Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is considered to be among the greatest superhero trilogies of all time. But there is one weak link in the chain. Spider-Man 3. There’s a lot to unpack with this movie and there’s a lot that happened behind the scenes. Join us as we examine the third film in the Raimi trilogy and explore everything that went wrong with Spider-Man 3.
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Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is often thought of as one of the greatest Super Hero trilogies ever made. The filmmaker, who had previously given us the Evil Dead series and Dark Man, was given the reigns to make the first live-action, feature-length film centered around one of Marvel’s most iconic characters. The friendly neighborhood hero swung into theaters in 2002 and was an instant hit with fans and critics. The film holds an impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of 90 percent, with critics like New York Daily News’ Jack Mathews writing, “Spider-Man is an almost perfect extension of the experience of reading comic-book adventures.” The film’s immediate success lead the way for an even more successful follow-up with Spider-Man 2 and then eventually… Spider-Man 3.
While Spider-Man 2 is frequently regarded as one of the single best comic book film adaptations, Spider-Man 3 is, more often than not, thought of as the weak link in the trilogy. It’s best remembered for having too many villains, ruining Uncle Ben’s death and Spider-Man’s origin arc, and (TOBEY DANCING SCENE.) It’s not necessarily a terrible movie, but it’s certainly a long ways from the cinematic adrenaline rush we got with Doc Ock battling Spider-Man on an out-of-control railway train. And it was bad enough that all plans for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 were squashed like a bug and Sony instead chose to reboot the character entirely with Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man just five years later. So, what happened to Spider-Man 3? How did this seemingly indestructible franchise come to a sudden and screeching halt? Well, squeeze into your spandex, gel your hair gel and hold on tight. Because the story behind the web slinger’s most Emo adventure is a doozy.
From the start, director Sam Raimi was against the idea of putting Venom into the movie. Raimi never connected with the character and felt he lacked the humanity to share the screen with his version of the web-slinger. The problem with that is Venom is a fan favorite Spidey Villain. He was a major part of the comic book revival of the early ’90s and some of Spider-Man’s most popular and beloved story arcs center around the symbiote and his unwavering hatred of Spider-Man. So, of course, the studio execs wanted him in the film. To Sony, that living, black symbiotic goo represented dollar signs. And they weren’t wrong since Spider-Man 3 went on to gross over $894 million at the box office, against a budget of just $250 million. That made Spider-Man 3 the highest-grossing film in the series.
But since Raimi had no connection or respect for the character, the chances of him being properly represented on screen were slim to none. Cast as the iconic villain was Topher Grace of That 70s Show fame. He was perfect as Eric Foreman, the young, pot-loving teenager in the popular sitcom and he’d gone on to show his dramatic acting chops in films like In Good Company and Traffic. Despite all that, fans did what fans do and they publicly complained about the casting for months. We’ve seen it time and time before. People weren’t happy when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker and they scoffed when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman. Today those are considered to be two of the best comic book performances we’ve seen. But this time… they were kind of right. It’s nothing against Topher Grace. He’s undeniably talented and he’s gone on to have great success in films like Spike Lee’s academy award-winning BlacKkKlansman.
He just never really personified the character of Eddie Brock. In the comics, Eddie is a large, imposing, and intimidating character. It’s these character traits that make him all the more dangerous when he joins with the Symbiote to become Venom. In Spider-Man 3, he’s more of a sarcastic smart mouth with a smarmy, self-indulgent attitude. His transition to Venom is almost nonexistent. As Venom he looks nearly identical to the black-suited Spider-Man, but with a large, lizard-like mouth. He never becomes the large, overbearing force that fans were expecting to see. But an even more definitive character trait of Venom is the psychological and personality melding of Eddie and the Symbiote. But we don’t really see that either. The whole concept is fumbled and the fan-favorite bad guy was turned into something of a joke.
But Venom wasn’t the only terrible villain in the movie. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 had each given us a single villain. They focused on one iconic arch-enemy from the comics and adapted them for the big screen in ways that made sense. Sure, some people complain about the goofy-looking suit and mask that Goblin dons in the first film, but there’s no denying that Willem Defoe’s over-the-top performance was a perfect fit for the businessman turned glider riding madman. And Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Otto Octavius is one of the best we’ve seen. But for the third installment, they went with the “More is better” mentality and stacked three villains into the over-bloated storyline. One of those villains was James Franco as “The New Goblin.” Harry Osborn’s slow descent into madness was being built towards since the first movie. It was a character arc that should have made for an emotional and meaningful confrontation between best friends turned enemies. Instead, we got a laughably bad performance from Franco, an amnesia plotline straight from a soap opera, and a quick redemption spurred by a butler explaining something that could have been explained two movies ago. The entire thing felt rushed and disjointed from what had already been established for the character.
Lastly, there was Sandman. He wasn’t a bad villain by any means. Thomas Hayden Church delivered a sympathetic character with strong motivations. He was powerful, dangerous, and would have made for a perfect standalone villain… if it wasn’t for his forced involvement in the death of Uncle Ben. Everybody is familiar with the death of Uncle Ben. We’ve seen it in cartoons, comic books, and movies. And the original Spider-Man did that tragic storyline justice. But Spider-Man 3 felt the need to revisit it and it change it entirely by saying it was actually Sandman who killed Uncle Ben. It made no sense and it totally undermined Uncle Ben’s death and Spider-Man’s origin.
