Despite all the bad press Spider-Man 3 had received, my friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) and I decided to give it a good shot. Things got off to a bad start when I saw that Bruce Campbell, who had made only cameos in the first two Spider-Man films, now had screen credit in Spider-Man 3. This to me signaled that his role, now large enough to be credited, was now going to be less "fun/funny cameo" and more "Campbell will be relevant to the plot." Despite this misgiving, Fidel and I thought Spider-Man 3 started off well.
Then the film kept going, and going, and going...and our hearts kept sinking, and sinking, and sinking...
In order to recap Spider-Man 3, it will require a Venn diagram to sort out all the plotlines. However, I'll do my best to break it all down.
Plot One: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has not only made peace with being your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but now has the love of his life, actress Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Even better, at the end of Spider-Man 2, she knows of his dual identity and is totally cool with it. The only thing that might spoil their love is an intergalactic goo that crashed near them and which got onto Pete's scooter.
Plot Two: Unfortunately, Mary Jane is not the only one who knows Peter's secret identity. His frenemy, Harry Osborn (James Franco), who still holds Peter responsible for his father Norman's death (this is vital to the story), has also learned Spidey's true identity in S-M 2, as well as finding his late father's lair. Now, with his father's echoes to avenge him ringing in his ear, Harry now seeks his revenger as a villain called the New Goblin.
Plot Three: Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) is a criminal on the lam. Despite his life of crime, he really isn't a bad guy--having committed all sorts of crimes to help his precious daughter Penny. As he keeps eluding the law, he falls into an experimental sandtrap and is genetically transformed into the villain The Sandman.
Plot Four: There's a new upstart photographer at the Daily Bugle. It is cocky, smarmy Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), who like Peter, is seeking a staff position. Editor J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) will give it to the photographer who can provide pictures of his nemesis Spider-Man committing a crime.
Plot Five (so far with me?): Peter's lab partner is one Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is pretty enough to be a model, but not as smart as one. Eddie for some reason thinks he and Gwen are in a relationship, and Spider-Man comes to rescue her from a major accident. Now, her father, Captain Stacy (James Cromwell), has news involving
Plot Two. Flint, rather than the carjacker from Spider-Man, was responsible for killing Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson).
At this point, why not just say, "It was all a dream."
It comes as a shock to everyone, and now Spider-Man now has to find Flint, but a new villain named The Sandman comes into the picture.
Oh, yes, there is something from Plot Two. The New Goblin attacks Peter, who, in a tie-in from Plot One, is going to pop the question to Mary Jane. It might cheer her up, given that her musical debut in a song-and-dance show called Manhattan Memories was a total bomb.
Allow me to digress that this musical, Manhattan Memories, sounds oddly similar to the musical the Muppets created in The Muppets Take Manhattan (Manhattan MELODIES).
OK, so from Plot Two the New Goblin suffers a head injury which causes memory issues. Now, Harry thinks he and Pete are the bestest of friends and he doesn't recall Spidey as Petey/Daddy's killer.
Heading over to a part in Plot One, that black goo finally takes over Peter, and with it creates a Dark Spider-Man, one with the same powers but not a benevolent side. It also affects Peter himself, turning from a sweet kid into a Dark/Emo Peter. Among the side effects of this goo is to make him break out into dance numbers as he struts down the street, ogling girls.
It is at this point when my friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) looked at each other in stunned disbelief and said, "When did THIS turn into Saturday Night Fever"? I added that I was sure this was the gag reel because it is impossible to believe Raimi, Maguire, or anyone else watching this particular scene would think A.) it was any good, B.) it made any sense, and C.) would not make audiences burst out laughing.
And I'm pretty sure that despite all that, we're nowhere near the MIDDLE of Spider-Man 3.
Let's try to wrap all this up. From Plot Three: Sandman wants revenge after Dark Spider-Man thinks he kills Marko for killing Uncle Ben. From Plot Two: Harry finally remembers everything and decides to embark on a Master Plan of Vengeance, which is...have Mary Jane break up with Peter (I think that's Plot One). Plot One: Peter finally breaks free from the goo, but from Plot Four, Eddie Brock, having been fired for doctoring a picture of Spider-Man, is himself infected with this goo and he turns into the villain Venom. Plot Five has Gwen realizing that Peter is still in love with M. J. and doing all he does to upset our red-headed beauty (even if a little bit of Gwen has fallen in love with Spider-Man). Plots Three and Four come together when Venom/Eddie finds Sandman/Flint and proposes a union. As part of the scheme for revenge Plot One (the romance part) is dragged in (along with poor Mary Jane). However, Plot Two has a remarkable (or remarkably stupid) resolution that allows the New Goblin and the Old Spidey to join forces.
