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Spider-Man 3: Not nearly as bad as I remembered

January 10, 2015

Look, I’m not going to lie to you.  It’s not a good movie.  And it was indeed a franchise-killer.  But when my husband and I went back and re-watched it last night, we both came away with this: inside that train wreck is a great movie.  You’d just have to do some seriously creative editing to get to it.

You can see that Raimi adores Sandman, and so do I.  Every time Thomas Haden Church was on the screen, my husband would shake his head in awe of how perfect he was for the role.  It’s not his only his acting, which is quite good, as a man who is not especially clever but he is especially unlucky, or at least that’s the only way he can see his life.  Church’s portrayal of a working-class guy who finds himself in over his head with his beloved daughter’s medical bills is heartbreaking, mostly because Church doesn’t play any particular guy.  He’s Any Guy.  But no, my husband was primarily impressed with how Church’s looks are perfect for the role.  Stick that sweater on him, and he’s a ringer for the classic cartoon face.

And while my bestie tut-tuts at the graphics, I found the Sandman ones, especially when he’s not huge, to be exceedingly effective.  Even knowing that Marko will be okay when half his face comes off doesn’t stop me for shuddering for the poor guy, and the scene where he’s first emerging from the sand, post-accident, is haunting.  “Haunting” is probably the perfect term for Sandman’s storyline and Church’s performance, and you can tell this is where Raimi put his everything.

Unfortunately, that’s only about 1/5 of what’s going on in the movie.

Next up is Harry’s story.  So far, Harry Osborn has been a great character too.  He was a kid whose father alternately ignored and berated him, throwing him just enough love-crumbs to keep the poor kid coming back for more.  He snagged the most popular girl in high school after graduation, even if he did it without discussing it first with his best friend.  You could say it goes either way there.  He was being inconsiderate, but in a way he was being the lesson he wanted Peter to take: you can’t passively want something and hope for the best.  You have to make things happen.  He’s a good-looking guy; he hangs out with the class geek because he likes the class geek and because being rich and new alienated him in that working-class Queens high school.  (Finally, someone said “Queens” in this one, which I don’t know that they did in the other ones.)  Away from his dad, Harry’s a great guy.  Around his dad, he was a mess and even a bit of a jerk to Mary Jane, who ended their relationship and hey, whatever.

His father’s murdered–he thinks by Spider-Man–and he takes up his father’s role admirably.  Despite the fact the movie ignores how much power the board had, Harry steps in.  Maybe they want a figurehead who isn’t an asshole and a cowboy scientist.  And Harry does a great job.  He often comes off phony, but he’s also a kid playing a role: CEO.  But that smile and the earnestness under the phony gets to everyone, even Otto Octavius.

So at the end of Spidey 2, Harry finds out that his best friend is the man who murdered his father.  He decides to dose himself with the same stuff his dad used, which of course drives him a bit mad.  Not as mad as his dad, though, I think.  Too bad the people behind the movie didn’t deal more with that.  Instead, they put him in the most appalling outfit, which makes him look like The Winter Soldier on a snowboarding trip, and create a pretty great action sequence which leaves Harry with…amnesia.

Fine, I will even accept that.  What I cannot wrap my ahead around is the way Franco plays Harry-the-amnesiac like an adorable toddler.  It’s really off-putting.  Also, we aren’t even sure if Harry remembers that his dad died or was told it.  “My dad died, right?”  Um…yes.  But do you REMEMBER that?  Not the Spidey part, but the dad dying.  His amnesia isn’t dealt with; it’s plotnesia.  And Franco being a sweet toddler is just not the right way to go.

His adoration of Peter and MJ, though, is sweet as can be, and also muddies the “what does he remember” waters.  Does he know them as a couple?  Does he remember a time when he and MJ were together?  What if he had woken up and remembered only right up to the moment he discovered his father’s body, that incredibly traumatic moment?  That would’ve made for a far more interesting movie.

