but his execution of complex FX action is obviously impressive.

As mentioned in the previous review, Danny Elfman said he had a miserable time working on part 2 and refused to come back for 3. Christopher Young (AVENGING ANGEL, BARBARIAN QUEEN I & II, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, INVADERS FROM MARS, HELLRAISER I and II, THE FLY II, RAPID FIRE, THE DARK HALF, TALES FROM THE HOOD, SPECIES, VIRTUOSITY, SET IT OFF, HARD RAIN, SWORDFISH, GHOST RIDER), who had done THE GIFT and a few parts in SPIDER-MAN 2 for Raimi, took over, though he reworked many of Elfman’s themes from the previous films rather than reinventing the wheel. I’m not sure his score is as good, but it works.

The Raimi visual style manifests itself mostly in the flying cameras – I don’t think there’s much in the way of cool transitions and montages. I’d say the most EVIL DEAD moment is a POV of the blob of Venom crawling across Peter’s apartment floor, reminding me of the Ash’s severed hand POV. Then there’s a great gimmick that we see its attack on Peter as an animated shadow on the wall, first forming the shape of a monstrous face, then a hand that reaches into him.

Though it kind of seems like the dance number did get Raimi fired from SPIDER-MAN, it turns out he wasn’t trying for that, because he did do some work on a planned part 4. He had a script written by James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC) rewritten by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and then by Gary Ross (PLEASANTVILLE). He worked on storyboards and sketches. John Malkovich was in talks to play the villain Vulture, and Anne Hathaway as Black Cat.

As late as summer 2009, Raimi was saying in interviews that he’d start filming in February. But he ended up quitting before then, unable to come up with a script he was happy with. Luckily, those two years of development weren’t a waste, because he’d gone off to direct a smaller movie from a script he’d written with his brother years earlier. We weren’t gonna get anymore SPIDER-MAN movies from him, but that’s okay, because we were gonna get at least one more horror movie.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 31st, 2022 at 9:43 am and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

39 Responses to “Spider-Man 3”

  1. One thing that I really love about these Spidey movies, is that the villain is never truly evil and their deaths are a tragedy. The closest thing to an actual villain in all three movies is Eddie Brock and he is more of a douchebag who only turns evil because of Venom. And even his death is made tragic by Spidey’s try to safe him in the last second. We are all action movie fans here and don’t mind when the bad gets blown up with a rocket launcher at the end, but it’s also refreshing to spice the good ol’ eye-for-an-eye mentality up with an “Aw man, maybe he could’ve been saved. It wasn’t really his fault, y’know”.

    I also never understood the hate for this movie and especially not for “Emo Peter”. From part 1 on it was shown that Peter was a huge dork, so it makes sense that his “evil” version would also be dorky.

    It also should be noted that it was at its time the most expensive movie ever. It’s not just amusing that a guy, whose first feature was basically a glorified student film that was controversial almost everywhere in the world, suddenly was handed more money than anybody ever in Hollywood, it’s also interesting how Hollywood went from “Argh, James Cameron is going to bankrupt us! Why are we giving him more money!? This is getting out of control and we all get fired!” to “Hey, here are 300 Million Dollar for your comic book movie” within less than 10 years.

  2. The good parts of this movie are really good — I remember sitting in the theater watching the first fight between Peter & Harry and thinking “this sequence is maybe better than any action sequence in the previous two, holy shit, Sam Raimi” — but the script spirals out of control at a certain point for me. Around the time Venom runs into Sandman in a random alley and they immediately decide to team up because reasons. But like Vern I love the Emo Parker stuff; the dance sequence is my favorite part of the movie (I just referenced it a few weeks ago when pitching on a job… the reaction was unenthusiastic and I didn’t get it. No regrets). But I have to talk about the James Brown cue. Somebody somewhere (Raimi? The music supervisor? I’ve always wondered) noticed that the instrumental break — from the extended version released on Motherlode, which suggests it was a true superfan! — has a melody that sounds exactly like the Spider-Man theme, and that it would be the perfect track for this sequence, which it is. If you’re not a JB fan, you might just assume they funked up the Spider-Man theme, it doesn’t hurt your enjoyment of the movie at all. But if you catch it you get an extra little bonus joke. That the movie has such a deep-dive music choice buried in it so subtly when it would have been easier & cheaper to do something less interesting is something I’ve always loved.

