So, we get to the first Marvel film to have it’s entire series with the singular vision of a specific director. Raimi did a good job with the first one and a spectacular job with the second film. It still stands as a high watermark for the superhero film genre. Three is a bit more…complicated. There is a Spider-Man comic for Marvel to publish. The Complicated Spider-Man.
We open with Peter telling us just how awesome his life is. He has a hot girlfriend who is successfully performing plays, school is going excellently, he has money. It is here where we get our introduction to Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is apparently doing pretty well in school herself. Peter runs into Harry at MJ’s play. Peter is contemplating proposal, especially after a night of star watching with MJ. It is a fun use of powers in the scene as they lie next to each other in a giant web. Unknown to Peter, a meteor crashes near by and a black goo crawls out…it appears to have some sentience, as it leaps onto Peter’s scooter.
We get introduced to Flint Marko, played by the talented Thomas Haden Church. He has escaped prison and snuck into his home. In a nice bit of back-story, he has a daughter whom he loves very much, and the crimes he committed were to try and help her. Raimi was very good at finding human connections for the villains in all three films. You could sympathize with their motivations. On the other hand, There is Harry Osbourne…who is becoming a cartoonish revenged obsessed guy. I get that they want us to see him as a tragic figure…becoming his father, whom he always wanted to please. But it seems he is suddenly a technology genius he never was in the previous films.
Meanwhile, Peter declares his intentions to propose to Aunt May. As usual, Rosemary Harris hits it out of the park, reminiscing about when Uncle Ben proposed to her. Peter leaves feeling hopeful-only to be hit by a flying snow border. Yes. You heard me. Just like the terrible Green Goblin costume, the the Hobgoblin costume is terrible, only worse. This is rather stunning to me, because for all the efforts to visual fidelity by Raimi? Both ‘Goblins look as distant from the comics as you can get. Great actor choices (both Defoe and Franco) and terrible outfits. They have a elaborate fight, that actually looks pretty good, and shows Peter has become quite skilled in his role. He manages to take down Harry-but almost kills him in the process. When he wakes up in the hospital, he has no memory of anything…that Peter is Spider-Man, how his father died, or that he was angry with Peter.
Meanwhile, Marko is on the run from the cops. He slips into a field used by a testing facility and falls into a pit. Suddenly, he hears something starting up. We then meet the worst scientists in the world. They notice a change in the mass, but shrug it off as a bird who will fly away. So, then they just continue the experiment. Marko is horrified as he seems to dissolve into dust, when the cops reach the pit, there is nothing there.
Meanwhile, as everything is golden for Peter, MJ’s world seems to be collapsing. She gets a terrible review, that Peter shrugs off, claiming what does a critic know? And then he runs off to help an emergency, leaving MJ by herself. MJ goes to the theater, only to discover that they are firing her.
We are reintroduced to Gwen Stacy, who is apparently a model. Her shoot is happening 60 stories up-just as a construction crane goes out of control. In a dramatic save, Spider-Man swings in and saves Gwen. Watching below are her father Captain Stacy (James Cromwell) and Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Brock is a slicker counter point to Peter. He is a photographer, and we find out he is planning to propose to Gwen. He also wants to be the Spider-Man photographer.
We find that both men want the position of staff photographer, so J. Jonah Jameson offers them the chance to compete for the job. It’s a fun scene, with Betty Brant constantly reminding him to watch his blood pressure (using a system of buzzers that shake his desk) per the instruction of his wife. Meanwhile, in the pit, the sand starts to stir. Slowly, it becomes a humanoid figure. When it finds a locket with the picture of Marko’s daughter, it becomes determined to live again. As the Sandman? Church is perfectly cast. He looks like he walked off the page. He takes to robbing bank trucks.
Elsewhere, Peter is getting the key to the city, unaware of how badly MJ’s days are going. Both Harry and MJ show up, and Peter is excited to be getting this award. Spider-Man likes people, and people like Spider-Man. When Gwen gives him the key, he is hanging upside down and suggests Gwen give him a kiss. So, in a moment reminiscent of the first film, she does. MJ, runs off, looking about ready to burst into tears. Peter (and everyone else) sees this big giant mass of sand fly by. So he takes off after it. Peter reaches the bank car Flint is in. Spider-Man is feeling puffed up and cocky-laughing Marko off as he tells Spider-Man to leave, as he has no interest in hurting him. Peter punches Flint in the stomache-only to find his fist stuck inside Marko (in a good bit of humor, Peter utters “Uh Oh” before getting clobbered). The Sandman flies off, leaving a stunned Parker.
That night she meets with Peter at a fancy restaurant. Before she arrives, there is a huge bit of scene stealing from Bruce Campbell as a helpful-yet snooty-french maître. He is going to help Peter with the proposal. But when MJ arrives, she is feeling down. Again, Peter brushes off her feelings. And he mistakes her comments by assuming they are positive and going on and on about how awesome it is to be Spider-Man-because EVERYBODY loves Spider-Man. Then Gwen Stacy shows up-and MJ finds out that they are lab partners…and Peter has never mentioned this gorgeous blonde. Who he kissed. The night ends in a way Peter had never anticipated.