But instead, we get goofball plotnesia/goofball Harry, and…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, in Pete and MJ’s relationship, Mary Jane is singing on Broadway, but she isn’t great.  She’s not bad, but she isn’t Broadway great.  I can imagine a world where this happened.  You get so excited about your production you don’t even realize your star isn’t quite right.  But MJ loves the singing as much as the acting, and she tells Peter on opening night that she wishes she could sing every night of her life.  He’s glowing for her, good old Pete, her most adoring fan, and he’s been Spidey long enough that he’s found a good balance between the superheroing and the MJ-worship.

MJ is her usual insecure self; notice that in the first couple scenes with her she says “Was I good?” several times and even “Tell me you love me” to Peter even though she knows he adores her.  They’re simple little lines that remind us that MJ is hella needy.  But that’s okay, because things are perfect.

Until everything stops being perfect–MJ gets terrible reviews and is replaced–and nothing can fill that neediness.  Suddenly, her biggest fan is not enough and she finds fault after fault with him.  Peter isn’t supportive enough; he relates thing to himself and that’s not him talking about her.  (Yes, he’s technically making it “about him” but only in the sense that he is empathizing.)  She can’t bear hearing about how he’s not in a bad place anymore because she’s not ready to believe that anywhere but this place of pain exists.  She’s a jerk, but you can’t say it’s inconsistent if you’ve picked up on how insecure she’s been through all the movies.  As I’ve said before, Dunst makes it difficult to read the insecurity because it’s all pretty-girl-next-door with her acting.  But it’s all in the writing.  Because I didn’t put it all together before, MJ’s blow up seemed too blow-uppy.  But that’s ridiculous.  MJ is a drama queen.

And then, about a day later (seriously), she kisses TODDLER-BRAIN HARRY.

That’s…pretty gross, MJ.

I know Harry is paying her more attention, but he’s still kinda acting a bit young, so could you just not??

Anyway, she gets mad at Peter for talking about Spider-Man again when she wants to talk about her–basically, he doesn’t know she’s been let go so he thinks she’s more worried about her fame than her future.  She doesn’t tell him because she’s too busy turning her upset into anger at him, because at least that’s something she can control.  Long story short (too late), she ends up singing in a jazz club AS IF SHE’D NEVER BEEN AN ACTRESS TO BEGIN WITH.

Oh, come on, girl.

But hey, still in character.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, Peter has this great life, and people adore Spider-Man now, so he’s on cloud nine and wants to propose to Mary Jane.  His Aunt May gives him a talk and her ring, which he almost loses in the Harry fight.  He’s doing great in school.  The only tiny little wrinkle in his life is that there’s a much better photographer at the Bugle who wants a staff job.  And Jonah (who my husband thinks has been much neutered in this movie, but I like that the tables have turned and Miss Brant is basically running him now, like their whole workplace lives have gone on between the second and third movies) pits Peter and this Eddie Brock against each other for not the best photos of Spidey, but Spidey doing wrong.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, the Venom goo comes down from space and is ignored through half the movie.


MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, it turns out that there were TWO men on the scene of Uncle Ben’s death, and the one that actually pulled the trigger was…Sandman.


This is a retcon of the worst nature.  Why Sandman and Uncle Ben?  Why?  So that Pete can take off his face mask for YET ANOTHER PERSON?  Isn’t it just as sad if these two people are connected by nothing at all?  Maybe even more sad, and also making Manhattan feel like the populated place it is?

It’s AWFUL.  It’s STUPID.  It’s HORRIBLE.  It’s worse than Snowboarding Goblin.  It’s worse than Amnesiac Harry, because it’s absolutely unnecessary.  It’s even more unnecessary than Gwen Stacy being in Pete’s class, AND a model, AND the girl he rescues oh so heroically, AND the daughter of the police chief, AND a good enough public speaker that they let her basically lead an entire NYC gathering, AND his secondary love interest.

AND ALSO the Venom goo attaches itself to him, making him kinda grouchy and then a total douche, and makes him dance down the street and show off for Mary Jane.

Okay, here is the ONE PLACE where I have changed my mind about the movie: the jazz club scene.  It’s fine. Why?

1) Peter doesn’t sing.  I thought I remembered him singing.

