With Spider-Man No Way Home about to embrace the Multiverse, there is some consensus in the internet discussions: Spider-Man is a genuinely beloved hero with massive fans.
Now all this peace goes down the drain regarding which version is each person’s favorite. Quickly the punches start flying, with solid arguments for and against any Spidey actors in the movies.
Tobey Maguire, who played the first Spider-Man on the big screen in the early 2000s, remains many people’s favorite, especially for his great villains and Sam Raimi‘s direction.
But even the veteran Spidey has a dark mark on his past in the form of Spider-Man 3, the trilogy ending that was responsible for Raimi’s departure from the hero movies after disagreements with Sony Pictures, and in itself a highly messy piece of work.
Does this mean that Spider-Man 3 is terrible? No, it doesn’t. Revisiting such an infamous project in 2021, after two new incarnations of the hero, is especially curious.
To see the conflict between filmmaker and studio and recognize that even a film stuffed with arcs and characters can still entertain and deliver moments of genuine quality.
What Happened in Spider-Man 3 Behind the Scenes?
Released in 2007, Spider-Man 3 was one of the most anticipated hero movies in Hollywood. At the time, there was still no Marvel Cinematic Universe (which would only begin the following year with Iron Man), and Sam Raimi’s franchise had been one of the few hits for comic book screen adaptations.
The predecessors were – and still are – excellent works, especially Spider-Man 2 (2004), which elevated all the qualities of the original by delivering intense fights, exciting drama, and great characters.
To this day, the middle film is considered one of the genre’s masterpieces, so it is easy to understand the enthusiasm for the sequel.
What hit theaters in 2007 did not please as much. Spider-Man 3 is a confusing film that drags inconsistently through its 2 1/2 hour duration, constantly introducing more and more arcs and villains but never really developing everything properly.
The film had a lukewarm reception from the critics, with a modest average of 63% approval at Rotten Tomatoes.
At the box office, however, the scenario is different. Spider-Man 3 did very well, with a worldwide gross of $894 million – the third-highest box office that year, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($960 million) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($941 million).
Overall, Spider-Man 3 did well enough to earn a sequel, having lined the pockets of everyone involved.
The real problem was that its development was turbulent enough to damage the relationship between Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures.
Years later, the filmmaker spoke openly about the complicated behind-the-scenes issues and clarified that many of the final product’s questionable decisions came from studio executives’ interventions.
The biggest one, according to Raimi, was the inclusion of Venom. Although he is Spider-Man’s greatest villain, his presence in the film is poorly developed, only making his appearance in the final act and based on an apathetic performance by Topher Grace (infiltrated in the Klan).
In 2009, talking to Empire Magazine, the director made it clear that he doesn’t love the villain (via The Guardian):
“I don’t even want to comment on Venom, because I know he’s a great character and all the fans love him,” he said.
“I never want to say anything bad about a much-beloved character because usually, it turns out that I’m the one that doesn’t understand what makes it great.”
At the time, Raimi was still working on Spider-Man 4, which would hit theaters in 2011 and mark the hero’s last adventure with Tobey Maguire, in a film that would introduce Mysterio (played by Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead‘s Ash Williams) and a host of other characters.
The director, however, no longer felt the same enthusiasm, with a particular fear of having creative control retaken out of his hands.
Looking for a peaceful way out, Sam Raimi talked to Sony executives, and together they decided to call it quits. The director would leave the project, and the studio would reboot the franchise instead of hiring another director in his place.
Despite all the difficulties, it is possible to understand that it was a mutual decision.
Nowadays, Sam Raimi acts more as a producer of several horror films, and the vast majority of them are distributed in partnership with Sony Pictures, such as The Evil Death (2013), Don’t Breathe (2016), The Grudge (2020), and many more.
Is Spider-Man 3 Worth Watching in 2021?
Despite being a story without any significant fights and with an even friendly outcome, Spider-Man 3 has gained a reputation over the years.
The film, which had a modest reception and was a box office success, has come to be regarded as one of the worst films in the hero genre. Of course, many decisions must be disputed, but its many qualities must also be acknowledged.
Nowadays, with many hero movies, it is possible to see Spider-Man 3 with new eyes. It’s a film that, of course, is still overstuffed with half-baked content. Venom (or even Eddie Brock) is tiresome, and the same goes for Peter Parker’s entire “romance” with Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) or even his disagreements with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst).
The predecessors got the balance between Parker’s dramas and heroic conflicts right, but the third one doesn’t quite know how to reconcile it all. Anyway, underneath all the excess fat, there is a lot to be saved.
As much as it gets tossed aside by the other villains, the Sandman arc is one of this trilogy’s best. The antagonist, played by Thomas Haden Church, surprises with a touching story of a simple man who finds himself drawn into a life of crime to help his family.
