In the ever-evolving landscape of comics, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved characters’ sordid histories.
Today’s subject: Spider-Man 3
There’s something of a pattern with superhero franchises. The third movie in the series tends to suck, compared to its predecessors if nothing else. Blade Trinity? It wasn’t awful, but following Blade 2 made it look like garbage. Batman Forever? Again, this one wasn’t terrible (that came next), but it certainly was a radical departure from the two darker movies that came before it. Superman III? Need I even say ANYTHING!? Such is the case with Spider-Man 3. After the near-universal acclaim Spider-Man 2 received as the greatest superhero ever made up to that point, the standards were set pretty high for the “final” chapter in Sam Raimi’s Spidey Trilogy. It failed miserably. It made a ton of money, bringing in over $330 million in the US alone, but this movie is really bad.
Sony scored a massive hit with Spider-Man 2 and knew they had a license to print money with the movie franchise. Director Sam Raimi and the entire main cast signed on for another installment and they went to work. Raimi, a fan of the more classic Spider-Man villains, as evidenced by the Green Goblin and Doc Ock from the first two films, wanted to use Sandman as the villain. The studio and executive producer/Marvel guru Avi Arad pushed for the fan-favorite Venom. The “solution” was to use both villains. And there was also the matter of the plot thread from the previous films in which Harry Osborn would presumably take on the role of the Green Goblin. That’s three villains where there had been one. ALSO, the movie introduced Gwen Stacey into the mix and so we had the love triangle (sort of) of Peter, Gwen and MJ (who we’ll get to in a minute).
Weird retcons, about 17 different subplots, a hackneyed script and an overall over-the-top execution that managed to do a million things half-assed but nothing all the way culminated in a movie that at a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes, makes Watchmen seem like a Looney Tunes short it drags so much. Yes, the effects rock, but Spider-Man 3 is the ultimate example of style over substance, and it honestly didn’t have to be that way.
Story aside, there is some really goofy stuff in this movie that serves no purpose whatsoever. There are not one, but TWO dance sequences, one of which made me physically cringe in the theater (I’ll let you decide which one since they’re both pretty bad). The main offender here, though, is the story. There is simultaneously not enough and too much. We meet the Sandman and see his strange home life and then BAM! We’re hit with the Harry stuff from out of nowhere and then BAM! There’s Eddie Brock and Gwen Stacey (who is either a sexy model or a student or both) and then BAM! MJ is suddenly a completely unlikeable bitch for no apparent to the point that when Peter finally cracks her one (accidentally) I was like “Hell yeah!” BAM! Harry’s a good guy and then a bad guy again. BAM! Sandman apparently killed Uncle Ben, I guess, and finally Eddie becomes Venom and then BAM! There’s a super villain team-up (for some reason) where Harry is a good guy again and dies along with Venom and Sandman gets away, no, Spider-Man LETS him go. The entire movie is a cluster-eff of epic proportions.
It is INSANE! Why is there so much going on in this movie? They captured lightning in a bottle with Spider-Man 2. Did anyone REALLY think there wouldn’t be a Spider-Man 4 (rumored to be in production now)? Why did they cram everything humanly possible into this movie and yet execute NOTHING particularly well? Did they really think they wouldn’t get another shot? As it is, Spider-Man 3 plays like it takes scenes from about 3 Spidey movies and pastes them all together while leaving some important stuff out. The movie didn’t have to suck. It could have been great. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of options (Check’s in the mail, right, Sony?)
There’s too much going on here. First thing’s first: eliminate a villain. I don’t care which one. Harry’s character needs the arc to become the Green Goblin… He doesn’t have to look like an idiot like he did here, but HAS to become the Goblin, so you either make it a subplot here or build it for the full Goblin reveal in Spidey 4. It makes sense to do it here, so okay. Goblin’s in. From there, you can have a completely serviceable movie with either Sandman or Venom. I’m a bigger Venom fan personally, so I would have preferred that, but I’m not a huge Doc Ock fan and LOVE Spider-Man 2, so they could have wowed me with Sandman, I’m sure. As it is now, neither of these characters is developed enough for me to give a damn about them. Venom in particular got very little screen time and even less explanation. We saw plenty of Brock, but we didn’t learn about the suit or his relationship to it. And Sandman is just weird. We’re supposed to feel bad for him, but why? And why did he have to kill Uncle Ben? And because he feels bad for it, it’s okay. Peter lets him go after he’s been pounding the bejeezus out of him for the last 15 minutes of the movie. Hell, he helped kill Harry! It makes NO sense!
Once the villain situation is cleared up, trim the fat elsewhere. Do we really need both the MJ’s-a-bitch and Gwen stories? As it is, Gwen’s just window dressing to say “Look! Gwen Stacey’s in this movie!” She has no personality and serves no purpose other than to make Eddie seem like more of a douchebag, which he would do fine without her. He could just as easily put some moves on MJ after a fight with Peter and accomplish the same thing. OR! Flesh Gwen out and take out the weird character regression from MJ. What’s her deal in this movie? She’s SO bitchy. It sounds harsh, but it’s TRUE. There needs to be some sort of non-costumed conflict, and given the suits penchant for amping aggression, it could have very well been a rift between MJ and Peter, but not because Peter was too happy and enjoying his life too much. That just make MJ look bad, and really, that’s where the conflict came from. She was jealous, and no one likes an overly jealous person. Hell, MJ is the fourth villain in the movie. She’s that unlikeable.
There’s a LOT going on in this movie as it is, but it’s not enough. If ALL these plot elements and all the villains HAVE to be in the movie, then tack on an additional 15 or 20 minutes and flesh these ideas out more. The final team-up between Sandman and Venom goes down in a scene that lasts all of 2 minutes. It’s completely undeveloped and out of nowhere. Everything about Venom in the movie comes off as an afterthought. When the movie first hit DVD, there was a Wal-Mart exclusive version that came with a mini-comic written by Brian Michael Bendis that explained how and why they teamed-up and just added more to Venom in general. After reading it, you realize that it really needed to be in the movie. Give Gwen a personality. Give Sandman the proper gravitas he needs to really be a sympathetic character. Take the extra time to make it make sense, because the movie that was released doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a whole lot of reasons.