Peter then finds out that his father was killed by someone other than the guy he thought did it…it was Flint Marko. Peter becomes angry to find that his uncle’s killer has been running around free. Peter starts ignoring the calls for help on the police scanner, waiting for a call to come through regarding Marko. As he sleeps, the goo reappears, attaching itself to Peter as he is haunted by nightmares of Uncle Ben’s death. The goo covers him entirely, and Peter feels stronger, better and good. He visits Curt Conners who takes a look at the good. He recognizes that it has similarities to a symbiote. They notice it makes a mad rush towards Peter and Conners recommends not getting any of the goo on him.
Peter heads out that night after hearing about Marko on the police scanner. He runs into Eddie at the bank, who takes his picture-only for Spider-Man to destroy his camera. After Spidey leaps into the sewers, Brock pulls out a digital camera and starts to snap pictures. Peter finds Marko and a battle commences. It is a really dynamic sequence with cool effects for the Sandman where we see things like half his head missing. Peter puts an end to the fight by hitting Marko with a flood of water that washes him away. Peter realizes the suit is starting to impact him…making him more of a predator, so he sticks it in a suitcase. Peter visits his Aunt May and tells her that Flint Marko is dead. But her reaction is confusing for Peter. She is not happy. And when he tells her that Spider-Man did it, she is confounded…because she knows Spider-Man is no killer.
While all this happening, Harry and MJ get together and make some dinner which apparently starts the healing process, because shortly after, he regains his memories of his father and his hatred of Spider-Man. So he sets about destroying Peter’s life. He forces MJ to break up with him. After having a discussion with Harry that seems a bit suspicious, Peter opts to meet Harry in his mansion. Peter opts to wear the black suit. Harry tells Peter he is the other man MJ told him about-causing Peter to fly into a rage. As they go toe to toe, smashing the room, they end up in the Goblin Cave. Peter seems to have gotten the upper hand…Harry lays before Peter…declaring Peter took his father from him…that Harry’s father loved him. “No he didn’t. He despised you!” And then, the put upon and bullied kid looks down and to add salt to the wound, Peter mocks Harry’s heartbreak. “Look at Goblin Jr…is he gonna cry?” As Peter is walking away, Harry hurls a Goblin Grenade at him. Peter uses a web to swing it back Harry’s way…as it explodes, Peter never even looks back.
The next day, we are witness to one of the worst sequences of the entire franchise. Peter walks down the street, chest puffed out. Women are looking at him with desire. He then sees pics of Spider-Man robbing a bank. Peter goes to the Bugle. He shows proof that Brock doctored the photo. He get’s Brock fired. Peter is unmerciful, telling Brock if he wants forgiveness? “Go get religion.” This is actually a good moment…but it is surrounded by Peter acting cocky to seventies funk music. He buys a slick new suit, steps into the street with pelvic thrusts.
Now, it is meant to show us that the suit is changing Peter…making him more confident and aggressive. An alpha predator. But instead, it is totally goofy.
That night, the Sandman reforms from the mud, still desiring to save his daughter. At the same time, Peter is taking Gwen on a date, unbeknownst to them, they are being followed by Brock. They go into a jazz club-where we find MJ working as a waitress/singer. Peter slips away and starts playing the piano (because the black suit knows how to tickle the ivories…?). We then get the crime against film of Peter Parker dancing. He does a sensual dance with Gwen in front of MJ…only for Gwen to realize she was being used as a weapon against MJ. Gwen, having morals, is embarrassed by this…quietly apologizing to MJ before walking out. Peter goes up to speak with MJ, and ends up in a fight with the bar staff that ends with him hitting MJ…leaving Peter horrified at what he is becoming.
Spidey-in the black suit-climbs up to a church bell tower. Below, Eddie Brock is praying…and asks God to kill Peter Parker. People have prayed for stranger things. Using the sonics of the ringing church bell, Peter fights to remove the suit. Brock steps into the stairwell and sees Peter struggling…as the suit is removed, it falls down onto Brock, transforming him into Venom. Peter goes home to his broken down apartment. Aunt May stops by. Peter hands her back the ring she gave him…Peter is greatly humbled in this moment. Sandman tries to take down Spider-Man-only to find it is Venom. Venom proposes they take down Spider-Man together.
