Continuing our in-depth recap of Spider-Man 3 from 2007, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and directed by Sam Raimi. Last time, everything was going well for Spidey. Peter was dating the girl of his dreams, doing well in school, and New York was in love with Spider-Man, so much so that they were throwing a ceremony in his honor, culminating with giving him the key to the city.
Before the ceremony begins, we get a couple of nicely parallel scenes. Eddie Brock uses his Daily Bugle press credentials as an excuse to shoot some pictures of Gwen Stacy, and it turns out that they are not in fact dating or anywhere close to getting married, as he has been telling people. They had coffee one night, which Brock has apparently turned into an obsession.
Meanwhile, Peter uses his Daily Bugle press credentials as an excuse to shoot some pictures of Mary Jane (and not incidentally, some of the pro-Spider-Man banners behind her as well). She is still upset about being fired, but gets pissed at Peter because he doesn’t understand how she feels. Of course, she has never told him she got fired, but that’s no excuse. Rather than telepathically sense her problems, he tells her they won’t care about that bad review the next day (when he plans to propose, presumably), and then he goes off to get ready for his big entrance.
Meanwhile, a couple of cops spot escaped convict Flint Marko on the street and chase him. He ducks behind a sand truck and disappears. They assume he’s hiding in the sand, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re right, sort of.
The cops shoot at the giant sand beast, and the bullets actually seem to hurt him for some reason. He transforms into a giant cloud of sand and blows away up the street.
Back at the ceremony, Harry runs into Mary Jane and they talk. They have an easy chemistry that she doesn’t have with Peter. In fact, seeing this, that whole “Harry dating MJ” sub-plot from the first film that seemed to come from out of nowhere and then disappeared without a trace now makes more sense. Also, Harry’s left eye is droopy, I’m guessing from the head wound. I don’t know if this is just the way James Franco looks and I never noticed before, or if this is something he’s doing as part of his performance (looks awfully natural, if so), or if this is some kind of make-up or digital effect, but whatever it is, it really helps sell the whole personality-change-from-a-head-wound plot.
Their conversation is interrupted by Gwen Stacy, who stands at the podium and gives a glowing introduction of Spider-Man as a guy who risks his life to save people and asks for nothing in return, after which Spidey swings in and high-fives some people in the crowd and shows off. He lowers himself down on a webline, hanging upside down, and when people in the crowd yell for a kiss, he tells Gwen to “Lay one on me.” And this happens.
Which pisses Mary Jane off, because the upside-down kiss was their thing, their iconic moment from the first film. And as ridiculous as I think the rest of MJ’s plotline in this movie is, I kind of feel for her right here. Especially since, as we know now and MJ will learn later, Peter knows Gwen in a friendly, maybe-flirty way. Mary Jane runs away in a huff.
She doesn’t miss anything, because the crowd in the park is suddenly panicked by a mysterious sand storm which blows through. Elsewhere, an armored truck is transporting money when the sand cloud attacks and coalesces into Marko again. But Spider-Man has followed the mysterious phenomenon and now that he has a bad guy to fight, he leaps into action, for all the good it does him.
As you will learn by the end of Part 3 of this recap, I hate pretty much everything about the Sandman plotline in this film, but one thing I have to admit: visually, their take on Sandman and his powers is a note-perfect adaptation of Ditko’s original vision of the character.
And this is no small thing. Because as a comics fan, I had spent 40+ years resigned to the fact that I would never see anything close to an accurate translation of comics to screen, because number one, Hollywood would constantly be trying to make the costumes and powers more realistic and down-to-earth (unless they were going for parody, in which case they would do a very accurate, but cheaply-made version of said costume), and number two, the realities of movie budgets and the limitations of special effects technology made it literally impossible. Until it suddenly wasn’t.
Their fight doesn’t last long. In the end, Spider-Man saves the lives of the armored car drivers, but Sandman (who is never identified by this name in the movie, but I’ll keep using it anyway) gets away. Without the money he was trying to steal, which means he will try again soon.
So now comes the night of the big proposal. Peter arrives at the restaurant, and here’s our old friend Bruce Campbell doing yet another cameo role completely unrelated to his previous two. It’s a funny bit (I especially like the way he blows a whistle to have someone deliver him a pen, nestled on a pillow carried on a silver tray–that’s some pen).
