Adapted by Alvin Sargent, Ivan Raimi and Sam Raimi from Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee.
What made Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 so great was Peter Parker’s character development, and how that transcended the story to become relatable for all of us, while also running parallel with other characters, who were experiencing their own equivalent. It also felt natural, with everything a discrete progression in line with what Uncle Ben said in Spider-Man of these years in Parker’s life being what will turn him into the man he’ll be for the rest of his life. And so, because Sony weren’t sure whether Spider-Man 4 would happen, Spider-Man 3 was written as the conclusion to a trilogy. In doing so, it attempted to wrap everything up rather than do what the previous two had done, which was to just make an enjoyable story. Spider-Man 2 doesn’t completely wrap things up, but it could have made its duology. Spider-Man 3, however, rushed itself to include everything it wanted to, even if most of those things weren’t needed at all.
The main thing about Spider-Man 3 is Venom, as he’s the person who takes Parker to the dark side. Venom then becomes Eddie Brock, who’s like a darker Parker himself. That formula was a good one to start with, and had the story been about Parker and Venom/Brock, it could have been an interesting character piece. But Venom’s relevance is as a manifestation of a person’s darker side. Curt Connors even explains that it amplifies a person’s traits, and so Parker becomes a vengeful vigilante, and learns that he isn’t above these people, who aren’t heartless. But that was already apparent from his relationship with Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2; what made Octavius such a popular villain is the way he was treated as a real person, and that’s what made Spider-Man 2 great for everybody, as did the way it balanced the light and the dark. Whereas Spider-Man 3 is almost trying too hard to be dark, and isn’t trying hard enough to be light. It’s almost as if Venom is bringing out the darker side of the trilogy itself.
So while Venom’s inclusion is based on recycled ideas, it would have still been a clever continuation of the trilogy’s dualistic themes. It could even ended with Brock becoming Spider-Man – that would have really added something to the story in motion and kept it new. But instead, Flint Marko’s Sandman’s added as well, and that’s the main problem with Spider-Man 3: it doesn’t know how to handle multiple villains. The same criticism is given of Akiva Goldsman’s Batman & Robin, which included Victor “Mr. Freeze” Fries, Pamela “Poison Ivey” Isley and Antonio “Bane” Diego. But multiple villains isn’t the problem with either Spider-Man 3 or Batman & Robin, it’s that neither can handle them. The Nolans’ The Dark Knight features The Joker, Two-Face and Salvatore Maroni, yet balances them in a way that makes it considered the best Batman adaptation. Multiple villains isn’t what makes Spider-Man 3 just not work, but the lack of cohesion in them.
Marko contributes absolutely nothing. He’s introduced completely separately to the story, just so we can see his family background and understand what kind of a person he is. And his transformation into Sandman also has nothing to do with Spider-Man. And ultimately, all he does with Spider-Man is just cause a few public disturbances. It’s explained that he killed Uncle Ben, but the way it’s done shows just how much of a retcon this is – that it was never a plan, and was only included just make the same point being made by Venom. And yet Venom gets much less screentime than desired because of it.
And yet, Marko isn’t even defeated. He just explains to Parker what happened, and Parker forgives him, like it was an accident. But it wasn’t an accident – he killed Uncle Ben because he has a really itchy trigger finger. And then Marko just goes away and is never seen again. When the tertiary villain isn’t defeated, clearly, he doesn’t need to be there. But instead, he makes a verbal point to Parker about forgiveness, even though this would have been much more subtle if the story had the confidence to stick with Venom, and what it meant for Parker rather than giving him a straight-out lecture. It’s as if the creative team had suddenly forgotten how to write Spider-Man and tried to compensate for it by being unexpectedly dark. But it isn’t really that dark, because Venom’s screentime is taken-up by a villain who’s only there because he was clumsily retconned into the trilogy in order to do exactly the same thing as the very villain he’s replacing.
And then there’s Harry Osborn. Great God, Harry Osborn. People say the worst thing about Spider-Man 3 is “emo Peter Parker” and his dancing, but it isn’t. Because at least there he’s being affected be Venom (of course, dark doesn’t equal emo, and emos don’t tend to dance to jazz music, but whatever). No. The actual worst thing about Spider-Man 3 is Harry Osborn and “that bit in the kitchen” in-which he dances with Mary Watson. It’s absolutely awful, because it’s totally out of character. I wonder if James Franco, a wonderfully charismatic actor, really hates Sam Raimi now. Probably not, to be honest, since Raimi himself admits Spider-Man 3 sucks. And if the director says that, there really is no hope for it.
Not to mention that Osborn has a horrible conclusion to his plotline. With Venom and Marko already pushing each-other out of the doorway to the story, Osborn is sidelined in the quickest (and unimaginable) way possible: he’s given amnesia. We begin with him chasing Parker through New York, even though he shouldn’t really hate him anymore. He’s discovered his father was Green Goblin, so it makes sense for him to understand why he had to die. But apparently not. Then he’s ejected into hospital with no memory of anything, until his butler reveals that Norman Osborn was killed by his own glider. Why he’s waited this long to tell him really makes no sense. And his butler knew all this time that Norman Osborn was Green Goblin? And he never said? So finally, he forgives Parker and sacrifices himself to save him by taking the bullet, even though the clear third option was just to take-on Venom himself. Or to maybe deal with Marko.
All of this happens in a very haphazard third act that looks more like fanfiction than anything else. Everyone’s teamed-up to stop Marko, though Marko himself has no qualification to be here and ultimately isn’t stopped anyway. I’d make some sort of conclusion about it, but the multiple plot arcs have no cohesion and there isn’t a through-line to anything. It really just isn’t very good.
Spider-Man 3: wrong choices and no cohesion 2/10.