Oh, Peter Parker. How did we get from there to right here?
A lot has been mentioned concerning the stunning denouement to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, a sequence that in some ways helped form the cinematic superhero increase we’re nonetheless dwelling in at present. It killed Spider-Man as we knew it on the field workplace, paving the best way for the reboots that, in flip, introduced the joint custody Marvel’s most beloved character finds himself in. It turned a dwelling meme, so profound that even its future successors would mock its silliest moments.
It must be no shock to be taught that Spider-Man 3 was a nasty film at launch and it continues to be a nasty film watching it now, over a decade later.
However whereas all of us share dance scene gifs and chuckle to ourselves that possibly Spider-Man 3‘s largest failures are that it’s cringe, that there are too many villains, that possibly it was Sony’s fault, possibly it was Raimi’s fault, that it was this or that or the opposite, the movie’s most deadly flaw stays readily obvious all these years of reflection later. Spider-Man 3 is obsessive about itself. And it has no concept what to do with that compulsion, rendering its ceaseless riffing as a shallow rejoinder to the guts that got here earlier than it.
Yet, at its core, that is additionally what Spider-Man 2 did, constructing on moments and themes from its progenitor—so how did it succeed so sublimely the place Spider-Man 3 failed? As a result of solely certainly one of these motion pictures truly understands what repeating what got here earlier than—thematically or stylistically and even contextually—truly means. Spider-Man 2‘s ceaseless returns to the unique film’s themes about energy and the individuals who wield it really works so properly as a result of it reframes these struggles past the quick circle of Peter, his buddies, and his foes, and contextualizes it the grander scale of the film itself to change into a commentary about energy constructions in society. It builds on and intensifies the themes to indicate them in a brand new context that in flip displays within the new context Peter finds himself in as a pleasant neighbor to all of New York, not simply Mary Jane.
Spider-Man 3 repeats scenes and concepts nevertheless it by no means recontextualizes or provides to them. In simply merely repeating these moments with out wrestling with what it means paradoxically, it finally ends up saying one thing about them: that the film is afraid to push itself within the methods its predecessors have been. “This worked before, so let’s do it again, right?” From beats as textually huge as Harry’s will-he-won’t he Goblin arc and Peter’s struggling relationship with Mary Jane to one thing so simple as contrasting the scene the place Aunt Might offers Peter $20 for his birthday within the sequel and her making a gift of her engagement ring to Peter on this movie is emblematic of this. Spider-Man 3 has no concept what to do with its characters, and but it’s obsessive about their on-screen pasts.
Obsession actually is the overarching theme of Spider-Man 3, textually and in its personal half-hearted commentary about its predecessors. However in failing to know these obsessions—and even the toxicity of the obsessions of its characters, even with the least refined symbolism it has in its playkit within the type of the alien symbiote swimsuit that drives the film—Spider-Man prices each the sequence at giant and its main trio a lot. Harry’s self-destructive downfall into his personal father’s thirst for energy is rendered moot by being become a case of him whacking his head so arduous 20 minutes into the film that his impulses change into a trauma-induced flipped change out of his management. Peter’s personal struggles about separating his life out and in of the masks are dropped at the fore once more, however in giving him an “out” by the symbiote, they’re by no means interrogated.
MJ specifically is gravely mistreated probably the most by this repetition. For the third time in a row her arc is to be pissed off that Peter isn’t being attentive to her or her needs, however the story by no means truly builds on that frustration. As an alternative, but once more, she turns into a trophy to be fought over by the lads in her life, robbed of any company as her issues are outdated by Peter falling beneath the sway of the symbiote swimsuit’s excesses. Her utterly comprehensible resolution to interrupt up with him would be utterly comprehensible if she have been allowed to make it herself: as a substitute, she’s pressured into taking part in pawn to Harry’s revenge marketing campaign in opposition to Peter—utterly unnecessarily so, given Harry’s heel-turn change to hero for the ultimate battle!
However whereas the movie’s remedy of MJ is heinous, its largest failing of all is saved for its protagonist. In focusing a lot on re-iterating what got here earlier than, satirically, Spider-Man 3 forgets its origins: Peter Parker was simply as complicit within the poisonous energy constructions of the world he lives in as his antagonists have been in Spider-Man. Peter was, in some methods, fairly an terrible particular person properly earlier than an alien pile of goop become a killer costume and gave him emo hair. Monitoring the arc of the best way he strings MJ alongside along with his emotions for her and the relationships she has that he harms by doing so (particularly in Spider-Man 2, bear in mind J. Jonah Jameson’s son, by no means to be talked about once more) throughout the films is one factor, however even in this one, Peter is introduced as obsessive of MJ as his.