Dear God what a convoluted mishmash of story Spider-Man 3 is. And to be perfectly honest, I tried to condense it the best I could and I STILL think I left out things.
The screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Ivan Raimi, and director Sam Raimi (from a story by the Raimi Brothers sans Ted, who just acted in it) didn't know what it was doing. It was throwing far too much at us to even bother trying to keep up with who or what we were suppose to focus on. You had the Sandman story, the Dark Spider-Man story, the Venom story, the Eddie Brock story (not necessarily the same thing), the New Goblin story, the Dark/Emo Peter story...and those are just from the VILLAINS!
I digress to say that I had until now believed that there were four villains in Spider-Man 3: The Sandman, Venom, the New Goblin, and the Dark/Emo Peter. There may have been more: you had Eddie Brock pre-Venom being a menace to him, and you had Harry non-Goblin going after him. You even had Peter's growing megalomania about his popularity nibbling at him.
A solid case can be made for any of them being the villain, but soon we are awash in monsters, some of them so ridiculous that we don't even mind when they disappear from the screen for what seems hours at a time.
Raimi et. al. could have just focused on Venom/Eddie, or Sandman/Flint, or New Goblin/Harry, but when they put in all of them, when one leaves the other one doesn't pick up the slack. Instead, we jump around from one to the other with no real connection. No one seems to have wondered, apparently, exactly how Venom found Sandman so easily while Spidey couldn't. No one seems to have wondered, apparently, exactly HOW Eddie-inside-Venom knew who Flint Marko was.
As if that weren't enough, the script made it all too easy for everyone to be either absolved or basically thrown out of the movie when not needed. You have to have Harry in there, but we can't sustain his story because we already have both Sandman AND Venom. What to do, what to do. Oh, yes, knock him out and give him amnesia: that should buy us some time.
The most distasteful, unfair, downright cynical plot points involve Flint Marko. Spider-Man 3 wants to have it so many ways. We're suppose to hate him because he, not the carjacker, killed Uncle Ben, but we're suppose to feel sorry for him because he did it for his child (and a sick one at that, although after he sees her early in the film Flint doesn't appear to ever have any contact with her afterwards, at least that I remember). In other words, we're suppose to think he's evil...but we're suppose to also think he's good.
Now, I had critized Spider-Man 2 for giving us a villain that wasn't really all that villainous, but this is really the lowest point in the "make the villain sympathetic" the Spider-Man franchise has indulged in. The reason Unlce Ben had to die, as I understand it, is because Flint HAD to steal for his dying child. Therefore, it's OK in a way that this nice old man had to get blown away--it was For the Children.
By having Flint be the actual killer of Uncle Ben, Spider-Man 3 did two things wrong. First and most important, it throws all continuity out the window. For TWO FILMS, we've been led to believe someone else did it, and now, we get a whole new killer. Second, it is a major cop-out to have the whole "the gun just went off by accident" bit be the big reveal as to why Uncle Ben died.
I remember very well saying, "Cop-out, cop-out, cop-out," when I saw it with Fidel, and I said it again when rewatching it again all these years later.
COP-OUT, COP-OUT, COP-OUT, COP-OUT, COP-OUT, COP-OUT, COP-OUT, COP-OUT....
Moving on, we get one last totally ridiculous twist in Spider-Man 3 that isn't just illogical, or even stupid (although it is both). It is just insulting to those who have seen all three films.
Near the end of Spider-Man 3, as Harry refuses to help Spider-Man even if it to rescue Mary Jane (granted, Harry has a semblance of a reason, seeing as how Spidey had turned Harry into The Phantom of the Opera), the Osborn manservant Bernard (John Paxton, whom I'm guessing is the Houseman IMDB bills) tells Harry that he knows, KNOWS, that Norman died from wounds he received from Norman's own glider.
SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY! HE'S REVEALING THIS NOW!! Did it not occur to Bernard to tell Harry this FIVE YEARS AGO, when he was blaming Spider-Man and later his best friend Peter Parker for Norman's death? SERIOUSLY?!
This is just insane. It's stupid. It's insulting. It's absurd. Did the Raimis (even Ted, I'm so mad at them), not think ANYONE would question why this character never opted to say, "Well, you think your best friend killed your father, when in truth...". It isn't just insane, stupid, insulting, and absurd (even if again, it is all that). It Is Lazy and Cheap, a quick way to get the Phantom of the Mansion to pop in and save Spidey when...all hope seems to be lost.
Truth be told, everyone appears to be lost in Spider-Man 3, starting with the audience. Whenever the Sandman floats away, I started singing, "All we are is Dust In the Wind," and after the third time Fidel told me to stop. When we see how Harry has been disfigured, I just whispered out, "The Phantom of the Opera is here, inside your mind."
Perhaps that could have been overlooked, but not the entire Emo Peter scenes. The idea that our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man's alter ego could express his "dark side" by strutting down the street, pointing at girls, and most foolishly getting bangs to cover his forehead is...is...unexplainable. As I stated before, once Maguire started going down the street in his dark clothes and walking to a beat (culminating in a literal mini-dance), Fidel and I just stared at each other, mouths agape at what exactly we were enduring.
As if that weren't enough, right afterwards we get a SECOND dance number that is clearly so laughable (at one point, Peter removing his jacket releases a gust of wind that hits Gwen), that no one could look on Spidey in anything other than in sympathy or horror. Were the Raimis really going for a parody rather than an actual film, one wonders.
There was no acting in Spider-Man 3. One especially feels for Dunst, who is reduced to being nothing more than the screamer/bait. Yes, she's been in this position before, but one would imagine a Broadway star by now could at least afford some protection. When she, as part of Harry's "nefarious scheme for vengeance", has to break up with Peter, I whispered to Fidel, "Now I know why she was fired from the play."
I digress to wonder about her singing debut in that musical, Manhattan Memories. Although she in Spider-Man 3 apparently OPENS the show with a solo, she curiously receives THIRD billing on the marquee. I'm a little confused as to why A.) she was hired to open a major Broadway musical if the producers didn't have confidence in her singing, and B.) how she was fired so quickly after what apparently was a disastrous debut. Even Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark didn't dump its leads so fast after it bombed with critics (as for the director...). If the TOTD producers wanted to get rid of a cast member, all they had to do was make them rehearse.
Church went all weepy, which frankly is not a good sign for a villain (but this was the 'he's not really all that bad' kind of villain), even if The Sandman is one of the sillier baddies (oh, look, I'll just turn to dust and fly off). Chris-Topher Grace does one of two characters: the bumbling Eric from That 70's Show, and this smarmy, cocky jerk that he does in all his movies (ex. In Good Company, Take Me Home Tonight,, Predators, Traffic--about the only good film he's been in). He can't make Eddie Brock venomous (pun intended) because he is too much like in all his other films. When he tries to be evil, it comes off as silly, so silly that even Chris-Topher Grace doesn't believe himself.
Topher Grace is as menacing as a cheeseburger.
Casting him to be Venom (one of the most dangerous of Spidey's foes) was another gigantic disaster in Spider-Man 3. I can imagine that when Eddie Brock meets his end, audiences cheered. They didn't at the screening I went to, but I imagine that might have happened.
Finally, in terms of performances, Bruce Campbell should never have been given an entire scene that required giving him screen credit. It was a bad performance (even by the relatively low standards the notoriously-schlockly actor has), with a French accent so idiotic that even Peter Sellers would have told him was over-the-top.
Everything about the movie (story, ridiculous twists in the story, acting, story--again, Christopher Young's "adaptation" of Danny Elfman's original score, story--once again, characters, plot points) is an embarassment to all those who claim to know how to make a good movie. There are too many villains, too many plotlines, too many questionable points of logic, too many illogical twists.
Spider-Man 3 is a disaster, a temple to Film-By-Committee moviemaking where it all collapses under its own hubris.
"It's hard to believe what's happening. The brutality of it. I don't know how he can take any more."
This is said by a reporter covering Sandman and Venom's battle against Spider-Man and Mary Jane being suspended by Venom's web. She could have been looking at the audience and seen she was really describing us.