And with this, I am offline until next Tuesday! Since I screen comments, any comments posted between now and then won’t appear until my return, so sorry in advance for any delays.
Alright, let’s be real here: I’m not on an island with this one. I’m on an island surrounded by another island with a thirty-foot-tall electrified barbed-wire fence, surrounded by an ocean of lava that is on fire. Also, I am bound and gagged. (Don’t worry: I’m kind of into that part.) And all of this is in a dome. An impenetrable dome. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to tell me that I’m an idiot and you hate this movie. I know you hate this movie. Everyone hates this movie.
It has to have entered into the minds of most superhero film series producers, at some point, to simply not make a third film. I didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises nearly as much as The Avengers, and it’s not going to make nearly as much money, but you could actually make an argument for it being the most successful superhero film of all time. Why? Because it wasn’t universally loathed. A perfectly reasonable individual could be forgiven for thinking that superhero “threequels” are cursed. X-Men: The Last Stand is easy to explain, as we traded Bryan Singer for Brett Ratner, which might be the single most lopsided trade since the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Superman III is not as easy to explain, as the original creative team actually produced that monstrosity. Then again, I think the first two films are at least a little overrated. I found Superman II in particular to be pretty boring and somewhat monotone. (Wow, I’m really not doing myself any favors here, am I?) There’s even Batman Forever. Many would see Batman/Batman Returns and Batman/Batman & Robin as two separate entities, but the unproduced Batman Triumphant actually had Jack Nicholson reprising his role as the Joker in a Scarecrow-induced hallucination, and Harley Quinn seeking revenge for his death.
And then we have Spider-Man 3. The film that was so bad, it ruined Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. At least, that’s how the story goes. I see things quite a bit differently, especially compared to that other film we talked about a few hours ago. Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man 3 has this interesting thing called “heart.” It achieves this by continuing to focus on the relationships in Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) life, much like the other two films. You have his relationship with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), which starts off on a high note with Peter ready to ask her to marry him, but quickly hits a rough patch that continues throughout the film. Then you have his relationship with his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), who blames Peter for his father’s death.
When this film is really humming along nicely, it’s these relationships that are really driving the narrative. And though he’s not a mad scientist who once served as Peter’s mentor, Flint Marko (aka the Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church) is typical of Sam Raimi’s desire to get back to the roots of the comics, and to tie into bigger emotional themes.
Then there’s that… other thing. The source of the fans’ universal outrage. One of the most popular Spider-Man villains of all time. Eddie Brock Jr. (aka Venom, played by Topher Grace.) Admittedly this plot was completely botched, and we’ll get into why. But it’s actually somewhat salvaged (in my book) by a huge setpiece action scene toward the end of the film, which is one of the most “comic booky” things I’ve ever seen in a comic book film, complete with a news anchor actually asking, “Will this be the end for Spider-Man?”
Most importantly, that action scene puts Peter’s two most important relationships front and center. Mary Jane is in peril, and his motivation throughout the fight. And Peter’s issues with Harry are finally resolved definitively. And the battle ends with a surprising theme, one not addressed by many superhero films: forgiveness.
This is a deeply flawed film and one which doesn’t do justice to one of the most beloved villains in the franchise. The reason for that is simple: it is public knowledge that Raimi never wanted to include Venom in the first place, and the studio strong-armed him into it. (I can almost see the argument now. “Venom.” “But, I have this great story with these big themes like forgiveness and…” “Venom.” “Sigh…”)
The thing is (and I know I’m the only one who thinks this, and that’s fine) this film does enough right to make up for it. The things Sam Raimi actually wanted to do in this film shine through, though I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been if they had just left him alone and let him do his thing. It was easy to see which parts of these film Sam Raimi put his heart into, and which he didn’t. (Hint: the second one was Venom.) That’s a pretty big problem, but it’s not nearly as bad as The Amazing Spider-Man, which was completely without heart.