Your complete opening of the movie is Peter fawning to individuals within the theater the place he’s watching MJ carry out that she is his girlfriend. All through the film, each time she brings up the anxieties she has about her efficiency or her profession, Peter doesn’t assist her wants, however as a substitute extols his personal, repeatedly telling her he doesn’t must take heed to her as a result of he’s already been by the identical factor as she has in turning into Spider-Man. The second Peter will get the symbiote swimsuit in Spider-Man 3 is supposed to be the flip for the viewers that immediately, he has this energy he by no means had earlier than, a darker impulse. However Raimi’s Peter all the time had that impulse, all the time had that energy, particularly in his will-they-won’t they relationship with MJ. However as a result of Spider-Man 3 is glad with merely re-litigating that will-they-won’t-they drama, Peter’s failings are exonerated, as a result of the film by no means truly interrogates its personal hero’s perspective.
In my latest re-review of Spider-Man 2, I held up that film’s prepare sequence as the final word instance of its wider thesis: the second of catharsis, not simply because the hero does the factor and saves the day however as a result of it’s reflective of all the things Spider-Man 2 needed to say about itself and its characters distilled right into a singular second. If that prepare sequence is its essence, then Spider-Man 3‘s is, in fact, The Dance. However not for the explanations you bear in mind it for.
Sure, it’s excruciating to observe Tobey Maguire jazz palms his means by it. Sure, the hair flip is foolish. Sure, it’s, as we now have joked and ribbed ever since, absolute cringe. However it’s not this embarrassment—that our superior hero, the spectacular Spider-Man, is lowered to this dancing mockery—that emblifies Spider-Man 3 at giant. It’s that that is the second Peter Parker sinks to his cruelest, most vindictive low, even decrease than Spider-Man’s catalyst for the almighty phrases of “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
There’s the vile torment to kick MJ whereas she’s down, gigging as a singing waitress (a job we see her taking out of indescribable disgrace). Then there’s the viler torment that he does it whereas wielding Gwen Stacy—one other feminine character this film introduces solely to right away rob her of company and set her as a trophy for 2 males to compete over—as an all-dancing cudgel. It’s uncomfortable to observe not as a result of it’s tacky, however as a result of it’s horrifying.
The important truth concerning the symbiote that the story typically forgets after Physician Connors first notes it’s that it doesn’t create detrimental ideas and attributes, however solely enhances what was already there. We’ve seen Peter be this self-centered, this manipulative, this gaslighting, to MJ earlier than.—all the swimsuit does is crank that as much as eleven. However Spider-Man 3 by no means truly acknowledges that. The shock that bolts Peter out of realizing how badly he’s harm each MJ and Gwen on this second isn’t the trauma clear on their tearful faces because the latter apologizes to the previous, it’s that beneath his swimsuit he’s nonetheless carrying the symbiote costume. We’re left in charge the symbiote’s darkness alone and requested by no means to confront Peter’s.
In the tip, Peter learns nothing. Positive, his greatest pal sacrifices himself for him, within the ultimate Sandman/Venom battle, however the truth that Peter doesn’t understand his personal fault in that sacrifice renders Harry’s loss of life meaningless. “I’ve done terrible things too,” Peter tells Flint Marko earlier than letting him fade away, however the film by no means explicitly interrogates what these issues are: Are they what he did beneath the symbiote swimsuit’s affect or all the things that got here earlier than that? We’re left solely to suggest the previous, given the film concludes with him being rewarded with MJ’s affections as soon as extra.
Wanting again on the Spider-Man trilogy, almost twenty years after it first started, it’s exceptional to see a journey that started so terribly sure in its previous by a long time of comedian e-book supply materials, by the best way it nailed these themes after which echoed them ever louder, finish so profoundly empty. As with Harry and the symbiote, its obsession with what got here earlier than is its best undoing—as a result of when you peel away the masks, all that’s left are the messy, horrible individuals beneath. And Spider-Man 3 has nothing to say to what that truly means.
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