3P Reviews, Superheroes

“It’s Hip, It’s Wow, It’s Now, And How!” – Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 D

Now I know what you’re thinking: Hat, what are you doing? Why would you review Spider-Man 3 without having reviewed the first two Spider-Man films? It’s not even new, it came out in 2007. It’s the bad one. Where’s our Umbrella Academy review?

And yes, of course all of those are very valid points. (The Umbrella Academy reviews are coming, I assure you, the images just take awhile to make.) The truth is, I love this terrible mess of a film dearly, and it’s kind of my favorite of the Sam Rami trilogy? Indeed, aside from Spider-Verse, this might be my favorite Spider-Man film. And I love most of them.

I never actually saw this one in theatres, though I remember the hype around it was huge. When it came out, everyone stopped talking about it almost immediately, and the disappointment was palpable. The gist I got eventually was that it just sort of fell flat, as superhero films are wont to do sometimes. There were too many villains, it had a cringy dance sequence partway through, and the plot was just disappointing. I only got around to  watching it myself when I was in college, when I decided for no particular reason to binge all three of the original Spider-Man films. That may have been one of the best decisions I made in college, actually.

I don’t know what I was expecting by that point, but what I got was wild. It is bad, don’t get me wrong, but I think the anticipation people had for it soured the experience in a deeply personal way. Mostly, it’s just very goofy, often I think unintentionally. The Sam Rami Spider-Man films all have a cartoonishness about them that makes even the first two rather different viewing experiences in 2020 than 2004. Spider-Man 3 is that, but on steroids. Watching it separated from the genuine anticipation for it that people had when they came out, and being free to laugh at it for its bad decisions, is a wonderful experience, and I would highly recommend it. It’s just a completely bonkers film, far more than just another dull superhero story, and instead a twee misadventure with so much going on, it’s honestly difficult to wrap it all up in one review. It has a sufficient budget and crew behind it to make it a surprisingly polished “what the fuck am I watching?” experience. So I am here to share that experience with you today.

Part One: I Haven’t Even Gotten to the Amnesia Subplot Yet

Spider-Man 3 E

This movie goes full ham right out the gate, and I think the two-minute long opening credits are the prefect encapsulation of what the film is going for tonally. All of the original trilogy films use images and names in CGI spider webs to present the lead actors, but this film decides it must do that, and also recap both of the preceding films in full. Just when you think you have the gist of it and it’s going on for a bit long, the second film’s recap begins, interrupted occasionally by the venom effects used in this film (which actually hold up pretty well for effects — they’re very expressive and look not quite modern, but just realistic enough that they aren’t distracting). The thing I love about this is that it serves no real purpose. It’s way too long to just get the audience excited for the film by showing them what they loved about the last two movies, because presumably they remember them pretty well if they’re fans. Yet, the images chosen are also just the most memorable scenes from those films, not scenes that are necessary to tell the story, and indeed, anyone who has never seen the first two films or saw them once and doesn’t remember them very well would just be further confused by this montage.

Also, the plot of the Spider-Man films is not that complicated. Spider-Verse repeats the gist of it as a running joke, even. Nerd gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gets spider-themed superpowers, with great power comes great responsibility, supervillain, supervillain, save the girl, drama shot, end.

This one, though… well, had there been a Spider-Man 4, this film might have needed a recap or two.

In a nutshell, this film is trying to tell the story of Peter Parker as he tries to move forward in his life, balancing being a well-established Spider-Man with being a clueless boyfriend, and maybe not being as ready to move forward as he thinks he is. The film decides to tell this story by throwing three completely unrelated villains at Peter, some of whom only come in at the very beginning or very end of the film. There’s also a lot of nonsense in-between.

The film opens, as it is wont to do, a short while after the events of the second film, with Peter Parker dating Mary Jane Watson and preparing to ask her to marry him. She has landed a leading role in a Broadway musical, so Peter is there to support her, as is his former best friend Harry Osborn. Harry has had a vendetta against Spider-Man since Spider-Man appeared to kill his father, the Green Goblin, back in the first movie. Recently, Harry discovered that his long-time friend and Spider-Man are one and the same, as so he has become the new Green Goblin to enact his revenge. Peter’s attempts to smooth things over and explain that his father accidentally killed himself while trying to kill Spider-Man have not gone over well.