2) Peter plays the piano BECAUSE AUNT MAY SAYS IN THE SECOND MOVIE SHE USED TO GIVE PIANO LESSONS.  I’d forgotten she said that between the second and third movies being in the theater (and I think that’s fair; it’s literally one line), and hey, motherfrakkin’ continuity.  There’s no way little Petey got out of piano lessons when he was a kid.  Add in super-human dexterity and I can imagine him being quite good indeed. (Now.)

3) As my husband put it, “It’s the one time that Peter Parker–not Spider-Man–puts the powers to use for himself.”  It’s Peter showing off, being agile but not super-humanly agile.  (You might argue with me on that, but have you seen this video?)  It’s cheesy, but we JUST SAW a scene where he is walking down the street being ultra-cheesy and putting off women, because that’s what Peter thinks is cool.  EVERY TIME Peter wants to be cool, he misses the mark entirely.  He’s dorky, and it’s endearing, but he doesn’t get that unless it’s MJ saying it.  And even then, he probably doesn’t believe it.

4) It’s jazz, so improvising for the musicians makes more sense than any other genre.

Anyway, he eventually rejects the Venom costume (“It turned into FABRIC?  That doesn’t make any sense.” -Hubs) and oh yeah, at some point accuses Brock of Photoshopping, which he totally did to get the staff job.

And, OH RIGHT, Gwen is Brock’s girlfriend.  Until she isn’t.  I guess she dumps him for the Spider-Man photo?  Since Spidey saved her and all?  But we don’t know, because the Venom storyline moves at lightning speed, shoehorned in like whoa.

So Brock is all “PARKER TOOK MY LIFE!”, never once accounting for the fact that he has a fine career ahead of him in graphic design if he can fake a picture so well an entire newspaper doesn’t notice, and he and Venom bond in like ten seconds.

Then MJ is kidnapped, Peter recruits Harry, who’s remembered/gone evil since MJ kissed him and bolted, and Harry’s all NO WAY until his family butler was like “I cleaned up the body.  He killed himself.”

Um, that’s…nonsense.  Total fucking nonsense.

And then he becomes Harry again, and they take down Sandman and Venom and then Sandman, all sad, goes away on the wind, which is great, except they had to have a talk about WHY UNCLE BEN???

What am I missing?  Probably 100 other things.

So what did I learn?  I learned that Bruce Campbell is TOTALLY playing the same guy in every movie, and it’s hilarious to imagine this guy learning to fake being French to get a job at a nice restaurant.

I learned that this movie has so many good things in it that the bad become more devastating in comparison.

I learned that inside the horrible Spidey 3 is a great movie, with only two villains and a major rewrite of one (Harry).  I get why Venom was pushed into this one–Maguire’s contract was up, yes?–but it should’ve just had Eddie in a minor role.  Gwen should’ve been taken out entirely, and Pete should’ve taken the ADORABLE Ursula as his date, because, frankly, in my husband’s words, “I think she’s the real hero of this movie.”


I wish the amnesia had been fake.  That probably would’ve made the Harry stuff way better.  And ditch the brain damage stuff.  It’s weird and doesn’t work with the MJ thing.  SO GOOD Franco is creepy awesome Franco, and Evil Harry deserved better than amnesia and Plot Butler.

Honestly, that’s it.  If you rewrite the amnesia, ditch Gwen (put her in the audience when Spidey gets the key to the city and have everyone be all “Awww! She’s alive in this movie universe!”), keep the MJ play drama and make Harry play on all those insecurities they’ve been writing into her for three movies, rather than like 1 line after he reveals how eeevil he is, but have everything resolved some NON BUTLER way and have the two of them fight Sandman together…awesome, yay, perfect Spidey 3.  Okay, maybe not perfect, but definitely worth the franchise.

I’d say “Next up…The Incredibles!” but honestly, we watched it tonight and it’s such a perfect movie I have nothing to say except that it made me even more excited for Tomorrowland. I don’t think I picked up on HOW retro-futuristic The Incredibles was the first couple times around, but I can see how well that’s going to translate to Bird’s next movie.


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