After facing responsibilities while battling an eight-armed mad scientist, what more can Peter Parker learn by confronting a vengeful best friend, a sandy common criminal, and a disgruntled photographer overtaken by alien goo? The Spider-Man films are notable for situating complex villains against our friendly-neighborhood arachnid, Peter Parker, and revealing his journey through the resulting drama. Spider-Man 3 picks up where Spider-Man 2 left off, following Peter Parker as he continues to understand the responsibilities arising from not only being Spider-Man, but being a humble human being who can forgive the trespasses of those around him.
Spider-Man 3 marks Sam Raimi’s third stab at Sony’s money-making Wall-Crawler. In the third installment, Peter Parker is swinging high. His relationship with Mary Jane Watson is blossoming into a possible marriage. New York City reveres Spider-Man as a celebrity. Even his best friend Harry Osborn has stopped blaming Spider-Man for his late father’s demise as the Green Goblin. However, all goes to hell when Peter’s inflated ego spirals out of control, putting his integrity as Mary Jane’s boyfriend and as New York City’s idol to task. Add to this Peter’s past with a two-bit thug and the influence of an alien substance and the result is an arbitrarily plotted film that waltzes through some dazzling action sequences only to end up right where it started.
The Defending Champion
Sam Raimi elevated the comic book film genre with Spider-Man 2, a film that depicts Peter Parker’s desire to be rid of his web-slinging persona in order to pursue the love of his life, Mary Jane. The sudden arrival of the tormented Doctor Octopus and his deadly fusion reactor places all Peter loves on the line, forcing him to confront his responsibilities as an adult and as a hero regardless of his dreams. Weaving in thrilling action sequences with heavy characterization, Sam Raimi created a thoughtful, yet entertaining, glimpse into the sacrifices of being a superhero.
You’ll find little of Spider-Man 2‘s Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3. The Defending Champion forced Peter to examine the consequences of not being Spider-Man, sticking to its thematic guns of responsibility and power. Spider-Man 3 attempts to show how Peter must control his darkest emotions — anger and pride — by giving Spider-Man a new black suit courtesy of some fashion-savvy alien goo which supposedly enhances said dark emotions. Yet Peter’s dark side triumphs way before the goo even arrives as he basks in the public’s adulation, ignores his girlfriend’s failing career, and cheats before Mary Jane’s very eyes without regret.
When the suit arrives, Peter becomes a cocky, mascara-wearing Emo-goof who, although hamming it up for the camera during ten-minute long montages, is a welcome relief to the self-obsessed, cheating, cry-by-the-minute Peter beneath the suit. The arrival of an extraterrestrial plot device to show an insensitive and reckless Peter Parker comes too late for both the plot and redemption of Peter, making the character’s thematic journey moot.
As he rises to face underdeveloped villains and perform vengeful Saturday Night Fever dance numbers, the overall film stalls in an overburdened, melodramatic plot devoid of any consistent themes of humility or forgiveness… or even responsibility. Gone are the cathartic emotional beats of Spider-Man 2, such as Mary Jane seeing the unmasked face of Spider-Man and realizing Peter’s sacrifices. Spider-Man 3 simply fails to service its own themes — something Spider-Man 2 did with a great deal more class, two less villains, and no retro jazz choreography.
So, let’s make it official… the winner is…
In the end, Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 duke it out over Peter Parker. One film’s Peter is a young man still trying to learn his destiny as an adult, making understandable mistakes along the way, but eventually confronting the responsibility by facing the film’s main villain. The other is an immature hero so full of pride that he nearly (deservingly) loses all he loves regardless of what he wears or who he battles while doing it. Spider-Man 2 left audiences feeling it was yet another faithful installment to what was becoming an amazing franchise. The only thing Spider-Man 3 holds true to are the words of its bombastic climax’s verbose newscaster as he says, “This might be the end of Spider-Man.”