Now bear with me for a second while I get fan-wonky. One thing Sam Raimi did absolutely right in building his Spider-Man universe was to set up a number of potential future adversaries in his movies, planting seeds that could be used later (one reason why the reboot was an ill-considered idea). The obvious ones, you probably know: setting up Harry’s revenge arc in Spider-Man 3 at the end of the first film and letting it simmer over the course of the second. and introducing Dylan Baker’s Dr. Curt Connors as Peter’s science teacher (name-checked in the first film, shown on screen in 2 and 3).
But there are more. Venom’s character, Eddie Brock, is name-checked in the first film (when someone refers to “Eddie” being unable to get a photo of Spider-Man). Granted, this was probably just an Easter egg, but still. Also, the series not only contains the antagonistic relationship with J. Jonah Jameson that launched several villains in the comics series (the Scorpion and the Spider-Slayer robots, for instance), but also Jonah’s astronaut son John Jameson, who battled Spider-Man a few times with powers picked up on his space journeys and eventually became Man-Wolf.
So could we suppose (just for the sake of argument) that all of these lookalike characters Peter keeps encountering are actually non-unrelated? Could they in fact be… clones? Given that clones have figured prominently (and infamously) in Spider-Man’s comics history, could all of these Bruces be setting up a potential Cinematic Clone Saga? Food for thought.
Anyway, back to the story. Peter’s plan is to have the waiter bring champagne in a glass with the ring in it, and is rehearsing not so much how he’ll pop the question, but how he’ll react to Mary Jane’s obvious joy at being asked, when Mary Jane arrives, pissed off because she’s had to walk to the restaurant past front-page photos of Spider-Man kissing Gwen Stacy. It doesn’t help her mood when Gwen stops by the table and MJ finds out that they are friends. And of course, she STILL doesn’t tell Peter that she got fired from her Broadway show, leading Peter to prattle cluelessly about how he also has trouble handling all the fame and success coming his way. At least until MJ storms out.
And now we finally come to it: the moment when the movie decides to flush itself down the toilet. Up to now, the movie hasn’t been all that bad. A little aimless, with some deliberately bad characterization of Peter and MJ to stir up drama, and some silly cliches like head-wound-induced amnesia and an unspecified medical condition leading Sandman to steal money to help his daughter. But the actors are still basically appealing and Raimi has been doing his best to maintain the balance between Spider-Angst and Spider-Fun.
But now Peter, anxiously waiting for a call from Mary Jane, gets a call from the cops instead. Turns out the guy who shot Uncle Ben in the first movie wasn’t the guy who shot Uncle Ben. There was a second gunman who did the actual shooting, and the guy on the grassy knoll was… FLINT MARKO!
Now, I react especially badly to this, because it’s a pet peeve of mine, the whole “This time it’s personal because the dude killed the hero’s father” thing. I think it’s unnecessary, and I think it assumes the audience are a bunch of amoral idiots who can’t relate to a hero with actual, you know, principles. Nope, principles aren’t enough. We have to make it a vendetta, so the audience will care or something. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Tim Burton’s Batman, and now Spider-Man 3. They all piss me off.
I understand why they do it here; they need for Peter’s pursuit of Marko to be intense and personal in order to drive the Venom storyline, and they’ve gone to the MJ-in-danger well a few times already (and will again before the end). But instead of making me empathize with Peter’s rage or worry for Peter’s emotional health, it just makes me mad AT THE MOVIE and drop out of any emotional stakes I had in the outcome of the story, SINCE IF THEY COULD PULL THE RUG OUT WITH UNCLE BEN’S DEATH, THEY COULD DO IT WITH ANYTHING.
I don’t mean to shout, but I think it’s an important point. So many times, on so many subjects, people assume that if you don’t agree, you don’t understand. It is possible to understand why something was done, and even empathize with the reasons, and still think it was the wrong way to go.
So Mary Jane visits Peter to see if he’s okay, and he is obsessively listening to the police scanner and doesn’t have time for any of her “Me-me-me” drama right now. She says that she and Aunt May are worried about him, and there’s a great moment where she asks him to turn off the scanner and he gives her this, “You have forfeited the right to tell me what to do” look before turning it down–slightly.
Mary Jane gives another line that foreshadows the ending when she says, “Everybody needs help sometimes, Peter,” which is just twisting the knife in the wound. Because Alvin Sargent, the credited screenwriter returning from Spider-Man 2, is doing all sorts of technically competent and even cool things, but they’re in service to a story that is broken in very large ways that make the film’s failure feel even worse, less a failure than a betrayal.