They do this by taking MJ hostage. Peter breaks out his traditional threads and then pays a visit to Harry…Peter looks upon the scarred Harry and pleads for his help. Harry refuses, demanding Spider-Man leaving. After Spidey is gone, Harry looks through the rubble of the Goblin Cave. He is startled by the Family butler, Houseman (John Paxton, father of actor Bill Paxton). Houseman offers some guidance to Harry:I… I know you’re trying to defend your fathers’ honor, but there is no question that he died by his own hand. I loved your father, as I’ve loved you, Harry… as your friends love you…
Meanwhile, things are looking bad for MJ, as her suspended cab starts falling through Venom’s webs. But, suddenly, some kids see hope-Here comes Spidey! And He stops in front of an American Flag! Cause Spidey is an American! Or something? Anyhow, the newscaster starts talking about Jesu-er-Spider-Man who has arrived in answer to the city’s prayers. Peter comes to get MJ, only to get attacked by Venom. Brock is pretty warped at this point, declaring that since he lost his girl, he was going to make sure Spidey lost his. The Sandman and Venom start pummeling Spider-Man…and when it looks he is done for, Harry shows up and the two take on Venom and the Sandman together. After they take down the Sandman, Peter goes against Venom. He tries to appeal to Brock’s better nature…only to find that Brock has no better nature.
Harry leaps in, but Venom steals his snow board and throws harry at a bunch of pipes. The pipes hitting the ground make Venom get all crazy…but he regains his composure, pops out the snowboard’s blades and leaps at Peter, who is tied up. Thankfully, Harry leaps in front of him, totally redeeming himself for being a bad guy by getting killed. Good on you, Harry! Angry, Peter breaks free, he grabs the pipes, slamming them into the ground in a circle around Venom and proceeds to create a powerful ringing that causes the Venom symbiote to freak the heck out. It starts to remove itself from Eddie’s body. Peter pulls Eddie out of the symbiote’s grasp and then throws one of Harry’s Goblin Grenades into the symbiotic goo. Of course, this does not sit well with Brock, who leaps into the symbiote. Then the Goblin Grenade explodes-completely incinerating Brock and the symbiote. All this time, the Sandman worked to reconstitute himself. As the sun rises, the Sandman explains why Uncle Ben died. He was trying to get away with Ben’s car, and was startled by his partner and shot Uncle Ben on accident. He tells Peter he is sorry, starts to cry…and Peter forgives him and lets him go. Turns out that Harry hasn’t died yet…he gets to say his goodbyes…they all get to forgive each other…and THEN Harry dies.
And so as the first film ends as an Osbourne funeral, so does this one. Peter stands in the rain, talking about how our choices make us who we are in a voice-over. Then he goes to the jazz club and literally reaches out to MJ for forgiveness. They hug tightly and the credits role.
The first thing that stands out to me in this film? It is pretty obvious that Venom was forced on Raimi. Venom is shoehorned in at the end, almost as if it was an obligation and frankly in a pretty clunky fashion at that. In the comics, Eddie was Peter’s opposite. He was a massive musclebound guy. The film opted more for a funhouse mirror image approach. Topher Grace is small and skinny, not unlike Peter. He is really Parker without the ethics. It works pretty well, for all it’s briefness, Grace makes Brock come off as the guy continuously reaping what he sows-but seeing himself as a victim of life. It is all about how other people ruined his life. Topher plays Brock as pretty creepy by the end…at one point, he is holding onto MJ, and says to Peter, “My Spider Sense is tingling…if you know what I mean.” and is motioning towards his crotch. Grace works with what he has.
Haden Church is terrific. He really is the Sandman, and is pretty sympathetic, while being a credible threat. And the Sandman effects are terrific. It is clear Raimi really wanted to use the Sandman, and his love of the character is obvious. They really show off the possibilities of such a power. The effects in general are great. Lots of fun Spider-Action.
The supporting cast is solid as usual. The regulars, such as J.K Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks and Dylan Baker are there. We also have James Cromwell and Bryce Dallas Howard. As usual? Simmons hits it out of the park and gives some of the film’s funniest moments.
As for the Stacys, Cromwell gets almost no time, so there is no real sense of what Stacy is about. We know he is Gwen’s father, but he has almost no relationship to Peter or Spider-Man. Gwen is used in a criminal fashion. While Gwen moons over Peter Parker, she lacks a solid identity. The writers use her as a mere plot point to interfere in Peter and MJ’s relationship. I am a little surprised Raimi went along with this, but it really is disappointing. Bryce Dalls Howard looks terrific as Gwen, but she is barely a character. And she just disappears from the film.
Also disappointing? The black suit is just the Spider-Man costume painted black. It would have been nice to have at least seen the big white spider on the chest.
But what really hurts this film? It is just ridiculously bloated. We have three villains, separate motives and stories. You practically have two or three films worth of stuff. Really, it would have been better to give the the symbiote the story of Spider-Man 3 and make Venom the villain in number four. And it is unfortunate that they tried to cram in so much that no story point really gets to be dealt with in a satisfying way. It is so much, every story gets cheated.
Raimi ends his trilogy with a “Meh” instead of a “Hooray”…and that is unfortunate. After the heights of number 2, this film just feels so…messy and the result is it feels a bit mediocre. Oh, it has it’s moments, but nothing ever comes together.