RETROSPECTIVE: Spider-Man 3 (2007) Looking at What Went Wrong

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spider-man 3 - But Why Tho

Spider-Man 3 dropped in the middle of the Pre-MCU superhero gold rush, sandwiched between sub-par, but acceptable for the time, Ghost Rider and a somewhat acceptable Fantastic Four sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. While not as well-received as DC animated movies this is also the year that produced acceptable origin style adventure stories from the Marvel Animated Universe, with The Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange. DC, on the other hand, was taking a breather. Superman Returns hit theaters in 2006 and The Dark Knight was still on the horizon not coming out until 2008. Interestingly enough another movie on the horizon dropped almost exactly one year after Spider-Man 3’s North American premiere. On May 4th, 2008 Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. hits theaters, and a post-credits sequence starts us on a journey that may climax next spring. Either way, Spider-Man 3 is the bookend for the Pre-MCU Marvel superhero era.

Things are great for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. New York City has a Spider-Man day, MJ is starring in a Broadway play, and Harry might forgive Peter. Things are good until they are not. MJ gets canned, a new hotshot photographer frames Spidey, it turns out Uncle Ben’s real killer escaped from prison, and Harry still hates Spider-Man. Peter is all set to propose to Mary Jane until a confluence of immaturity, goblin shenanigans, and a very quick shoehorned in alien symbiote separate Mary Jane and Peter. Ultimately Peter rejects the symbiote who is all too ready to join up with a rival opportunistic photographer and Harry comes around to the good side right in time to save his friends Peter and MJ from Sandman and a not completely terrible Venom. In the end, Peter wins MJ back and we end up with a slightly older more seasoned and mature Peter. The end.

What did people say at the time? Well, it was a mixed bag. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie carries a 63% certified fresh based on more than 200 critics reviews but only carries a 51% audience rating. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times took particular glee in his scathing review picking apart the many shortfalls of the film including “ Spidey/Peter gets a new love interest of sorts and she’s just as boring and bland as his self-pitying girlfriend.” and “Running 139 minutes, it’s at least 20 minutes too long. Did I mention the part about Kirsten Dunst singing?”

Overall, it was panned as a dramatic failure with too many villains and uneven pacing and plot. However, the movie was a rousing financial success. It opened to $151 Million on its first weekend and went on to collect more than $330 million total gross. This movie did not have longevity or staying power in theaters but at the time of its release it was the most expensive movie ever made, and it more than recouped its expenses.

Way better than most people remember it. It was actually way better visually than quite a few superhero movies coming out these days. In addition, the combination of really great integrated CGI, practical effects and the great sound in this movie create the best physical violence and physical consequences  I have seen in a superhero movie in years. Harry, Peter, and Flint carry the physicality of their battles and encounters from scene to scene in a way that few other superhero films do and it’s a nice touch that really adds to the dramatic storytelling. Spidey takes some serious damage in this film and hands out just as much.

The moment Spider-Man and Harry’s Goblin tear through a cramped and narrow alley at full speed only to end with the Green Glider faceplanting on a pipe and ricochet down to a dumpster is absolute cringe-inducing in the best possible way. MCU, DCEU directors, and sound techs need to sit down and watch this movie over and over and over again because nothing that has come out in the past four years comes close to this level of physicality that is so well blended with both the CGI and practical effects.

I say it holds up way better than most people remember because most people remember this movie as trash. The defining and lasting impression is usually from the movie is Tobey Maguire being a skeeze ball all over New York, giving finger guns to random women on the street, and having too much fun with jazz music at a bar to incite jealousy in MJ. First off enjoying a jazz bar can be very cool. Secondly, those crappy scenes are only about 8 minutes of a 2 hour plus movie. The Emo-Tobey parts are pretty short and in all fairness, it’s over pretty quickly.

This movie is way better than remembered because it’s not great instead of absolutely horrible. Its flaws are those of excess and bloat within the storytelling and characters. This movie is just trying to make too many things happen when it should be more simplified. If you want to blame anyone, we should probably look to Avi Arad who pushed behind the scenes to have Raimi include Venom. With the inclusion of Venom, we get a non-origin alongside a weird shoehorned character turn combined with a very hasty third-act twist that almost ends as quickly as it began. Raimi was reportedly interested in a smaller story focusing on the friendship of Pete, MJ, and Harry with a conflicted antagonist in the Sandman. However, Arad finally got Raimi on board the ill-fated Venom train. If that element of the story was removed, I’d be very interested to see how much time that trims off the edges and what a more streamlined vision could be. Venom needs his own movie right? Overall this movie is a mixed bag but it’s a much more enjoyable mixed bag than I think people are willing to give it credit for.

First off no, oh God no! This movie did not have a political agenda and there is only one dude of color in the cast of the movie despite being set in New York City. So no, this movie is not woke but it does try to tell a story or teach us a lesson about healthy communication and relationships. I’m not gonna direct link here because opinions and other people’s realities are valid (they are) but if you were to do a cursory YouTube search on Sam Raimi Spider-Man films or “What’s wrong” with Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 a frequent criticism centers around MJ and Aunt May being dragged on the adventure, having bad personalities, or just being wet blankets. Blatant sexism aside, I think these are just really blatant mischaracterizations of their motives in the movie. I realize that Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker is the hero and protagonist of the movie but that doesn’t mean we have to give 100 percent of our support to him at all times, he has some shitty and immature moves in this movie and they start before the symbiote bonds with him.

When Peter asks Aunt May for her advice about moving forward with Mary Jane, May gives excellent, sage advice about really being ready for marriage. She lets him know that you are not ready until you can put your partner in front of your own needs. She gives Peter this advice and Peter does not understand it or heed it at all. Peter proceeds to minimize MJ’s problems at just about every turn and instead of listening and acknowledging MJ’s feelings. Instead, he always brings it back to himself and Spider-Man. 

I really get where Peter is coming from, he really wants to help, he wants to solve MJ’s problems but he can’t and he shouldn’t. In my three-year marriage, five (ish) year partnership, I have learned one of the most important lessons in healthy communication between partners is when to listen and when to give advice. Here’s a really good tip for people in relationships: when your partner is complaining, about 85 percent of the time they just need to vent, so listen to them and nod. Affirm their reality and let them know you are there for them. Do not offer advice unless your partner asks for it.

Sometimes people just want to get it all out and Peter you gotta listen to Aunt May. You have to put your partner ahead of yourself in big and small ways. So is this movie woke? No, but it does have a positive and mature lesson about healthy communication and priorities in a stable relationship that some on the internet have conflated with Mary Jane’s character being “terrible” or a “wet blanket.” She is neither and Spider-Man needs to learn it’s not all about Peter.

Confession time the actress who portrayed Aunt May and I grew up in the same town, I saw her at cloverdale kitchen once and wanted to say something but my friend stopped me. He was right, you shouldn’t bother people when they are just living their lives.

2 Comments on “RETROSPECTIVE: Spider-Man 3 (2007) Looking at What Went Wrong”

  1. Good one! Another thing I see very rarely mentioned about this film is the Biblical overtones (icky bad thing falls from the heavens and infects people with bad mojo; Peter forgives his father-figure’s murderer).

  2. Dude, where was this advice 5-6 years ago??? Or even 2-3 years ago. Aunt May gold for sure!

    “Here’s a really good tip for people in relationships: when your partner is complaining, about 85 percent of the time they just need to vent, so listen to them and nod. Affirm their reality and let them know you are there for them. Do not offer advice unless your partner asks for it.”

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