You can’t have a superhero movie without a supervillain. It would make for a pretty boring viewing experience. The hero is only as strong as their villain, and unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 failed in that department. Majorly. It’s probably the film’s biggest downfall.
But the handling of Venom and the other villains wasn’t the only hurdle the film faced. The titular, web-slinging, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was portrayed very differently in his third outing. And I’m not just talking about Emo-Parker. In Spider-Man 2 we get a Peter Parker down on his luck. He’s struggling to juggle the responsibilities of being a hero and living a normal life. We see the emotional and physical toll that wearing the suit takes on Peter’s personal life. It’s some of the best character development we get from the entire series and it ends with Peter coming to the powerful conclusion that as long as he has the ability to do so, it’s his responsibility to help others. With great power… comes great responsibility. Even if that means sacrificing his own chance at a normal life.
By Spider-Man 3 the hero’s popularity is in full swing. The city loves him. There are parades and ceremonies in his honor and he’s become something of a celebrity. This newfound recognition and appreciations goes to Peter’s head and he’s no longer the caring, quiet Peter Parker we knew from previous films. He’s arrogant and insensitive and more focused on himself than he is those he cares about. He’s a less likable version of himself. And this is BEFORE he comes into contact with the symbiote and dons the black suit. According to Doc Connors the symbiote “Amplifies characteristics of its host, especially aggression.” It brings out the worst traits of the person it’s joined with. It also apparently makes you grease your hair and learn sick new jazz moves. Emo-Parker is easily one of the biggest complaints that fans have with Spider-Man 3. After joining with the symbiote his personality changes. His confidence is elevated. To be fair, though. This is actually something I think the film does right. As Doc Conners said, the symbiote amplifies the characteristics of its host. Peter Parker is not a cool or suave guy. Not in the Sam Raimi films. So, what we’re seeing here is Peter’s interpretation of what it is to be cool. This is what he thinks girls want. As we see in the scene where Peter struts down the sidewalk, dancing and shooting finger points at the girls he passes.
At two hours and nineteen minutes, Spider-Man 3 is already the longest film in the Raimi trilogy. But it was almost much longer. A lot of the film was left on the cutting room floor, including some major sequences that could have shifted the tone of the film in significant ways. Through storyboards, trailers, bloopers, and the film’s novelization we can piece together a lot of what almost made it into the film, and a lot of it was related to Eddie Brock and Venom. In one scene that never made it to the screen, Eddie visits Gwen Stacy after being fired from the Daily Bugle. Gwen tells Eddie that she doesn’t want to see him and doesn’t want him involved in her life. It’s a moment that adds to Eddie’s feelings of loss and desperation prior to bonding with the symbiote.
The scene of Eddie in the church just before coming into contact with the symbiote was originally longer with Eddie having an extended prayer monologue where he plays the role of the victim and refuses to take responsibility for any of the bad things happening in his life. But probably the most important scene involving Venom that didn’t make it into the final cut was after Eddie merges with the symbiote to become Venom. He uses Venom’s memories from when the symbiote had previously been with Peter and uses the knowledge to go to Peter’s apartment and enter it while Peter shower. It would have been a creepy moment that showed just how vulnerable Peter was to Venom and it would have showcased the bonding of Eddie and the Symbiote through shared memories and consciousness.
The other villains had important moments cut as well. Harry’s descent into madness was originally going to be explored further. Harry would be shown to be hallucinating and talking to his butler when in reality nobody was there. This would have occurred before his transformation into New Goblin. And Sandman was supposed to confront the doctor working to cure his sick doctor, further defining his motivations to save his child.
Love it or hate it, Spider-Man 3 certainly made an impact that still resonates with fans. It concluded a film series that seemed to be indestructible and essentially killed the plans for a fourth Raimi Spider-Man film starring Maguire. There’s not a ton known about the canceled fourth film’s plot, but what we do know sounds pretty amazing. Anne Hathaway was presumed to play Felicia Hardy, who dons a tight black suit and mask to become Black Cat. While that never happened, Hathaway would go on to don a tight black suit and mask with a cat-themed persona in another popular comic adaptation.
And John Malkovich was in line to play Adrian Tooms, known by the villainous title “The Vulture.” Of course, Michael Keaton would later play the villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but there’s no denying that Malkovich would have been a spectacular choice for the character. Vulture was set to be the single main villain of the film, learning from the mistakes of Spider-Man 3. Raimi was determined to return the series to its roots and wipe the slate clean after he was unhappy with the end result of Spider-Man 3. And he certainly could have done that.
Storyboard artist David E. Duncan recently released an animatic on Vimeo showcasing storyboards for the planned climactic battle of the canceled film. It looked violent and intense and everything you’d hope to see from a Sam Raimi Spider-Man film. The web-slinger still has a vibrant future on the big screen with Tom Holland taking over the role and leading his own series in the MCU.