  3. I watched this for the first time after catching up with No Way Home a few weeks ago. I like the movie overall, and think it’s awkwardness is mostly a feature, not a bug. But when people mention Venom feeling stitched-in, I was surprised how much I didn’t like Harry and the Goblin retread. I like the scheming and petulant side (the legendary meme of Franco eating the pie is even funnier in context). I didn’t buy at all that he’d jump on a glider and become a supervillain based on what we saw in the earlier movies. It’s the best action scene, possibly even in the franchise, but after it’s over the story gets really rough. I hated the amnesia subplot and butler scene, as it feels like it’s padding out the movie. I think the redemption and forgiveness scene almost work, but there’s just so much of it that it kind of struck me as a parody of “It’s not your fault!” Too many different emotional arcs and realizations being given equal weight, when they probably deserved their own payoffs. Still, this is nowhere near the disaster some have claimed.

  4. It was always obvious to me why the nerds hated it. It dared to expose to the world at large their most secret shame: that comic books, which are about full-grown men in spandex bodysuits who give themselves supercool code names and fight alien warlords over magic space rocks, can be kind of, you know, silly. After all the PR the nerds put in trying to get the norms to refer to call their children’s funnybooks as “graphic novels,” Raimi’s reckless shattering of keyfabe in this manner was considered an unforgivable blasphemy.

    I’ll admit that I started to find Tobey’s constant blubbering hilarious, but other than that I never had a problem with it. If you liked the others, I don’t see what’s supposed to be a dealbreaker about this one. It’s practically the same movie.

  5. Funny how the main complaint about this film (emo Peter aside) was that is was too “over stuffed” with villains (with emphasis on Sony messing it up by forcing Raimi to include Venom). Fast forward 15 years and the MCU in general and the latest Spider-Man in specific have laid waste to that review trope. With good screenwriting the motto now seems to be “the more, the merrier”.

  6. I remember seeing this on an opening day matinee, in a completely empty theater. A private showing.

    Raimi goes full Crimewave in the dancing scene and related montages. So many people cite the dancing as why this movie sucks, but that’s my favorite part! And like you, Vern, I love that we extend beyond great responsibility, into forgiveness. That goes deeper than I think the comics ever got to, but it absolutely works. And I like how NO WAY HOME kind of continues this– in terms of treating enemies like human beings and choosing a path other than vengeance.

    I would be interested to see Raimi’s original Venom-less script. How would the climax have worked? I guess Sandman would be the big bad until the very end, but it would still play out like we saw. Would Peter have been just as dark and/or goofy without the symbiote? I definitely think the symbiote fits into the story we got. They could’ve saved Venom himself for a sequel, which would give the movie a little more room to breathe. The script we ended up with cuts a few corners.

    Sandman, while a classic villain from the Lee/Ditko era, seemed like an odd choice, but I put that down to Raimi being a fan of him as a kid, and the visual possibilities he provides. Thomas Haden Church is perfectly cast, and they even kept the green t-shirt. So I’m happy with it. There’s a good scene deleted from the theatrical cut between Flint and his daughter which I wish they’d kept in.

  7. As I said when this movie was released: The infamous “evil Peter Parker” sequence is the most “Sam Raimi” sequence in the entire trilogy. If it was Bruce Campbell in the part, people would have raved about how hilarious and genius it was.

  8. I think of the lot of the fanboy audience wanted the fun of ‘cool badass black-suit Spider-Man’ before they had to eat the vegetables of vengeance being wrong, yadda yadda, but instead Raimi gave them cringe comedy. Which is an unpopular choice, but not a bad one. One of those Tim Burton’s Penguin things, only there aren’t really any huge Penguin fans that can’t wait to see him NOT be a sewer mutant. I just think someone should’ve stepped in and said “Hey, we’re making Raimi do this character, this is the way he’s going to do it, it really isn’t going to satisfy the expectations of the fans of that character, so maybe we should throw this Venom crap on the backburner.” The Andrew Garfield reboot totally tried to apologize by making the new Spider-Man cool violent badass all the time, just because, and that shit was worse than a dancing Tobey Maguire could ever be. Peter Parker on a skateboard… Christ…

    To play fanficcer for a moment, it might’ve worked better to just have the symbiote, not Eddie Brock/Venom, but I imagine it’d be insanely frustrating to some to buy a ticket to the Venom movie, only all you get is Venom’s clothes, you need to wait until Spider-Man 4 for him to actually do Venom shit.

    And Venom’s thing in the comic is generally that he knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man and goes after him when he’s just chilling with Aunt May or whatever, so coming on the heels of Harry Osborn, another no secret identity grudge match is a little… I don’t know. His other thing is being a badass antihero, which doesn’t really mesh well with him wanting to eat Spider-Man’s face, but what do I know?

    I hear that Raimi’s druthers were for the Vulture to be the guy who escaped with Sandman and for him to basically fill the Eddie Brock role, which is an interesting alternate universe to imagine. Maybe not as interesting as the Spider-Man 4 he wanted to do with Vulture and Black Cat… I know everyone keeps complaining about it being the future and not having a jetpack, but I want one of those Sliders remotes so I can buy a Blu-Ray of Back To The Future where Eric Stoltz is Marty. Get on that, science.

  9. I always liked this one just fine, maybe even a little more than part 1. To me it’s the one where Raimi goes ‘hog wild,’ to borrow the meaning from TV Tropes.

    While one can chase too much film theory down an endless pit – I will mention one theory about editing and the number of cuts and rapidity of editing – especially in regards to both a sense of energy and editing for emotion. Compare the scene in this film of the Subway battle between Spiderman/PP and Sandman/Marko and the Iron Man/Thor battle in Avengers (2012.) In Spiderman 3 it lasts about 150 seconds (2min30seconds.) There are approximately 60 edits, making the average scene 2.5 seconds long – but there is a huge variety of shot length – from less than a second to nearly 10 seconds. Raimi especially used longer takes where he holds for emotion/reaction and dialogue. He uses one long take for the fantastic 360 degree spidey cam following shot before he smashes Sandman into the train, he holds on action, slows down for tension. Longer dramatic dialogue/establishing scenes are at the start of the scene, hell it begins with that super atmospheric low angle view over Marko onto the subway tunnel roof. He tracks in with his patent zooms, he does everything he has been doing since the beginning of his career, admittedly dialled down a little, and he still follows the rules about editing, using the timing between cuts in smart, but traditional ways. He pays attention to rules that make film work. Raimi deploys ‘showstopper’ shots at the more appropriate rate. 2.5 seconds average is quick, but when used in measured, appropriate lengths and combined with compelling/personal stakes storytelling that still allows for physical orientation, this is a highlight scene that works. In addition, he varies and uses appropriate framing/lens – medium/close-up, wide, deployed in a scheme that makes geographic sense. The variety of length and its shrewd usage by Raimi is really apparent when you compare it with the following example from The Avengers and watch them back to back.

