Much has changed since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was considered the magnum opus of superhero cinema, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe having created a monopoly over blockbuster cinema with a vast, expansive franchise. It’s easy to forget, however, just how much groundwork Raimi put in with his innovative take on superhero movies, sculpting such fantastical heroes into everyday fragile souls.
Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was a superhero designed for the innovations in cinema at the dawn of the new millennium, with the character becoming the poster child of IMAX and the icon of spectacular cinema, swinging around the skyscrapers of New York with cinematic grace. Fun, fresh and exciting, Sam Raimi’s take on the iconic hero heralded a brand new era for the superhero film in which spectacle was favoured and fallible heroes became commonplace.
Achieving commercial and critical success with Spider-Man in 2002 as well as its sequel two years later, Raimi was considered as a master of the genre, with his storytelling style penetrating the vulnerable underbelly of the Peter Parker character.
Still considered one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, Spider-Man 2 showed Parker face up against his most persistent enemy, himself, as he deals with the personal responsibility of carrying such a weighty burden whilst wishing to assimilate back into ‘normal’ life. Such made the film such a beloved superhero experience, with Raimi hoping to explore similar themes in the much-anticipated sequel Spider-Man 3.
Now the recipient of countless memes and internet ridicule, it’s no secret that Spider-Man 3 was considered to be one of the biggest flops of popular cinema, cramming far too much into its bloated runtime, including three new villains, James Franco’s Green Goblin, Sandman and Venom. With so much time having to be committed to setting up these villains, Parker’s progress as a character was sidelined, inextricably replaced with a dramatic personality change in which he donned an infamous ‘emo’ disposition.
Being such a dramatic departure for the character, Raimi takes Peter Parker to extraordinary new ground in two iconic scenes that have since become a source of great enjoyment in internet culture. Both of these moments come when Parker is in the midst of this emo persona, the first being when he’s dancing down the street, and the second is when he shows off at a jazz bar by flinging himself around the room.
So, where did it all go wrong for Raimi? Well, it makes a little more sense when you consider that the director never wanted three villains for his movie, with producer Avi Arad forcing him to shoehorn the well-known antagonist Venom into the picture to make the film more commercial. Raimi was not best pleased, to say the least, telling IGN in 2006 that he had been “objecting” to the lack of humanity in the Venom character, making him a truly difficult figure to fit in with his emotional Spider-Man movies.
Left with no choice, Raimi was forced into abiding by the vision of the movie studio, making the film that they wanted, full of villains, flashy sequences and franchise iconography.
What’s strange is that Sam Raimi is far from a bad filmmaker, having arguably never made a truly terrible film, until the arrival of Spider-Man 3, and considering that it was clear that he knew how to handle the character, many fans theorise ‘foul play’.
Disgruntled with the constant meddling of the production company, many believe that Sam Raimi made Spider-Man 3 bad on purpose as a way to get back at the movie business for destroying his personal vision. Considering his knack for mischievous comedy, seen in such films as Evil Dead II and Drag Me to Hell, this theory certainly has legs, especially when comparing the curious gulf in quality between Spider-Man 2 and its ridiculed sequel.
Whichever way you wish to interpret history, Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 has become something of a cult classic, with its bizarre tone embodying the director’s trademark surrealism that made him such an icon in the 1980s. Purposeful or not, Spider-Man 3 is a hilarious disaster.