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The Marvel Movies: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

by on July 9, 2011
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If you’d gone back in time to the late 1980s and asked the 10-year-old version of me which single story I would make into a movie, without hesitation, I would have said Spider-Man’s Black Suit Saga.

This is the one where Spider-Man receives a new black costume that responds to his thoughts and could shift shapes. When he didn’t want to be Spider-Man, the costume’s mask and gloves would retract and turn into civilian clothes. Additionally, it enhanced his powers, making him stronger, faster, more agile.

It was also an alien being, a symbiote that was trying to bond with Peter and make him more aggressive and borderline cruel. It was a long, epic arc that spanned years and required the help of other Marvel heroes to resolve — a full-on battle for Pete’s soul where he went to the brink of madness, almost killing someone, before fighting his way back.

It also led to the creation of one of Spider-Man’s coolest villains, Venom. For all intents and purposes the Bizarro Spider-Man, Venom had arguably a greater personal connection to Spidey than any of his other adversaries.

So imagine my giddiness at the first teaser image for “Spider-Man 3,” with a black-suit-clad Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) sitting head-down in the rain — dark and promising something epic. It was fanboy nirvana for a Spider-Man nerd like myself.

What we actually got from director Sam Raimi? Not so much. The black-suit story, it turns out, was foisted on Raimi from Marvel’s suits, and he didn’t take too kindly to being ordered around, leading to a film that was at best pedestrian, lifeless, and rushed as Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent (who wrote the spectacular “Spider-Man 2”) scrambled to weave the suit story and Venom’s birth into the film.

Then Raimi committed a couple of cardinal sins, namely failing to capture the right mood, and the film suffered from there. His big expression of Pete losing his grasp on things? A manic “Stayin’ Alive”-type dance sequence where he flirts with girls and struts around Manhattan. Oh, and he pushes his hair down over his eyes and adds a little subtle eyeliner, earning the derisive nickname “emo Parker” from the fan community.

Raimi lost some of the more interesting aspects of the suit as well in its shapeshifting properties. Here’s it’s just one of his regular suits dyed black, which is OK in the grand scheme of things, but a major nit in a film that’s filled with ones to pick.

Another: The introduction of Sandman (a wooden, vanilla Thomas Haden Church) as the previously unknown accomplice killer of Peter’s Uncle Ben. It’s a totally unnecessary arc meant to give Pete more incentive to hate him that needlessly deviates from comic canon.

Then we come to the film’s continuing arcs from previous films. Harry is finally poised to take vengeance against Spider-Man for killing his father Norman (the Green Goblin from the first film). After {SPOILER ALERT} stumbling upon the Goblin serum and his dad’s equipment, Harry becomes the … New Goblin? Seriously? And he rides a snowboard-looking glider and wears what looks like a modified paintball mask.

Their initial fight is one of the film’s high points, with Peter, out of costume, taking a beating as he frantically tries to explain what happened while flying all around the New York skyline and trying not to lose his beloved Aunt May’s engagement ring, which he plans on presenting to Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

The scene ends with Harry … getting amnesia. No, you didn’t read that wrong. He hits his head and forgets everything from the past two films, becoming affable, dunderheaded Harry for half the movie, ostensibly to get him out of the way for large chunks of the film. When they insert him back in, it’s for a protracted date scene with Mary Jane where they … make omelets and he and MJ dance to (I’m not joking) Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”

But we’re not done. Raimi adds Gwen Stacy, Peter’s true love in the comics who was killed in the books’ equivalent of the first film’s climax. (Bryce Dallas Howard is a natural redhead playing a blonde while Dunst, a natural blonde, plays the redheaded MJ.) Here, Gwen shows promise, but is used only as a tool to make MJ jealous (and rightly so).

Then we get back to our villains. Sandman is the least villainous baddie of the three films; he breaks out of prison to steal money to pay for an operation for his sick daughter. Venom doesn’t enter the film until the final third of the picture, has one promising fight scene and exits. Harry’s arc fits thematically but rings hollow.

Many of the quirks Raimi brought to the franchise — signature camera shots, shoddy editing, imbuing Peter with quirky and nerdy traits — turn from the cutesy, endearing tone of the previous films to annoying and maddening in this one. It actually has a retroactive effect on the franchise; I dare you to watch this film, then go back and watch the first two without some things originally more easily overlooked in the first two becoming more annoying.

Raimi’s bad experience with “Spider-Man 3” ultimately ended his involvement with the franchise. He was announced as returning for the fourth film, but he quickly torpedoed it by announcing that film’s villain as the Vulture, whom he originally wanted for the third film (but was vetoed), and … the Vultress, an all-new (read “made-up”) character who would be the Vulture’s daughter. Fanboys rebelled, and Raimi and Maguire exited, leading to a pending 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield (of “The Social Network”) and directed by the aptly monikered Marc Webb (who directed the romcom “(500) Days of Summer”).

So I’m left with my childhood dreams shattered by this weepy, neutered, underwhelming piece of celluloid. Oh well, I guess I’m left with the proper treatments of my beloved story, from the ’90s Fox TV “Spider-Man” cartoon and from the recent series, “The Spectacular Spider-Man,” each of which actually did the story right.

Next time: The Fantastic Four are back, and this time they’ve brought … a giant cloud of death! And a Surfer!

Previous Marvel Movie Entries

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade (1998)
X-Men (2000)
Blade II (2002)
Spider-Man (2002)
Daredevil (2003)
X2: X-Men United (2003)
Hulk (2003)

The Punisher (2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Blade Trinity (2004)
Elektra (2005)
Fantastic Four (2005)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Ghost Rider (2007)