    Then look at the scene in Avengers – the same kind of emotional stakes and action. But – the scene is approximately 205 seconds long (3min 25seconds) and contains approximately 110 edits, making the average shot last 1.85 seconds. Much quicker cuts. But Whedon’s cutting is not nearly as measured and sensible. He quick cuts between characters during extended dialogue – in the middle of extended dialogue scenes he still cuts rapidly back and forth between two characters, and usually one is speaking and the other is simple staring at the speaker, not reacting at all, and even during emotional reactions he might hold on the speaker, not the person /reacting. And whereas Raimi holds longer for dialogue/emotion/reaction than Whedon, Raimi also has more longer action takes when they’re appropriate etc. And just compare the atmospheric look to the scene – again the opening shot that begins the Spiderman/Sandman scene if terrific, there is nothing equivalent in the Avengers scene. Whedon is doing what so many lesser action movies do, trying to cover up deficiencies in storytelling and the audience’s essential lack of engagement in less than compelling scenes by ‘speeding’ up the pace of a scene with rapid cutting. Overlooking the poor action stuff – what is the thematic point of rapid fire/hectic editing in the middle of what is supposed to be dramatic, confrontational dialogue? Whedon also does not make nearly the sensible use of medium shots/wide shots/closeups – he pretty much sticks to tight shots where action is impossible to really see/follow. And then, even during showstopper movies in the fight he cuts 3-4 times in a second, obliterating any sense of dynamic ‘wow’ with the cuts. Raimi has longer cuts, holds on action to allow us to see it and cuts on emotion so we feel and react better with the characters and to the dynamics emotionally and physically of the scene.

    Or at least I feel this is so, your mileage may vary.

    2.5 seconds in length average compared to 1.85 seconds might not seem like a lot, but it is, and makes a huge difference both in emotional connection and in the viewer having a sense of flow and geography and following the action coherently.

    Something a little more subjective that I think Raimi really gets right in his action scenes (a trait that he shares with two of the very best action filmmakers Steven Spielberg and James Cameron) is a critical thing I think – in Rami’s Spiderman movies the characters (especially the heroes) do not ‘win’ action scenes/battles – they ‘survive’ them. This is a big difference to most action movies – especially the MCU films.

    This comparison is to me exactly why the Raimi Spiderman movies, including Spiderman 3 are still ‘superior’ to a lot of the other superhero movies.

  10. So basically I meant to say that Raimi still cuts quick, when necessary, but not to quick, and not to just hide deficiencies in directing skill/storytelling.

    He’s an old school, solid, visually dynamic director who even knocks out really well directed slightly sub par for him movies.

  11. Cheers, Alan. I rewatched that subway scene because of your post. Raimi really did elevate the visual storytelling of superhero movies in a way that few directors have matched since.

  12. I put “emo Peter” and “nuking the fridge” into the same category. They’re takedowns of each film that are supposedly so devastating that all you need to do is repeat the phrase and the film is owned, absolutely destroyed by how clever the commenter is. And in both situations, “emo Peter” and “nuking the fridge” are secretly the best parts of these movies.

    The way that the internet hive mind latched onto the dance sequence is especially strange since there’s stuff to criticize here. It is overstuffed, it relies on a ton of coincidences, Raimi seems uninterested in Venom, and retconning Uncle Ben’s death is genuinely a bad idea. I still like the movie, but there’s no denying that it’s kind of messy. So why the hell did everyone become obsessed with emo Peter?

  13. Being the best part of Indiana Jones Meets The Crystal Skulls isn’t saying much.

  14. I think ‘critics’ obsessed about emo Peter because it’s the part of the film that’s easiest to criticize, or in modern vernacular, have a ‘hot take’ opinion. There are certainly many things re: Spiderman 3 that can be discussed negatively, but it’s a lot easier to type ’emo Peter’ then spend time really discussing aspects of the film.

    As we see in the comments here – you can negatively discuss ’emo Peter’ but it doesn’t come off as facile and easy or simple, it can lead to intelligent discussions about that aspect of a work of art.

    In essence it’s why I have been reading both Vern and the comments section here for years, there are not a lot of hot takes, but they’re sure is a heck of a lot of reasoned, intelligent ‘discussions’ about films.

    And heck , I really like Indy 4.

  15. I’ve been a well documented Spider-Man 3 defender so let me focus on 2 specific things.

    I’m glad Vern picked up on how annoying it was that Peter kept comparing MJ’s problems to Spider-Man. I think haters really missed the significance of this. Besides Peter being a running narcissist, he’s also going in the other extreme from shutting MJ out to protect her.