Harry is the first of our three villains to be introduced. The second is a black goo creature that emerges from a meteorite that falls near Peter and Mary Jane while they’re on a picnic in the woods, and hitches a ride on Peter’s bike. Nothing will happen with the goo ball for another hour or so. The third villain is an escaped convict named Flint Marko who is on the run from the cops and falls into a particle accelerator that turns him into a pile of sentient sand. You can guess what his supervillain name is going to be.

While riding back from Aunt May’s to tell her he intends to propose to Mary Jane, Peter is lifted into the sky by Harry, who has a flying snowboard now, and the first fight of the film ensues. It ends when Harry falls three stories off his glider and hits his head multiple times on the way down. Worried that he may have accidentally killed his useless best friend, Peter rushes him to the hospital, where we learn, drumroll please… Harry has amnesia! He has forgotten everything that would hinder him continuing to be friends with Peter, so he knows his father is dead, but he doesn’t remember that Spider-Man was involved, or that Peter is Spider-Man, or that he himself is the Green Goblin, but all of their childhood friendship stuff and somehow Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane are all intact. Harry will spend most of the rest of this movie looking and acting high. Plot-grade amnesia is a tragic malady.

We are twenty minutes in, by the way.

Mary Jane receives a bad review about her singing and feels self-conscious about it, but her attempts to elicit sympathy from Peter instead prompt him to give her a half-assed pep talk, before he runs off to do spider-things. When Mary Jane later learns that she’s been unceremoniously fired from her dream job, she keeps it to herself, unsure of how to broach the subject with Peter. He’s having the time of his life as Spider-Man, and in doing so, remains mostly oblivious to the world around him. During a parade in Central Park organized for him, he kisses a girl he saved from a bizarre sexy-photo-copier-photo-shoot-rogue-killer-crane incident. This ceremony is cut short by the first public appearance of Sandman, who tries to steal money for his sick child and is thwarted by Spider-Man. Sandman leaves Peter feeling overwhelmed for the first time in a while, and evades capture thanks to his re-forming body.

Shortly thereafter, Peter and Aunt May get a call from the police informing them that Sandman is actually the one who shot Uncle Ben. Peter is upset that he let him escape. He puts on his spider-suit and listens to a police radio, but then falls asleep (in the spider-suit) and has nightmares about Uncle Ben. The goo monster, who has been living in his apartment, gloms onto him and covers his body. Peter wakes up in a black spider-suit staring at himself in the reflection of a skyscraper. He swings around for a bit, then brings a sample of the goo alien to his physics teacher for analysis. His physics teacher says, “I’m a physics teacher, I don’t know what you think I can tell you about this thing,” then proceeds to tell Peter that it’s a symbiote that forms a relationship with a host.

Ignoring his physics teacher’s advice, Peter pursues Sandman in his new suit and manages to dunk Sandman in water, which dissolves him. He is now Dark Spider-Man (probably; I don’t know what he’s called in his Venom suit, but I would imagine that’s pretty close).

A rival newspaper photographer, Brock Eddy, has faked a photo of Spider-Man stealing a bag(?) of bills to win a permanent spot at the Daily Bugle as the Spider-Man photographer, but Peter calls him out and gets him fired for his very bad Photoshop efforts. Everything is looking up for Peter.

However, Mary Jane is less than impressed with this new version of Peter and starts to spend more time with Harry, until he comes onto her as well. At that point, surprise! Harry’s memory comes back in full, and he resumes the role of villain. He then does what any self-respecting villain would do and forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter — because he wants Peter to be sad; he seems to have forgotten his sudden romantic interest in Mary Jane — and she goes through with it despite appearing not to know that Harry is a supervillain (???). When Harry tells Peter that he’s behind the breakup, thinking this is some sort of power move, Peter throws a bomb at his face. Harry is out for the count again! Good job, buddy.