Peter goes to bed with the scanner on, has nightmares about Flint Marko shooting Uncle Ben, and the black goo that we had almost forgotten about comes crawling out, once again looking like a grasping clawed hand sometimes. And then this happens.
Peter’s suit has turned black. And it apparently feels awesome.
This black suit is a little more low-key than the version from the comics, which was not just a dark monochrome version of Spider-Man’s regular suit. Once again, I understand why they did it, and it does have its cool aspects, but it’s a little drab compared to the comics suit or the upcoming Venom.
Peter takes a sample of the black stuff to Dr. Connors, who is worried about its symbiotic tendencies. He warns Peter not to let any of it touch him. As if.
Peter returns home and hears on the scanner about a mysterious sandstorm. He decides to suit up, and suddenly he has two costumes, one normal one and the new black one (I thought the black costume was his old one with the black goo covering it, but suddenly’ it’s like Peter now had a spare costume all along). He suits up in the black one, smashes Eddie Brock’s camera when Eddie tries to take a picture of him in it, and then descends into the sewers/subway tunnels to confront the Sandman.
They have a brutal fight in which Spider-Man appears much more savage than we’ve seen him previously.
Peter once again separates Marko from the money before apparently killing him by washing him away with a flood of water from a burst water main.
I do like the way Peter reacts to Marko’s apparent death by simply saying “Good riddance.” This fight really sells the seductive power of the black suit way more than the infamous bits coming up.
So Peter returns home, but notices in his reflection in a store window that he suddenly has Hitler hair, then when he arrives at his building, he yells at landlord Ditkovich (hounding him for rent as always) to “fix this damn door!” His uncontrollable anger scares Peter so much that he hides the black costume away in his closet… but he doesn’t get rid of it.
The next day, Peter tells Aunt May that Spider-Man killed Flint Marko and is surprised when she isn’t happy at the news. Mary Jane, meanwhile, goes back to waiting tables at a jazz club that’s looking for a “waitress/singer.” Depressed, she considers calling Peter, but calls old boyfriend Harry instead. We see where this is going.
MJ and Harry make omelets and dance the twist, culminating in a kiss that sends MJ running away. An upset Harry starts to drink and suddenly, his father’s ghost begins speaking to him and he gets all his memories back and remembers why he hates Peter. Because MJ’s kisses are magic, and we need to do something radical to get this plot moving again.
When Mary Jane gets back to her apartment, Harry–now in his New Goblin attire–slams her up against the wall and tells her to follow his orders if she wants Peter to live.
Next day, Mary Jane calls Peter (and Ursula, landlord Ditkovich’s daughter who seems to have such a hopeless crush on Peter, is totally on Team MJ for some reason). Mary Jane asks Peter to meet her in the park, where she tells him they’re through because she’s in love with someone else.
Heartbreak! Peter meets Harry at a place called Esposito Coffee (calling back to Mike Esposito, longtime Spider-Man inker in the comics), where they commiserate over MJ’s sudden departure, before Harry breaks the news that he is the other man Mary Jane is in love with. It doesn’t help that the reasons he gives for why she was dissatisfied with her relationship with Peter are all the actual reasons–he was never there for her, he didn’t even know she was fired. Peter stumbles out into the street, dazed. Harry’s happy.
Revenge is a dish best served with pie.
Peter looks back to see Harry toss him a wink, and suddenly he realizes the truth: Harry’s memory is back. He rushes home to put on the black suit before confronting Harry in his apartment. Harry and Peter have a savage fight, which ends up with Harry lying helpless at Peter’s mercy. Maguire and Franco really sell this confrontation, and Maguire is especially good as Peter coldly tells Harry that his father never loved him, was in fact ashamed of him, and then taunts his weakness before walking away. Harry takes the opportunity to lob a Goblin grenade at Peter’s back, but Peter senses it and slings it right back.
Harry is caught in the explosion. Peter doesn’t look back. He’s got a new, evil future to look forward to.
We’re now about two-thirds of the way through, and the movie, with the exception of that hideous Uncle Ben retcon, is still not all that bad. It’s weak, but not awful. But awful is coming very, very soon.
Which is to say next week, in our final installment. See you then.