    MJ accepted the danger of dating Spider-Man but she still wanted Peter to be her boyfriend. She didn’t want to talk about fucking Spider-Man all the time. It was important for Peter to learn how to still be Peter even when she knew he was Spider-Man. I like the bittersweet note it ends on where he hasn’t fixed everything but maybe it can still work if he tries.

    Surprised no one brought up the revisionist Uncle Ben death yet. That was the second most hated aspect of the movie after Venom. And it seems that to me haters entirely missed the point crying “No Flint Marko didn’t kill Uncle Ben!”

    Raimi is saying, “You don’t always know the whole story. Sometimes there are unforeseen aspects that can change your interpretation of a situation.” But fanboys literally said, “No Stan Lee said the wrestling robber killed uncle Ben so that’s who did it and you can never ever change it.” Besides the fact that, hello, it’s just a story and new authors can change whatever they want, it’s literally the lesson of responsibility Raimi is trying to teach. You can’t just cling to your old long held beliefs. You have to be willing to take in new information. Profound, moving stuff to me.

  16. I mean, I liked it, for many of the reasons already listed above. “Emo Peter” is, to me, funny as hell. The whole “evil dance” sequence (not merely dancing, mind you, but eeevviiiilll dancing) is hilarious on its face, with a bitter subtext of cruelty towards Mary Jane. The Venom stuff was fine. For me, the whole Harry/Green Goblin dilemma was the weak part of the movie. I was sorry that it had continued into Part 2, and by Part 3 I was just psychically willing Harry to get over his damn daddy issues and move on with his life.

    Thomas Haden Church was really good here. If you’ve seen Tombstone, you know how good he can be. The wink from Doc Holliday brings on a range of facial expressions that go from frightened to astonished to “Oh no, you didn’t, you sonnuva…” in mere seconds. I thought he was great in Wings as well. “Don’t’cha think Ernest Borgnine is sexy?” is still a line I use to break the ice with random strangers.

  17. All I’m going to say about SPIDER-MAN 3 is that I enjoy it more every time I watch it (Ok, except for Bryce Dallas Howard. I think she’s nepotism on two legs. And I just found out today that she’s directing?! I wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise, but gimme a break.). I just wanted to agree with Zombo that THC really IS an underrated actor and deserves to be on the big screen a lot more often than he is.

    But ALSO, I still can’t believe that he got the Oscar nom for SIDEWAYS when that was totally the Paul Giamatti show. “If anybody orders Merlot I am fucking LEAVING!” is always going to be stuck in my brain as one of the best line deliveries of all time.

    Ok, one last thing: I love that evil Peter recommends that Eddie Brock gets religion, so Eddie goes to church and prays to God for him to KILL Peter, pretty much the most heinous thing any bad guy does in any of Raimi’s Spidey movies (whether you believe in God or not, imo), and THAT’s how he ends up becoming Venom. I mean, that is a hell of a screenwriting ouroboros, right there.

  18. I’m going to be a bit of an Ellis here and say that I think Avi Arad had a point about Venom. In retrospect 2007 was further away from the 90s than we perhaps realised, but he was still probably the most popular and recognisable Spider-Man villain at the time, and with Sandman IMO you’re already reaching a point in the Spider-Man’s rogue gallery where the villains are oscillating somewhere between endearingly square and hopelessly square. In a series made in the standard franchise way of professionals wanting to do a good job it might have worked out fine, but this is/was much more of an auteur work, thank goodness, so it totally square pegged this round hole. My memory is that the AICN set all decided they’d always hated Venom after it came out that was Rami’s struggle with the movie, at least they were being loyal to a person rather than a drawing I guess.