Vengeful and emo, Peter combs his hair in front of his face like an anime villain, and starts acting… well, it seems they were aiming for “risque,” but I think “horny,” “doofy,” “inappropriate,” and “embarrassing” are all quite a bit closer to what they actually got. It’s a bit of a Freudian nightmare of existential proportions, and I’m not sure if it’s the worst part of the film or the best part. Dancing is involved. Yet still he can’t win back Mary Jane for some reason.

Distraught, Peter goes to a bell tower in the rain to contemplate how getting almost everything he wants has lost him the woman he loves. He tears off the symbiote suit with some effort, conking into the bells and learning that the symbiote is sensitive to sound. Unbeknownst to him, Brock Eddy happens to be in that very church, praying for God to kill Peter Parker (yes, really), and confused by the sound of bells (in a CHURCH), he wanders over to the base of the tower where Peter is tearing off his goo suit. Brock somehow sees that Peter is Spider-Man, and then the goo somehow falls onto him and turns him into Venom. Peter notices none of this, and is presumably now naked.

At this point, we are about 75% of the way through the film and most of the rest is action scenes, so absurd things start to happen very quickly. Venom/Brock offers to team up with Sandman, who has survived his brush with water, and with the airtight argument, “I hate the spider, you hate the spider, let’s team up,” Sandman agrees, even though he has never met this man in his life. Also, Brock has pointy teeth now (???). They kidnap Mary Jane in a taxi (because of course they do), and write a ransom note Charlotte’s Web-style next to her. Peter learns about this in a window news station. He asks for Harry’s help, but Harry’s upset that the bomb gave him cool face scars you can barely see, so he says no.

Then, my favorite part, in this or any other movie: Harry’s butler tells him he examined Harry’s father when Spider-Man returned him dead, and determined he was killed by his own glider like Peter says. To put this into perspective, the butler has been a background character for possibly three movies, but definitely this one, and technically has lines, but all of them are typical lines you expect to come out of a butler — “Yes, Sir,” “Very good, Sir,” “May I take your coat, Sir?” He has apparently been watching Harry obsess over Spider-Man and turn into a villain (I think he knows about the secret Green Goblin lair), and has said nothing. Then finally when he does says something, it’s just to repeat something Peter’s already said. This is possibly the most important thing to happen in the entire film. It’s so good.

Peter goes to confront Sandman and Venom, but they’re too strong. Then Harry comes to the rescue! He takes on Sandman while Peter takes Venom and saves Mary Jane. But Venom proves to be too powerful, o no! At some point, Harry is conked the fuck out by ramming straight into an I-beam, which knocks him and a bunch of pipes down. Remembering the symbiote is sensitive to sound, Peter makes noise with the pipes. Venom almost kills him by swinging Harry’s glider at him, but Harry jumps in front at the last minute and takes the glider for him, and getting fatally rammed in the gut like his father. Peter continues to trap the symbiote with noise and removes Brock from it, but right as he throws a bomb at the creature to destroy it, Brock runs to the symbiote and dies with it.

As things calm down, Peter faces Sandman, but Sandman is peaceful now and says that he never wanted to be a supervillain. He apologizes to Peter for shooting Uncle Ben, and explains that it was an accident. Peter forgives him and lets him get away. Mary Jane and Peter then sit by Harry’s side to comfort him as he dies.

They, the butler, Aunt May, and some extras, attend Harry’s funeral, and later Peter and Mary Jane get back together.

Part Two: Great Idea: Let’s Make Harry the MVP!

Spider-Man 3 B

All right, let’s begin this autopsy. Obviously the film is a mess; everyone knows this, even the director. I often see people point out excessive studio oversight requiring too many villains and forcing Venom into the film at the last minute as the main reason the movie sucks. Those are certain contributing factors, but let’s be honest, even if you took out Venom, I’m not sure the film would be greatly improved.

