(Spider-Man 3 was another movie I’d wanted to get around to writing a review for, but I had simply never gotten around to it. The desire to do so has been eating at me, and the news that my best friend had begun following my blog motivated me to finally finish this review as best as memory and research will allow, as I believe this is one of her favorite films.)
As with United 93, I never saw this movie when it came out (though in the case of United 93, that was just as well, considering the film’s raw emotional brutality and my being a high-school student at the time), and I didn’t actually get around to watching this until a few months ago. It’s been interesting, however, to see the ways this film series has and hasn’t held up over the years.
After a really well-done introductory sequence of shattered glass and event montages, we receive a suspiciously happy opening narration: school’s going well, Peter Parker’s romance is going well, and life is good. This won’t last long. Cut to Mary Jane Watson on Broadway, singing (admittedly decently) a flavorless song about love and romance.
Following a series of events that ultimately create this film’s villains — the Sandman, Venom, and a second Green Goblin — we eventually receive our first major action sequence, with Peter Parker/Spider-Man facing off against his best friend Harry Osborn, who is seeking revenge for his father’s death, caused by Spidey in the first movie. The pacing of these various set-up sequences is questionable, but the choreography of the action itself holds up extremely well and really does serve as a standard of the superhero genre.
To comment on this scene with (MASSIVE SPOILERS), I do have to question the wisdom behind some of Peter Parker’s actions at this point. After Osborn suffers a massive head injury, Parker tries to revive Osborn with CPR and with a defibrillator but does not call 911 until long after the fact, as best as can be recalled. To keep Osborn’s fate ambiguous, or to steer the viewer in one direction, the film doesn’t make a clear distinction between whether the defibrillator is being used to stop an erratic heartbeat (correct; follow up with CPR) or to revive a dead one (incorrect) (END SPOILERS).
On another note, the music used in this scene and throughout the film is really good; it feels a lot more muted than Hans Zimmer’s work (e.g., his collaboration on The Dark Knight), and yet the music feels like it would complement Zimmer’s quite well.
As the Sandman begins wreaking havoc, a romantic challenger appears: Gwen Stacy, who has nothing in the way of charisma, a likeable personality, or a history of friendship with Peter Parker. That being said, neither she nor Mary Jane Watson do much of anything of note in this film except perhaps talk, preferring to take the role of hapless damsels in distress. Watson isn’t much more likeable than Parker or Stacy, but her pleading with Parker to “try and understand how I feel” is more interesting to watch than Peter’s one-note “get back up and try again” personality.
The romances in this film are horrible and self-centered, with lowlights including (SPOILERS) Mary Jane expressing jealousy over watching Peter kiss Gwen while she does exactly the same thing with Harry after he wakes up. Peter’s personality feels extremely drawn out, and the least he could do, though he never really does, is to apologize to Mary Jane for hurting her. This particularly comes across as forced when Mary Jane apologizes to herself on Peter’s behalf, and all he can say is, “I don’t need your help.” (END SPOILERS) Do I honestly want these characters to become romantically involved? I don’t even know anymore if they and especially Peter are going to act as uncooperative as this.
The film’s other major moral decision, when Spider-Man has to choose between his regular red suit or a Venom-enhanced black suit, which at once grants strength and madness, is much more interesting to watch than the ongoing romantic drama, even though this also feels unsubtle, not so much thought-provoking as merely black and white (black and red?). As stated, the action scenes–when they actually come, though they’re not as infrequent as in the largely disappointing Iron Man 2–are some of the most exciting this reviewer has seen in any superhero film.
The story tramples on Peter’s and Mary Jane’s friendship several times after that, after (again, SPOILERS) the second Green Goblin holds Peter’s life ransom and demands that Mary Jane meet him on a bridge in order to tell him that she hates him. And Peter believes this, even though this is completely out of line with their character history (at the beginning of the film, he’s planning to propose to her, and she “hates” him now?). Watson’s tears don’t even seem real in-universe, let alone in terms of Kirsten Dunst’s acting, and yet I couldn’t honestly blame her if she did want to leave Parker, simply because of how he all too often treats her. (END SPOILERS)
As far as the remaining villain plotlines go, the Venom plot is yet another case of a character being made into a villain without truly being evil–see also Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2–making this character sympathetic for all the wrong reasons. It’s almost impossible to really enjoy watching a hero beat to a pulp a man who isn’t even in control of his actions. The Venom/black-suit moral issue is resolved poorly, and this plotline is never really developed in such a way that allows Parker to face accountability for choosing to use the suit at all. (That being said, Evil!Spidey’s dancing is the most hilarious thing in the movie and probably in the whole film series.)
The Venom plotline is probably the only unsatisfying villain plot in the film, as its central character proves to be not so much evil as extremely stupid. The Sandman and second Green Goblin plots are resolved much better, but the status of Peter’s and Mary Jane’s relationship, even as friends, remains awkwardly confusing.
All in all–please excuse my prior gaps in exposition; I will try not to procrastinate so much in the future on writing reviews–this movie is largely a series of highly engaging action scenes interspersed throughout an almost entirely unlikeable story, but viewers willing to overlook this will almost certainly walk away satisfied. Not the best film in the genre or even the series (I still preferred Spider-Man 2, as much as that movie’s romance doesn’t hold up well, either), but definitely worth a watch.