I have to admit that I am stunned by the backlash against Spider-Man 3, a movie that was not great but has great moments, and a film that in no way deserves the amount of outsized hate being unleashed on it at the moment. Certain writers for this very site have compared it to Batman & Robin, and I’ve seen that comparison made on other message boards – surely this is a sign that the Hyperbole Terrorists have won. Has anyone who is saying that even SEEN Batman & Robin?
There are big problems with Spider-Man 3. Big structural problems – the symbiote’s introduction is too early and too ludicrous while Venom’s introduction is too late. The Sandman gets shunted off to the side of everything for much of the film, robbing him of any impact. Harry’s plot is too convoluted, and he changes sides maybe once too often. The third act is completely perfunctory and out of the blue, a set piece set up in shorthand (and godawful Butler Exposition) when it needed to be growing organically out of the rest of the film. All of these problems could have – and should have – been handled in the script stage. Anyone could see that bringing in the symbiote in the first reel through an almost intellectually offensive coincidence and then having it do nothing for almost an hour was a bad idea. These problems are disappointing, and the film is hurt because of it. But the film is not ruined by these things. Not even close.
I see people complaining about Venom, as if Sam Raimi ruined the character. This is ludicrous because his version of Venom is, without a doubt, the very best iteration of that villain ever. I say this as someone who has been more immersed in Spider-Man than is healthy throughout my life – Venom was a design in search of meaning, and Raimi and Topher Grace, in one of the best performances of the series, give him that meaning. He’s the dark Spider-Man, but to make that work he has to be just like Spider-Man. Eddie Brock in the comics was pretty much everything Peter Parker never was; Eddie Brock in the movie is the Peter Parker who might have been – a freelance photographer who is obsessed with a beautiful young model. I love the symmetry Raimi has given these characters, and I wish it weren’t too late to make this version of Venom be the one in the Ultimate universe (the character is already long past hope in the regular Marvel universe). The problem with Venom is that he doesn’t get enough screen time, but every moment that Grace or Venom is onscreen is a great one.
The other major complaint that turns up is about Peter under the influence of the symbiote, a complaint that has me metaphorically banging my head against the wall. I don’t know that I have ever seen such a massive, collective case of a fanbase not understanding a character. Anyone who wanted Peter Parker (as he has been portrayed in the two films so far, anyway – there’s a hundred Parkers in the history of Spider-Man comics) to become an angry, violent asshole is missing the point. When he even begins to get to that stage is when Peter realizes something is beyond wrong. As the dialogue goes out of its way to remind us, Peter is a nerd from Queens at heart, and so when he becomes aggressive it’s the way a nerd would. Peter Parker walking down the street snapping his fingers at babes who are weirded out by him is classic, as is the ensuing dance scene – one of the best moments in 2007, I’d venture to say.
People who don’t like the dance scene – these are people I actually don’t get. I expect 14 year olds who just want slam bang action to hate that scene, but I’ve heard from intelligent people about how much they hate it. It’s the glorious crowning of the ‘Dark Peter’ arc, and it’s perfect for who he is. And it’s perfect for who Sam Raimi, the director who shows up on set in a suit every day because that’s what Hitchcock did, is. Raimi is old-fashioned, despite how much blood he threw up on screen in the Evil Dead movies. His touchstones are The Three Stooges and screwball comedies of the 40s, and he’s brought that square, a little bit larger than life sensibility to Spider-Man, an unapologetically square superhero. Raimi’s of the generation before geek chic, so he knows what Peter Parker was meant to be like – nobody though the nerds would one day go on to rule the Earth, and that’s the social world Stan Lee was writing about in 1963.
But beyond that, the dance scene is thrilling fun. Dance scenes are often thrilling fun, and it makes me sad to think that maybe the movie fans of today aren’t willing to let go and get swept up in something a little big, a little zany. If Peter had gone to that club and killed someone, fans online would be ecstatic – that’s the grim n’ gritty they’ve been eating up for decades now like a dog eats shit. But Raimi’s not coming from that world. First of all, he understands that darkness is different things for different people, and he works Peter’s darkness straight from his character. But he also understands that grim n’ gritty isn’t adult and isn’t always even real. Plus, being real – especially in a goddamned Spider-Man movie – shouldn’t be the goal. Maybe that’s the paramount problem people are having with Spider-Man 3: plausibility within the context and relatability of the character are not the same thing as reality. And cinema shouldn’t always be the same as reality. I know that our audience is wide when it comes to film fans – we have readers who just go to the blockbusters and readers who just go to the highbrow fare, but I am talking to the real film lovers out there, people who understand that movies shouldn’t all be one genre or type or style. These people, real honest to God film lovers, will see the dance scene and love it for what it is, a great moment of exuberant cinema.
I don’t love Spider-Man 3, although I wish I did. The movie is a definite step down from the last one, but I do think it’s a smidge better than the first – there’s certainly no scene as wonderful as the creation of Sandman in either of the first two films. I think it’s a film that will improve on repeated viewings, but the worst I can sling at Spider-Man 3 is that it’s bent under the weight of its own ambition, a movie that either should have trimmed a plot or two or should have been expanded to a full three hours and change to give every character the time they need. But the backlash is reaching levels of actual insanity; it’s as if people can only love or hate a movie, and have no ability to judge with nuance. While I never got around to a real review of Spider-Man 3, I know that I would have clocked it in at around a 7 or a 7.5 – a passing grade, but with reservations. There are moments I really liked and moments that just didn’t work on any level, but thankfully I have the ability to think outside of binary terms and to understand that a movie can be at times wonderful and at times utterly frustrating without being The Worst Thing I Have Ever Seen.