I see the much more critical issue with Spider-Man 3 to be its emotional tether. All of the Sam Rami Spider-Man films have a simple story running parallel to everything else that helps to tie it all together and keep the plot focused. In Spider-Man, the tether is Peter; a teenage boy wants to be strong, and gets his wish, but someone he loves dies because he doesn’t use his new strength responsibly, so he spends the rest of the story making up for it. In Spider-Man 2, the tether is Doc Ock; a brilliant scientist is felled by hubris and obsesses over making his final great invention for the benefit of humanity, only to realize that in his pursuit, he has become a monster, and sacrifices himself to save the city.

In Spider-Man 3, the tether is Harry, and that I think is where the big problems begin. See, Harry is unique among the tethers in that his character has been around and played some sort of roll in all three films, and has a bit of an arc building up to this one. You can see pretty clearly what they were going for; the best friend turned villain whom the hero has to hurt in order to save people, but who comes around briefly in the end because his and Peter’s friendship was just that strong. It’s not a bad idea, and I even recall one of the Spider-Man cartoons managing the Harry Osborn/Green Goblin subplot quite effectively. The conceit is fine, it’s the execution that mucks it all up.

First, although Harry has been a character since the start, he hasn’t really done… anything of note that would contribute to the overall arc. One of the major problems the third film faces in setting up Harry’s fall and redemption is that the previous films haven’t actually done much legwork to make Harry sympathetic. In the first film, he’s a wastrel, and we’re told he’s Peter’s friend, but he’s a pretty shitty friend, to be honest. We kind of get the sense that Peter and Harry used to be really good friends as kids, but they’ve since grown apart because Peter is a nerd and Harry is a slacker rich kid. They don’t have much in common, so they interact out of familiarity, but it’s really Peter’s relationship to Harry’s father, who’s a sort of surrogate father for Peter, that matters in the first film. In the second film, Harry is obsessed with finding Spider-Man, and manages to stay relevant to the film because for some reason, he’s in charge of a bunch of rich people things he seems less than qualified to be in charge of. For instance, he keeps super rare nuclear reactor fuel in his penthouse bedroom. It’s convenient for the plot to have Harry connect Peter to Doc Ock and Ock’s science experiments, and it establishes Harry as an antagonist, but it doesn’t do much to clarify Harry’s character.

So the third film rolls around, and the director realizes, fuck, we forgot to make Harry even slightly likable. Meaning, his fall from grace is not particularly tragic, nor will the audience really care when he gets his redemption arc, nor will they be even slightly sad when he dies. So, you know, that’s most of the film shot in the foot from moment one, and that’s before we even have to worry about Venom. The solution? Amnesia! The purpose of the amnesia subplot is to backfill the relationship between Harry and Peter, and Mary Jane too to some extent.

To be fair to the film, this is more of a problem with the series as a whole than Spider-Man 3 specifically; the films were made individually, and while the second one leads into the third, they’re not really a structured trilogy. It’s honestly really hard to do that with superhero films, since they have such rigid requirements for what happens in each entry. Even the Marvel films, which aim for this very thing, I would argue don’t really build upon the work of the previous films as effectively as they’re often presumed to. I don’t know how you would resolve this issue in Spider-Man 3; the emotionality of characters who genuinely like each other is fundamentally different than the emotionality of people who used to like each other but are now bitter rivals. I would personally have preferred the characters tell small stories about how Harry and Peter used to be close, and then supplemented those with moments of indecision during fights, but admittedly that subtler strategy comes with its risks too. The Sam Rami Spider-Man films are many things, but subtle they are not.

Speaking of which, this film is goofy. Even compared to the others in the series. As much as I’ve come to enjoy the outrageous villain monologues and moments like Doc Ock stealing literal gold coins from a bank vault and deciding that the best tool to manage fusion experiments is giant cyborg arms that might take over his brain, the first two films are absurd in the style of superhero comic books. A lot of the aesthetic of the Sam Rami films is taken directly from comics, from the bright color palate to the cinematography, to the often silly plot organization. They have enough genuine moments that you can get sucked into them, to the point where some people will try to claim that the third film is ridiculous where the first two are masterpieces.

I love them, but they are not.