    As discussed previously at the time I had no love for SPIDER-MAN 2 and so had no expectations for this and thought it was fine. With more recent viewings I’ve seen why people are so down on this, it has its moments certainly but its messy and at times perversely unsatisfying. I maintain that the bad dance sequence is the one in the kitchen. Nothing against Chubby Checker’s The Twist, but the Peter strut uses a cool James Brown deep cut.

  19. It should also be mentioned that this is the third movie in a row where Mary Jane is the damsel in distress at the end (though I think earlier drafts had Gwen in that role). They probably wouldn’t write it that way today. Nevertheless, through some deft writing and the performance of Kirsten Dunst, I think Mary Jane comes off as a character with an interior life and agency. We’re following Peter’s POV, but Mary Jane has her own stuff going on, her own fears, worries, and needs. Also she sometimes gets kidnapped by mad scientists or venoms.

  20. Bill, I guess in today’s version, there would be an extra scene of MJ almost successfully escaping by herself and she would scream and panic a lot less, maybe even say something like: “I’m not scared of you” to her capturere’s face.

  21. Grimgrinningchris

    February 1st, 2022 at 6:32 am


    Let’s don’t go overboard, man. Howard is a fine actress. She’s done a couple of dumb movies and her dad might have given her entrée into the business but you don’t have a decades long career based on nepotism. She’s also a legitimately solid Director. She directed some of the best episodes of the Mandalorian.

  22. I think I’ve clogged up enough of Vern’s other Spider-Man reviews with my copious thoughts on part 3, but I’ll just reiterate that even the first time around, I was deeply moved by its themes of emotional cruelty and forgiveness, wowed by its next-level action, and much like X-Men 3, I don’t know a single person in real life who actually dislikes it. I watched it again recently expecting to hate it, and found it the most entertaining and interesting of the Raimi Trilogy by a long shot. Easily one of my Top 5 comic book movies.

    And I’ll second Zombo in appreciating Thomas Hayden Church’s acting, even though the more I read interviews about his time on Wings, the more I might dislike him. We’re making our way through the show now and just got to Season 7 where he gets written off – and it’s odd how angry he is in interviews about being on the show in general and not having the Season 6 finale be all about him. It’s like, he’s clearly a second-tier comic relief character, so I have no idea why he felt his exit should be more important than the wedding of the two main characters! (There were also several episodes where his character acts like a needy prima donna and threatens to leave, which I’m sure had to be meta-jokes to the writers). But anyways, yeah, that look in Tombstone is great facial acting, and he’s really, really good in the short-lived HBO Series Divorce. Who knows, maybe it’s all water under the bridge and he’d be willing to come back for a Wings reboot.

  23. I feel nothing for having skipped For Love of the Game, but I clearly f’ed up not watching this all these years. I think I’ve just been too afraid it’s everything people say it is and the rift with Elfman felt like a really bad omen (I go HAM for Elfman). The time is nigh. I shall face my fear and embrace the evil dancing Parker.

  24. Chris, I’ll give you this. Howard’s completely blank stare served her very well when she was playing a blind character in THE VILLAGE, but not so much in any other movie I’ve seen her in, where this is just nothing at all going on behind her eyes. And everything she’s directed has, I’m guessing, been pre-vizzed all to hell and back. There was a shot in her episode of ‘Boba Fett’ that made me say “Oh wow” out loud, so maybe I’ll walk that back a bit and reserve judgement on her directing skills. Until she does an indie film that has no connection to a franchise or company or production company her father has nothing to do with.

  25. Grimgrinningchris

    February 2nd, 2022 at 3:34 am

    Jerome- Here’s just one for you. Though she has many in her filmography. She starred in Manderlay for Lars von Trier, probably the only one of his movies that I can stomach.

  26. In Jerome’s defense, I think both Howard and Pratt are so bereft of charisma and screen presence in both Jurassic World movies that I forget how much I’ve liked them in other things. They absolutely don’t seem like the same two people from The Village and Parks and Rec, like the Hollywood machine has sucked all the light out of them.

