Spider-Man 3: good, but not great (SPOILERS)

Last year, one of my friends commented that the problem with X-Men: The Last Stand was that it should have been two films: there was simply too much plot to fit in just one. I disagreed: the problem was it just wasn’t a terribly good film. Less would have been more, no Brett Ratner at all would have been even better (not that the box office agrees with me on that point). I’m torn however in the case of Spider-Man 3 – was it a case of trying to squeeze too much into 2 hours, or should they simply have tried to do more with less in the first place?

Unlike the X-men threequel, S-M3 was directed by the same guy who made the first two. As such, it retained Sam Raimi’s sense of humour, his fondness for the supporting cast and an obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo (the best yet). Also on the plus side, I was pleasantly surprised by what they did with Flint Marko, AKA the Sandman. Not being a fan of the comics, I was fairly unaware of this character and didn’t see why Raimi was so keen to use him. But Marko emerged as the most sympathetic of the Spidey villains thus far, and with a back story that was well integrated with Peter Parker’s which enabled Raimi to explore some interesting ideas.

James Franco’s Harry Osborne was much more interesting than he was in the first two films, where he was little more than a pretty boy. He lived up to the challenge of playing Willem Dafoe’s son, and his character’s arc was broadly satisfying. I would have liked to have seen more of Dafoe/Norman Osborne taunting and cajoling his son into following his footsteps, and the device of having the butler merely telling Harry that Parker didn’t kill the Green Goblin was a bit trite, but having a Dafoe cameo at all was welcome.

The real problem with the film is rooted in the black suit/Venom plotline. The problems start almost immeidately, with the Symbiote literally falling out of the sky. This is all the more bizarre when one considers that the second film set up what looked like deliberate foreshadowing in the form of astronaut John Jameson, jilted at the altar by MJ. In the comics, Jameson becomes the Man-Wolf due to an incident in space – it is surprising that they didn’t fuse this plotline with that of the Symbiote’s for the third film.

The film zips along well for the first 90 minutes, but then finds itself in need of an ending. All of a sudden, everything happens at once: Parker rips off the black suit, an embittered Brock fuses with it and then immediately strikes up a bargain with the Sandman, they capture MJ, Harry Osborne suddenly decides to become a goody, and they all have a big fight. And after that fight, which is all a bit inconclusive, it just sort of fizzles out. Venom is disposed of extremely quickly. There’s a nice final scene with Parker and the Sandman, but not enough of an escalation in their enmity beforehand to give it that much emotional depth.

The other problem with Venom is, well, he looks a bit pants. The big grinning mouth thing looks quite effective in the comic, but is too cartoony for a live-action film. Raimi appears to realise this, which is why he reverts to Eddie Brock’s face at every opportunity.

To go back to my first paragraph, there are two ways in which this film could possibly have been better, but I’m not sure which would have been. Option one would have been to delete Venom altogether and instead made the ‘Spider-Man gets in touch with his dark side’ stuff entirely metaphysical. But that would have robbed us of the Eddie Brock character which had real promise.

The other option would have been to turn the film into two, going for the current fashion of filming sequels back-to-back. The plot could had been on a much more slow burn, with the Sandman and New Goblin plotlines resolved in 3, along with the black suit and Eddie Brock, and Venom himself shifted to a fourth film. We could even have had a wedding (although I suspect Marvel wouldn’t have wanted another one, given the upcoming Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), which would have been good for the chicks. Finally, it might have given Raimi a chance to do something with Dr Kurt Conners, a one armed cameo by Dylan Baker crying out for his chance to shine as The Lizard.

Either way, alas, it is not to be. Spider-Man 3 is good, but not great. But the fact that it remains head and shoulders above some of its rivals, including X-Men 3 and Superman Returns, is at least a testament to Sam Raimi’s handling of the character.

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