What the third film is, is the first two turned up to eleven and splashed with that dark grim grimdark trend of gritty realism that we hypothetically left behind in the mid-2000s or early 2010s, or 2016. The jokes are more painful, the melodrama is more plentiful, and the action is more… well, everything. Aside from the shit-billion subplots and villains, part of the reason the plot is so chaotic is that much of the runtime is devoted to the effects and action sequences, which are often not very effectively matched to the story. Action setpieces are expected in a superhero film, but when most of the plot revolves around character relationships, generic punching and swinging around isn’t going to serve the story very well. You can rather easily see the parts of the film that were made for the trailers, and these do not adequately represent the film as a whole. That itself also isn’t unusual for superhero films, but given the mess that is the actual film, you can see why people were so disappointed.

And of course, having at least three villains over the course of the film doesn’t help. If you want to get technical, I’d say it’s closer to four or five villains – Harry, Sandman, Emo Peter, Brock, and the Venom symbiote. None of these villains is connected to each other at all really, even the ones that are variations of Venom. You could cut any of them out of the film and the other plots wouldn’t change even slightly.

Harry’s arc only needs Peter and Mary Jane (and I guess also his butler, who is of course the real MVP here), and if better developed, possibly could have served as the main villain for this film. (I think he’s supposed to be?) However, because we need the amnesia subplot and time for the other villains, Harry spends an absurd amount of time in the film passed out, or in a hospital bed somewhere, which is kind of ghoulish considering he does actually die in the end. There are like four Harry fakeout deaths. It’s kind of amazing.

Sandman is easily the best-drawn and most genuinely sympathetic of the villains, but he’s also the least important in the story. While the simplicity of his character would work in, say, a television series, with so many other villains to compete with, the film seems to feel like it needs to justify Sandman being there. Hence, Spider-Man’s rivalry with Sandman is made personal by the sudden revelation that Sandman shot Uncle Ben. Not only does this revelation weaken the first film — in which Peter kills his uncle’s murderer only to realize that revenge doesn’t lessen the pain — but it also undermines the entire thesis of the series. Peter is selfish in letting the robber go, and Uncle Ben dies as a direct result, which is what makes Peter take the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility” to heart. In Spider-Man 3, we learn that Uncle Ben’s death wasn’t really related to Peter letting the robber go at all, and that it was an accident to boot, meaning no one is actually responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. Like, he probably would have died anyway. It’s not so much “With great power comes great responsibility” as “Sometimes you’ve got great power. Also, sometimes your uncle dies. I dunno, man, things just happen.” Normally, it would take more effort to backpedal a message that badly, so I suppose that’s an accomplishment of a sort.

Meanwhile, the Venom side of things is its own tangled web of nonsense.

Starting with Brock, we have this minor character introduced mainly so he can become Venom later. Brock is Peter’s rival, and I think in the comics, he’s one of Peter’s boyhood bullies. In this series, if we’ve ever seen Brock before, he’s not worth remembering, so he’s introduced about a third of the way into this film as a minor annoyance to Peter. Brock witnesses Peter’s transformation via the symbiote (though he doesn’t realize it at the time), so he’s there when Spider-Man becomes angry and violent. Brock is tasked with proving that Spider-Man is bad, and unlike Peter, he doesn’t have any conflict of interest in that realm, so one would think that him being willing to point out Spider-Man’s flaws, combined with him being there to witness Spider-Man at his worst would make Brock a genuine concern, and that maybe Emo Peter would connive and scheme to get Brock ousted, giving the latter reason to loathe him so much. Except, no, that’s not what happens; Brock has every opportunity to legitimately point out that Spider-Man is an asshole, but despite not being much more than an over-eager nuisance before, he forges a comically bad photo and then goes from zero to, “Please God, kill Peter Parker for me” in no time flat. The movie seems to care not at all about Brock, deciding that it’s easier for him to explode than to have to wrap up his arc.