    Also, Howard goes full frontal in Manderlay – not saying that means she didn’t benefit from nepotism, but I feel going full-frontal in an arthouse movie is pretty much the classic way to “pay your dues” in Hollywood, right?

  27. Grimgrinningchris

    February 2nd, 2022 at 8:24 am

    I can’t disagree on the Jurassic World movies, but those movies are bereft of any charisma overall so I don’t blame the leads. I’ll say this, the little moment where Howard’s hair blows back from Peter’s dance and the look on her face… Is one of my favorite things in the whole Raimi trilogy.

  28. The magic of Spider-Man 3 is getting us all to vent our spleens about our feelings on Thomas Haden Church and Bryce Dallas Howard. If Raimi had made Spider-Man 4, maybe we could’ve had the catharsis of admitting how we all feel about Wings Hauser.

  29. Thanks, Neal-totally agree on the JW. Chris- I totally agree on the hair-blowing moment in Spidey 3. It’s a great Raimi touch that wouldn’t have been out of place in the similar dance scene in CRIMEWAVE. But, again, I don’t buy Howard’s reaction as anything but “I’m supposed to make this face right now.”. Also, I’m pretty sure one can sustain a decades-long career based on nepotism. Especially if you’re a pretty lady. I mean, how many chances did Melanie Griffith get?

  30. Hey, if Raimi didn’t get chastised by his squires for smuggling the snippet in which the freshly-turned-greedy-and-evil Peter answers the phone with a quiet “Shalom!”, then why would he get any flak from them for a dance scene.

    Evil Peter Parker says Shalom

    War crimes Sam Raimi got away with.

  31. I never caught that before, but Raimi is Jewish, so it’s none of my business!

    source: Jewish Journal: https://jewishjournal.com/mobile_20111212/107462/sam-raimis-latest-horror-flick-draws-on-true-tale-jewish-exorcism/

  32. I recently saw a meme about the dancing evil Peter Parker which literally said “Isn’t amazing how what used to be the worst scene of all time is now the best scene of all time?”

    Also, if you somehow haven’t already done so, just go to YouTube and search for “Bully Maguire” to experience the absurd joy that mashup artists with too much time on their hands have found in this scene.

    My point is that modern irony has made the world more receptive to emo Peter.

  33. Good Lord I’ve never seen this Bully Maguire business til now but I’m just kinda glad people still have Spider-Man 3 on the brain these days!

    Speaking of on the brain, that “shalom” clip above reminds me – how did we make it through 30ish comments and nobody including me has brought up the wonderfully left-field Chocolate Cake Girl?? Such a strange non sequitur of a role, made weirder by the fact that she was already a “wait what was that about?” role in Part 2. She doesn’t really figure into the plot, she doesn’t become a love interest or get kidnapped or fridged. As far as I know, she’s not an Easter egg or based on some obscure comic-book character like she would be today. She just shows up to offer Peter some badly needed comfort in Part 2 and boost his ego a little bit in Part 3. Me and all my friends had such huge crushes on her, and even though I’m normally all about removing bloat and trimming movies to their shortest possible length, I’m really glad they made room for her in these two movies.

  34. I don’t really get the Bully Maguire stuff, but the one where he dances into Peppa Pig’s school is pretty funny.

  35. Happy to finally see Kirsten Dunst get her first (long overdue) Oscar nomination for POWER OF THE DOG (maybe the best film of 2021.) She gave the most consistent performances across the 3 Spidey films in my opinion, and has been one of the best actors of the last two+ decades.

  36. They actually put a “From director Sam Raimi” in the DR STRANGE Super Bowl Spot. Is that the first time the MCU dropped a director’s name in the trailer? Can’t remember any others.

  37. The final trailer for THE ETERNALS had “From Academy Award winning director Chloé Zhao.”

  38. Oh, that’s true. Forgot about that one.

  39. Was very pleased to see some classic Sam Raimi moves in the DR STRANGE trailer, including the zooming-into-the-reflection-in-someone’s-eye shot.

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