The way his journey intersects with Peter Parker’s is perhaps a bit over the top, but no less touching for showing how blurry the line between hero and villain is. In addition, its special effects hold up very well to this day.
Harry Osborn’s (James Franco) turn to evil when he embraces the mantle of the new Green Goblin version is also something to criticize, but the intent isn’t bad.
In fact, it’s the ideal pinnacle for his arc in the trilogy, as he goes through a real letdown upon discovering that his best friend is Spider-Man (even though he still believes it was Spidey who killed his pather).
Aside from the questionably novel decision to erase the boy’s memory after an accident, the big mistake of this new Green Goblin is that he was misused at the wrong time.
He really could have shined if he had the space to be the sole villain instead of sharing the spotlight with a poorly done Venom or a far superior Sandman.
But what makes Spider-Man 3 worth revisiting is the fact that, even in the worst moments, Sam Raimi’s style makes itself present.
In an era when the directorial position of Marvel’s hero movies is almost symbolic, the 2007 film sounds almost like an authorial work.
It’s clear the director was not so keen on leading this journey full of executive interventions. Still, his solution to avoiding fatigue was to embrace nonsense and try to have as much fun as possible.
The result is something full of charisma and consistent direction, even in the most dubious moments.
For example, Eddie Brock’s transformation into Venom brings a taste of the terror that the director has always flirted with throughout his trilogy, a mark of his beginning in the Evil Dead saga.
Another of Sam Raimi’s trademarks is his fondness for slapstick humor, which definitely doesn’t work for everyone.
The director is an avowed fan of classics such as The Three Stooges. He has always brought this to his works, even if in more acid and sarcastic ways.
This was the case with Army of Darkness (1992), with Drag Me To Hell (2009), especially in Ash vs. Evil Dead, a series created and produced by Raimi.
In the case of Spider-Man 3, this manifested itself in the infamous ‘Peter Parker Emo,’ the version “corrupted” by Venom.
The decision is, to this day, Spider-Man 3’s most significant legacy, an easy punching bag to undercut the entire film. But, believe it or not, there is room for defense – or at least argument.
Infected by the symbiote, Peter Parker has gained no power other than overconfidence. So the moment he appears in a black suit dancing in the street has always been taken too seriously.
Still, the intention is clear: the film doesn’t want the audience to think of the new Parker as someone cool, but rather to laugh at the notion of ‘being cool’ of a nerdy, socially awkward guy from the early 2000s.
In the era of endless irony, of incessant jokes for fear of the audience getting even remotely bored, there is an unquestionable comfort in rewatching a work that has no fear of being just plain silly.
And Spider-Man 3 does very well in this. It is a film with many problems, but also with high entertainment and fun value, with much more style and personality than many contemporary works.
What Was The Impact of Spider-Man 3?
Ultimately, even the reputation of Spider-Man 3 couldn’t shake what was built by Sam Raimi.
In 2014, speaking to the Nerdist podcast (via The Hollywood Reporter), the director acknowledged that he messed up badly:
“I messed up plenty with the third Spider-Man, so people hated me for years — they still hate me for it. It’s a movie that just didn’t work very well.”
Still, the success of his trilogy was the kickoff for the era of heroes in the movies that we live in today.
The most divisive star among the Spidey characters, Tobey Maguire, is now the absolute must-have in Spider-Man: No Way Home. The new film is supposed to be the Spider-Verse live-action, reuniting him with Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield.
The importance of having Maguire back in uniform is such that the actor reportedly charged a considerable fee to make his appearance – and it won’t be surprising if Marvel Studios has agreed to pay it.
Alongside Tobey Maguire, Sam Raimi is also one of the few people capable of making Marvel get down on its knees and beg.
Outside of hero movies, the filmmaker has remained one of the most valued names in horror, whether as a director or producer.
Fifteen years after his infamous last work in the genre, he returns in 2022 to helm the sequel to Doctor Strange, which promises to be an experience in insanity with touches of horror as it places the Sorcerer Supreme and Scarlet Witch in a crisis in the Multiverse.
The scenario is very different, and today it is producer Kevin Feige who is in charge, whose golden touch – and iron hand – enshrined the MCU.
Raimi was comfortable away from the director’s chair and was only summoned back because Feige understands the value of his vision and style, even though Marvel Studios is known for not doing too well with auteur directors.
Be that as it may, the filmmaker had already shown his terms for making hero movies again back in 2009, when he told Empire about the lesson he took away from Spider-Man 3:
“The best way for me to move forward on films, I realize… and this was a lesson I had to learn for myself … is that I’ve gotta be the singular voice that makes the creative choices on the film.”