Peter doesn’t really wear the black spider-suit for long, and we honestly get a lot more of the silliness that is Emo Peter than we get anything of Dark Spider-Man. This matters, because Spider-Man plays a very public role in most of this film, so there’s a missed opportunity in showing how Peter’s personality reflects on Spider-Man’s role as a symbol of hope for the city. There’s that line about responsibility, what was it again? I don’t actually mind the on-the-nose imagery of Dark Spider-Man looking at his own reflection or crying in the rain, but that’s all Peter, not Spider-Man. The series goes to great lengths to show how serving the role of Spider-Man takes a toll on Peter, and how even though Spider-Man is integral to him, he is not himself Spider-Man, the public figure. Spider-Man is more than that; he’s a character and a symbol, a face that embodies certain ideals in the public consciousness. But the film mainly seems to use the symbiote spider-suit as an excuse to explain why Peter is being a dick (it’s not his fault, obviously, and not something he ever has to overcome on a personal level — can’t make the good guy do anything bad intentionally). It’s there for that reason, and also to show Toby Maguire stripping in church, which — no, I’m actually okay with that last bit.

And then combine all of that with the source of evil being a faceless, nameless goo monster that has no personality of its own yet is the mastermind of all of the bad things, and you have a recipe for an underwhelming villain. I understand that Venom is a big draw for audiences, but I always kind of thought that was because of his design. I haven’t really sought out any Venom comics or cartoons, nor have I seen the Tom Hardy film, but I don’t know a lot about the character. It seems to me that the idea of the symbiote slowly taking over a person’s mind and giving them cool supervillain powers is what makes up a lot of the Venom storylines, but I imagine that works a lot better when Venom is the antihero and the story focuses on just Venom or just Venom and Spider-Man. He seems like he would take up a lot of the spotlight. So, I imagine it’s fair to question this film’s decision to tack Venom onto the end.

Part Three: Thank God for Spider-Man Films

Spider-Man 3 F

There are things about this film that work. Parts of it are unironically good, and I think they’re crucial in making it so watchable. While I love this film for the trainwreck that it is, I don’t usually go out of my way to watch notoriously bad films, and I certainly don’t usually watch them as many times as I have this one. It’s fun, and I can’t say that about every turd I come across.

The production value is a contributing factor. A good budget for CGI is not hard to get these days if you’re a major film studio, as decent special effects are easier and cheaper to make than ever. Like, if I looked into it for a weekend, I could probably come up with a half-workable CGI monster for a student video that at least compares to the technical capabilities of early 90s effects. That said, the gap between permissible CGI and good CGI remains a spacious one, and even professional films frequently fail to impress for reasons beyond CGI desensitization. Many big-budget action films seem to be under the impression that more CGI equals better CGI, a fallacy that is part of why the effects in Jurassic World look so much worse than they do in Ex Machina, a film that cost ten times less to make. A few scenes with high-quality effects will win out over a film that opts to spend a similar budget on full-CG scenes. In fact, CGI is often used these days not because it looks better, but because it’s cheaper than traditional methods (just look at animation).

It’s impressive, then, that Spider-Man 3, still looks pretty damn good. It came out ten years ago and certain scenes absolutely show their age, but the fight scenes are genuinely impressive, and the Venom goo effects almost justify the inclusion of the character in the film. Last-minute addition or not, they put that 300 million dollar budget to good use — I mean, as far as the effects go, at least. It certainly could have gone to making a better film, if nothing more philanthropic. I do like me some good goo effects, though.

Mary Jane is another surprising element of the story I didn’t realize before was as good as she is. The film does her character dirty, tossing her out as the whiny girlfriend whose boy only needs to come calling for them to get back together. Mary Jane spends most of the Sam Rami trilogy being put in peril, dangling from heights by Spider-Man’s many villains, being coerced or kidnapped, and, of course, screaming at the top of her lungs. Spider-Man always rescues her, because she’s the damsel what needs saving, but you know what? Fuck that, Mary Jane’s awesome. She deserves better than this or any other film she’s in, and Kirsten Dunst is the only actor in this film who seems to make much effort to elevate her character beyond the text.

