Over the last few weeks, John Pavlich of Sofa Dogs and I have teamed up to record commentary tracks for every Spider-Man movie ever made. We started by defending the historical significance of Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man, went on to question, albeit slightly, the vaunted reputation of Spider-Man 2, and this week we've finally reached Spider-Man 3. Although Spider-Man 3 was the highest grossing movie of 2007 domestically, audiences immediately turned on the motion picture, hurling a series of accusations at the film which were more or less accurate. There were too many characters, not enough Venom (a fan favorite character to this day), a string of baffling dance numbers and a retcon to the hero's origin that by and large was not considered a wise move.
I kinda like it. Fred Topel, one of our beloved staff writers here at CraveOnline, likes it a lot. John Pavlich doesn't hate it all that much either. So what gives? Are we entirely out of touch, or are we just seeing something everyone else isn't, or are at least too distracted by the film's strange surface elements to appreciate?
Fred Topel joins us for our latest commentary track, when we try to explain – if not necessarily defend – Spider-Man 3. What we found was a film that is a jumble of ideas, many of them good, many of them at best ill-advised, but taken together as a tapestry represent an artistic vision that just plain wasn't for everyone, and ultimately led to the more tonally focused reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, which we will get to next week. I invite you to head on over to Sofa Dogs and download the commentary for yourself, but allow me to preface our commentary with the following thoughts.
The original Spider-Man trilogy is the work of an artist. Perhaps Sam Raimi is not the most delicate artist of our times, and perhaps he doesn't have as much to say as the dramatic indie auteur du jour, but he expresses himself in a way that is perhaps entirely unique to Sam Raimi. There's a goofy sense of nostalgia to his lighthearted films that masks the emotional frailty of his characters. He likes to beat them up on screen, because it's funny, yes, but also because afterwards it's infinitely more satisfying to see them persevere.
I see that filmmaker in Spider-Man 3. He attempts in this third film, perhaps under a modicum of studio duress, to tell a story about a character for whom he has obvious affection, Peter Parker, in a series of circumstances that test him in a way that potentially betrays the good person Raimi sees underneath. In Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker attempts murder on two separate occasions, and physically assaults the woman he loves. The wildly disparate tonal shifts we see in the film, particularly in the oft-despised dance numbers, serve a narrative purpose. They lighten the otherwise impossibly dark mood? Possibly, or possibly they run in such unsettling contrast to that mood that they visualize the character's self-delusion that acting in his own self-interest – the very path the Green Goblin tried to coerce him into in the original Spider-Man – is a positive change in lifestyle. That he follows his own attempted homicide on his best friend with a Saturday Night Fever riff down the streets of New York City, though perhaps not the best way to realize the character struggle cinematically, speaks volumes about how far he has been infected by self-involvement. And that Peter Parker actually thinks this kind of behavior is cool speaks even louder volumes about what an uncontrollable dork he is.
That second musical number, performed in front of Mary Jane, is not a massive digression from the storyline. It's one of the most despicable things a character could possibly do within this universe. Peter Parker takes a date, Gwen Stacy, to the very bar where his ex-girlfriend works, and specifically steals Mary Jane's act right in front of her, knowing that, of late, her self-confidence about her performing abilities is at an all-time low. Peter Parker is hurt by her rejection and lashing out in an ugly manner, unaware that Mary Jane only broke up with him to save his life, and thus his betrayal is even more painful than he realizes.
That Mary Jane had absolutely no reason to break up with Peter Parker, since all she had to do was tell him that the new Green Goblin is blackmailing her into it and, as Spider-Man, he can totally handle that situation, is a flaw. The film has many flaws. It's awkwardly structured and sometimes painful to watch, for the right and occasionally the wrong reasons. But it is a singular tale, told with a singular creative vision, and even when it screws up royally there are things to admire about Spider-Man 3. Over the three commentary tracks for these films we have noted the complex, cyclical journeys of Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, always torn between self-interest and an obsessive sense of responsibility to their absent father figures. They are, at turns in their relationship, both good people and terrible ones, best friends and worst enemies. They are always a step behind or in front of each other, and only at the end of Spider-Man 3 do they meet up at the exact same spot on their respective journeys, and it's dramatically powerful. Unfortunately, it has to compete with some truly awkward crap along the way.
In short, and no, it's not too late because we've got an entire commentary track to talk about this, Spider-Man 3 is not the worst superhero movie ever made, or even the worst Spider-Man movie ever made. It's a rich tapestry of good decisions competing with superficially bad ones, and overall I find it to be a fascinating if perhaps failed experiment in creating a grand soap opera background for a superhero movie, much in keeping with the interconnected continuity of the many concurrent Spider-Man comic books that operate together and independently on the shelves of every comic book store I've ever entered in my lifetime. I'll take Spider-Man 3, warts and all, over all the Daredevils, Ghost Riders or Amazing Spider-Mans the studio system can throw at me. It's ambitious, and even when it fails, it's boasts a clear creative spirit that I can latch onto and enjoy.
Now, go ahead and download the Sofa Dogs commentary track for Spider-Man 3, featuring myself, John Pavlich and Fred Topel of CraveOnline. Maybe we'll change your mind. Maybe we'll just confirm that everything you hate about Spider-Man 3 is still thoroughly in place. But either way, let's have a conversation about it. You can reach me, John and Fred Topel on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani, @JohnPavlich and @FredTopel. Next week, John and I will be back with our final commentary track in this series, for The Amazing Spider-Man. We'll have an awful lot to say about that one too.
You can also download my other commentary tracks with John Pavlich: