NO, THIS is not an April Fool’s. Honest. I’m just as surprised as you are. George Jones, in his first article for SCM, takes us through the reasons why Spider-Man 3 – yes, that one – is the masterpiece we need, but not the one we deserve.
George Jones: There are some films that you all probably agree are great. There are some films that you all probably agree are terrible. I’m here to tell you why you’re wrong. Here are the four reasons why Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 is the greatest superhero film of all time.
4: Unity of Theme
People always complain about Spider-Man 3 having too many villains, and on the surface of it, it makes sense. After all, three major antagonists in one film is too much, surely? But the truth is that the film only has one real villain – revenge. Revenge is what drives Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) to go after Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and Sandman then seeks revenge against Peter. Revenge for his father’s death makes Harry (James Franco back when he wasn’t an insufferable tosser) become the second Green Goblin, and it is revenge that makes Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) embrace the Venom symbiote.
All the villains, and even Spider-Man himself, feed into this one theme, and this is reflected in the ways their storylines end. Sandman discovers that Peter Parker is only after him to avenge Uncle Ben, while Peter in turn finds out that Sandman killed his uncle by accident, and was only robbing him to fund his daughter’s medical treatment. Eddie Brock accepts that it was his own behaviour, not Peter’s, that ruined his career, and Harry finds out that his father was impaled on his own glider while trying to kill Peter. All of them realise the film’s central message: Revenge only creates a cycle of violence. Which brings me to my second point.
3: The Dancing Scene
Hell yeah, I’ll defend this. You know what scene I’m talking about – this one. This scene is the one everybody comes back to in their criticism of this film, and with good reason. Look at him. Just look at him. But stop – look again, and look closely. See the way the women are reacting as they walk past? They’re reacting exactly how you or I would if someone walked down the street like that. And that’s the point. Yes, he looks like a tit, but do you honestly think that every single person involved in this film didn’t realise that?
That’s what the symbiote does – among other things, it increases its host’s confidence. Now, a little bit of confidence is a good thing, but too much and you turn into – well, you turn into the person James Franco has turned into in recent years. Which brings me back to what I was saying about revenge. In the first two films, Spider-Man was motivated by Uncle Ben’s death, but he was motivated to do good.
Conversely, in Spider-Man 3, he becomes motivated, not by the desire to help people, but by the need to hurt them, to get payback. And that is not a healthy thing to be driven by. It’s good to be confident, or to try and atone for past mistakes, but it’s not good to be arrogant, or to be obsessed with revenge. I’m not going to go all Slavoj Zizek on you and bring up Aristotle’s Golden Mean, but yeah – Aristotle, bro.
2: Whiny Peter
To say that Toby Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker is different from Andrew Garfield’s is like saying Bill Cosby isn’t a gentleman. To put it bluntly, Garfield plays him as the guy we all wish we were in school, while Maguire plays him as the guy we actually were. That’s why people moan about Maguire’s interpretation of the character – no-one wants to admit that they can relate to that mopey, vulnerable bully-magnet.
We build up psychic defences against identifying with the victim – look at the internet after any mass-shooting or terrorist attack. There’s always a legion of keyboard warriors lining up to say that they would have grabbed the gun, or taken on the terrorists, saying things like “It’s better to die fighting than live a coward.” Because no-one wants to admit that, in reality, they’d freeze in terror and get shot in the fucking face, even though that’s exactly how it would – and normally does – go down.
That’s why people hate the Peter Parker of Raimi’s films – he’s just too close to us. We all want to believe we’d be Andrew Garfield, crack hilarious jokes, chase down bad guys and shag Gwen Stacy. But that’s not how teenagers work. You don’t get handsome, suave, emotionally mature teenagers – you get a choice between handsome and athletic but a complete bellend, or introverted and socially awkward (and a complete bellend).
Once you allow yourself to admit that, Maguire’s portrayal reveals much greater depth to the character. After all, isn’t it Spider-Man’s vulnerability that makes him so interesting to begin with? All the other superheroes are too powerful, too tough, too far away from ordinary people to be relatable. It’s not interesting when Superman wins, because of course he’s going to win – he’s a semi-immortal demi-god fighting an unusually smart bald man. But Spider-Man is vulnerable; he’s shy, he gets hurt and gets scared and screws things up, just like us – he has something to overcome. Imagine if Forrest Gump had been really smart – how boring would that film have been then.
1: Heath Ledger
Ok, I know, Heath Ledger isn’t in Spider-Man 3. But he is in The Dark Knight, the only other contender for the title of best superhero film ever. And TDK is a great film – but why? What is it about that film in particular that people love so much? I’ll give you a clue – it starts with H and ends with a tragic overdose. There are many awesome things about the best of Nolan’s Batman films, but the one factor that lifts it from good to great is Ledger’s performance as the Joker.
Without that, it would just be another really good film (and the sequel would have been much more popular). Spider-Man 3 doesn’t have that – it isn’t one single thing that lifts it above the mass of superhero films, it’s a combination of all the important aspects of the film being fantastic – and that is what makes a film truly great.