Try this on for size: Mary Jane is a poor girl from the outskirts of Queens who lives with her abusive alcoholic father. She occasionally flees the house to escape his drunken rants, taking solace with the kind neighbor boy next door and fantasizing about a better life where she can pursue her dream of being a Broadway star. After some years, she lands a few minor roles in plays and advertising, and falls in love with a superhero, who she eventually learns is the neighbor boy. She weathers a few kidnappings and has to occasionally give up spending time with her new boyfriend so he can go save the city, but she’s happy. Eventually, she lands a starring role in a Broadway musical, the thing she has wanted more than anything for as long as she can remember. She’s nervous the first night, but her boyfriend is supportive. Then, the reviews come in. They criticize her in all manner of petty ways, and it gets to her, but her boyfriend tells her to chin-up, and that he faces this sort of thing as a superhero all of the time. He’s famous and beloved, so she should just try to be more like him.

When she goes to work the next day, she finds the company holding auditions to replace her; she’s been fired, and no one even bothered to tell her. Humiliated and dejected, she keeps it from her boyfriend because she doesn’t want to let him down. She needs comforting herself, but she opts to support him in his endeavors. However, he hardly needs the support, and is in fact letting fame get to his head, even kissing a stranger on stage, in full view of the public and his girlfriend. When he doesn’t seem to understand what’s wrong with that, and starts acting strange and moody, Mary Jane seeks solace in another friend, but he comes onto her as well, and she decides she’s had enough with boys for a while. She starts a new job singing at a jazz bar, but her ex-boyfriend keeps pastering her. He tries a woefully mistimed proposal that doesn’t go over well, then barges into her work and kisses the same woman he kissed before, who he apparently knows from school. Outraged, Mary Jane storms off to be alone for a while, but villains kidnap her to hold against her superhero boyfriend. She has to delicately climb her way to freedom while her two boys are fucking around figuring out how to save her, and then she watches as one of them dies. After all of the chaos, she gets back together with her boyfriend, traumatized and not quite ready to move on in their relationship, but willing to let him back into her life for support.

Yeah, no, I’m on Mary Jane’s side this whole movie.

To that end, as much as I think that the film is laughably terrible in a fun, goofy way, the quiet moments still very much work. For all its flaws elsewhere, this is a surprisingly soft film at the end. There’s a lot of crying, mostly from men, between Peter waiting with Harry as he dies, and Peter choosing for forgive Sandman. Brock dies, but Peter does try to save him too. All of the films end on a tragic note, but this is the one where I really feel it, because the characters in question have a choice in the matter. Norman Osborn is turned evil from some Green Goblin gas and Doctor Octavius is turned evil from a failed microchip, and both die because while in this state, they work themselves into traps of their own making. Ock gets a redemptive moment at the end, but this isn’t really because he sees what he’s become, it’s mostly because his arms get wet and can’t control his mind as much anymore. Peter chooses to forgive Sandman, not only for killing his uncle, but also for his other crimes. Harry chooses to help Peter, and you know, as completely and utterly ridiculous as it is, I do love a villain redemption, and I do cheer every time, even though Harry is nothing character. I buy that Peter and Mary Jane are sad about him dying, not just because he finally came through in the end (the one time he ever did… sorry, he’s very fun to rag on), but also because he’s just been in the film series for so long. Familiarity is a powerful thing, and you can’t underestimate the power of taking away a character who’s always been there in the background.

The film ends rather brilliantly, I think. You can see a surprising amount of it in Spider-Verse, which I didn’t realize until my latest re-watch. I always forget that Peter and Mary Jane aren’t actually married by the end; they reunite, but they just hug and dance together slowly. They don’t even kiss. I think that’s appropriate, though. Sometimes tragedy and turmoil bring people together, but it wouldn’t be right here. They’ve been through a lot, and they aren’t out of the woods yet. They still haven’t resolved the thing that broke them apart in the first place. Peter isn’t actually a good boyfriend for Mary Jane, but he’s willing to learn. For now, it’s just little steps, and that’s where we leave them. It’s a small ending, but I kind of wish more films went this route. In a film that is 95% chaos, it’s nice to end on something quiet.

Breakdown Rating:

Characters and Character Development: 4
Aesthetics and Style: 6
Effects: 8
Overall Plot: 3
Dialogue: 3
Sum: 24/50

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