Spider-Man (2002) / Spider-Man 3 (2007) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
22Apr/110

Spider-Man (2002) / Spider-Man 3 (2007)

This week I am going to do something a little different and combine two of the Thirty Years at the Top movies into one article.  Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 are two great examples to compare and contrast when talking about why a movie works and why it doesn’t.  The two films were created by the same brain trust, featuring the same characters, and staring the same actors.  Both movies also were huge successes, but one film is seen as a shining beacon on how to make comic films, and the other one is a cited as an example of what to avoid when rounding out the trilogy.

Spider-Man came out in May of 2002 and blew the doors off so many records those first few weeks.  The film had the biggest weekend of all time, fastest to $100 million, fastest to $200 million, and fastest to $300 million.  It was a fan favorite for everyone from little kids to adults and it even was a hit with critics.  Spider-Man absolutely DOMINATED the summer of 2002 and left such big films like Star Wars Episode II, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Men in Black II in its wake.  People saw the film more than once and gushed about it with friends and family.  I remember seeing it with my girlfriend (and now wife) the day I got home for summer break and then going again on Sunday because we had so much fun. So out of the $114+million dollars the film made that weekend, we contributed with over $20.

Spider-Man III had a bigger opening weekend, was faster to $100 and $200 million dollars and was the biggest film of the year.  Yet, critics weren’t as enamored. The film dropped out of the theatres a lot faster than the first one, and if you ask people their thoughts on this movie, you will be met with everything from hatred to general apathy.  I again saw this movie on opening night and was excited, but afterwards had no inkling to see it in the theater again.  The movie made its money by coasting on the good memories people had for the first and second film of the series

Not the greatest costume but a good character none the less.

What happened between the first and the third films?  There were no shakeups behind the scenes.  Sam Raimi directed both films and the same cast appeared throughout the series.  So when and how did the franchise jump the tracks?  A few rules will help make sense of this.

Rule 1: Make a film from your heart.  Spider-Man was the film that Sam Raimi and crew wanted to make.  Raimi was a big Spider-Man fan growing up, and he got to make the film that he had dreamed about for years.  Love pours off the screen, and everything in the movie was made deliberately and with love.  Spider-Man 3 was the product of a lot of studio intervention and many of the characters and story arcs Raimi had to deal with did not have his full interest and it shows.  A director in a film has a gargantuan task, especially with the summer blockbusters, and the director has to be 100% involved for the film to work.  Raimi, in Spider-Man 3, was not fully invested, and the movie suffered from it.

Rule 2: Make a film that tells one complete story. Spider-Man was about Peter Parker turning into a superhero and learning the costs associated with such life.  Everything in the movie and all characters existed to help strengthen this one idea.  The love story, the villain, and any other B-plots the movie might have had all tied back into Peter Parker becoming something more and bigger and the sacrifices that might entail.  People might think that keeping a movie grounded with the origin story is an easy task, Raimi was able to tell a strong story in the second (and in my opinion even better) film with the whole “Spider-Man no more” storyline.  It wasn’t until the third movie that the stories overwhelm the movie.  In 3, Parker is pulled in many different directions and shoehorned into so many different stories; nothing feels complete with the whole film.  The movie introduced big characters in the Spidey universe like Gwen Stacey and her father and then did NOTHING with them in the film.  The movie finally showed Peter and Mary-Jane together, something that the films were building up to and the fans wanted to see, and made them so unappealing together you were rooting not only for Peter not to propose but for the two to stay far away from each other.  The third film also fell trap to the rule in trilogies that you have to tie all three films together in one big bow.  By changing the story of how Uncle Ben was killed, by shoehorning the Sandman in as the shooter, it changed how the whole series is viewed and in my case it wasn’t for the good.  Yet, the biggest problem with the story in part 3 came from breaking the following rule.

Rule 3: One main villain please.  Spider-Man had the Green Goblin, Spider-Man 2 had Doc Ock, Spider-Man 3 had every other villain Peter Parker has ever come up against.  Ok, that might be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but there are moments in the film that sure felt like it.  In Spider-Man 3 there are villains that pop up and then are absent from the film for at least an hour (Sandman), villains who have a battle and then get amnesia for part of the film (Hobgoblin) and villains who don’t actually become villains until late into the 2nd act (Venom).  With them showing up and leaving at odd intervals, none of the rogues gallery felt like a real credible threat.  I loved Sandman in the film and the story with him and his kid.  Thomas Haden Church was doing great with the character, and they were giving him better treatment than most comics have given him that just paints him as a thug.  Then he is gone for most of the middle part of the film and everything the film was building up for him is squandered.  If Spider-Man 3 treated him like the treated The Green Goblin in the first film, it could have been a much different film.  Green Goblin was just an unhinged man fighting his sanity and trying to keep his empire together.  Spider-Man has the father figure that Peter doesn’t need with the Green Goblin and the tragic showdown between the two characters at the end of the film is earned. You have seen them fight and both struggle with what they had become. In the 3rd movie there are so many balls in the air and not enough time to showcase them so everything becomes a jumbled mess. When the big fight comes you don’t care about any of it and the only reason you are happy that Harry helps out Peter is because of the goodwill the first two movies carried over into this part.

One of the most famous scenes in the series.

Those are the three rules that I think directors and studio execs should cut out and put on the fridge when making a sequel to a beloved film.  For the Spider-Man films, I went from loving the first one, really loving the second to being disappointed (but not hating) the third.  I believe there are moments in 3 that are ok and half of the film works, but it is very evident there were too many cooks in the kitchen for the film.  So maybe in reality, the three rules to follow are secondary to one plea I give the studio heads and men behind the scenes.  Please, if the director and cast have shown repeatedly that they know how to make a good film, don’t interfere with what is working.  Leave the creators alone and you will count the money, become a vocal part of the film and you will only watch the goodwill and money disappear faster than you ever would have imagined.  But I guess that is OK with the studios, because there is always the re-boot when you wear out your welcome.

Emo Peter Parker, a classic.

Posted by Ryan

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