Spider-Man 3 is largely considered by many to be an objectively awful movie. It has a lot to laugh and roll your eyes at such as emo Peter Parker, goofy dance sequences, villain overload, and maybe a few other things depending on who you ask. Perhaps the unplanned finale of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man saga isn’t as awful as everyone thinks it is, perhaps this is a case of growing so attached to what is essentially a meme and turning it into a pre-conceived notion.
Director Sam Raimi delivered an intimate coming of age story and a vision that was made as a piece of art rather than a product created by a studio hivemind with the first movie. He then upped the ante in 2004’s Spider-Man 2 by creating what is arguably one of the greatest superhero films ever put on the silver screen. There were high stakes going into Spider-Man 3 with a question of how he could possibly top these last two films.
Sony locked a release date down for May 4th, 2007 and told Raimi to crank out a script as quickly as possible. Filming began as early as November 2005 and carried into July 2006 with the story still being crafted during the nightmare-ish production. Aspects were constantly shifting, producers demanded Raimi add Venom despite him not wanting to, the ending wasn’t set in stone completely when filming began, and Raimi was tasked with juggling an immensely complex story that has several beefy storylines.
Despite this, I believe Raimi managed to salvage something truly worthwhile. What Raimi gave us was a really great look at what the consequences are of too much power, the importance of forgiveness, and how life isn’t always black and white. Pack a lunch, this is going to be a lengthy piece breaking down the jam-packed two and a half hour culmination of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy for the film’s 11th anniversary.
In Spider-Man 3, the web-head has finally received the recognition he deserves after being panned by the public for the better half of a decade despite saving their asses twice. With the city inviting him to come accept the “key to the city”, he feels like he has truly peaked. NYC throws a parade in his honor, there’s merchandise of him everywhere, and people are chanting his name with glee.
His ego has grown drastically and it’s the beginning of the darkness that nearly causes his fall from grace. When Peter Parker puts on the mask, he embodies someone else entirely. The shy baby-faced boy is gone, a man with charisma is unleashed and zips through the streets with unlimited freedom. His head metaphorically grows in size and he becomes careless, we see this with how he blatantly betrays his potential fiance by making out with Gwen Stacy in front of the entire city. Moments later in his first encounter with Sandman, fresh off his ego high given at the parade, he makes jokes about how he’s surprised Sandman isn’t aware of who he is.
New York has evolved from somewhere Spider-Man lives into his domain that he reigns over, something that feeds him and makes him feel stronger, making up for his empty social life in high school. It all comes off fairly innocent at first but radically molds into something sinister and almost sinful.
The fact that this theme builds and builds as the film progresses, it’s not very jarring when the black symbiote consumes Peter and takes control of his body and persona. His strength is enhanced, he becomes far more aggressive, and he fully embraces this idea of him being untouchable. This is a complete shell of the character we were introduced to in 2002, hardly resembling the hero we fell in love with.
He becomes a bully, his relationships are in turmoil, he seduces Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brandt and neighbor Ursula Ditkovitch despite never having broken up with Mary Jane, and he becomes disgustingly cocky to the point where it’s cringe-worthy thanks to his overzealous dance moves.
While some will point and laugh at the awkward “cool guy” behavior of the influenced behavior of symbiote controlled Peter Parker, I do think it has a purpose. You can look at in multiple ways: One, Raimi’s Spidey films have always been pretty campy and this is part of that. Two, since the symbiote is alien, it has no idea how humans really behave. It’s doing its best to blend in with society while also giving Peter a unique edge, one that comes off as unnatural. There’s a reason why a lot of people give him weird looks and a side eye, the vast majority of people are frankly repulsed by him and the film is aware of that. It’s intended to be weird, you’re supposed to think it’s strange and silly because it is. It’s not a flaw with the movie or the writing, it’s a flaw of Peter Parker that is intentionally created by Raimi and his writing team.
On the flip side, his actions as a hero are turned into those of an anti-hero with wreckless and violent behavior both in petty crimes and when taking down Sandman which results in the intended murder of Uncle Ben’s alleged killer, Flint Marko. Peter Parker even goes to Aunt May and tells her with a smile that Spider-Man killed Marko, he expects her to reply with joy but she reacts with a look of terror. “Spider-Man doesn’t kill people.” Peter is taken aback. “But didn’t he deserve it?” Then Aunt May gives us her wise old lady quote that can be inserted into the trailer, “I don’t think it’s up to us to say who should live or die. …Vengeance is like a poison that can take you over, and turn you into something ugly.”
As we delve further down this rabbit hole, we as an audience become less eager to see the black-suited Spider-Man. It’s no longer cool or bad-ass, it’s uncomfortable how much this beloved icon has fallen on his downward spiral into borderline tyranny.
Once Peter really crosses the line by assaulting Mary Jane and some bar patrons, he realizes he must part ways with this toxic influence. This isn’t the first time he attempts to keep the suit at bay, he stashes it in a trunk in his apartment but is drawn to its power again later. Its power is rich and addicting but we’ll come back to that later.
Let’s rewind a bit here. Throughout the film, Peter bullies Eddie Brock who is a mirror of the scrawny nerd we once knew. He’s this kid with big ambitions, chasing a girl out of his league, but is ultimately picked on and taken for granted. This was Peter about five years prior, beat for beat. The only difference is when Peter was given these special powers he had a mentor and a set of tragic circumstances that helped form him into something heroic rather than evil.
After Peter goes to a church and frees himself of the suit in a heavy-handed scene where he is “reborn” and cleansed of his sins, Eddie Brock gains control of the symbiote. At his absolute lowest point, Brock is granted the suit after asking Jesus to have Parker killed. He harnesses his rage with the suit and becomes Venom, the most iconic Spider-Man villain…