First, my general thoughts. Sam Raimi does a good job balancing not only Spidey’s drama, but the interconnected story lines of not one, not two, but – you guessed it – three antagonists. I didn’t notice any glaring plot holes or storyline shortcuts in the script. Old characters were developed, new ones introduced. In short, it’s a really good movie. And from all the box office tracking, everyone and their brother will be seeing it at some point this weekend. So what’s the appeal?
What puts Spider-Man 3 a notch above the other episodes in the series dramatically is apparent from its tagline: “The Battle Within.” See, the clever thing about the Venom saga is that Spidey is the original Venom. The alien symbiote that changes Peter Parker into Venom (by reinforcing his darker side) does so to any person it attaches itself to (eventually Peter Parker’s competitor at the Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock). This plot point sets the stage for the classic confrontation and choice between good and evil within our beloved (and in this case, sometimes not so lovable) protagonist.
There’s a great deal I could say about this movie, but I’ll limit myself for the sake of brevity to five things I enjoyed in the movie, with my ever-present Papist lenses comfortably settled upon my eager face.
1) Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have a (by all evidence) chaste relationship, and their common goal is to eventually get engaged and married. Also, one of Peter Parker’s most obvious personality changes for the worse, when under the influence of the symbiote, is a creepy and overtly-sexual approach to women. This clearly isn’t the true Spidey. He does make one completely jerky decision to kiss a girl at the public ceremony, and deserves all the grief he gets for it. Though one doesn’t see it, one can expect that to be one of the many things Peter has to apologize for, especially since he wasn’t under the influence of the symbiote. Still, it shows us that this weakness was already in Peter and the symbiote brought it out to a higher degree.
2) Choice. One of Peter’s final lines (in the obligatory morality speech of the ending scene) goes something like “I’ve learned that everyone has a choice about who they become.” Various figures in the movie try to claim they didn’t have a choice one way or the other (Sandman is the most obvious case of this) – but the plot, and the actions of Peter and Harry especially, explode this illusion completely. We always have a choice.
An added level to this message that I hadn’t noticed before is how Eddie Brock, in the same church, takes on Venom. Eddie, however, walks into the Church determinedly asking God to “kill Peter Parker.” In other words, the Chu
rch isn’t a safe-zone from personal evil, and someone can go there for the wrong reasons and receive nothing but evil as a result. I’m sure there’s more going on in this scene, but I’d have to see the movie again to catch them.
4) The redemption of Harry Osborn. Though he shares in the tragedy of his father, he emerges triumphant from his trials by choosing self-sacrifice. His father died trying to kill Peter, but all he did was kill himself, indeed, he died by his own blade. Harry, however, dies trying to save Peter, and even though he also dies by his own blade, his death is honorable. Even though the physical results are identical in both cases, what matters is the moral decisions that brought the persons to their ultimate end. Brilliant, rich, and beautiful.
5) Harry’s downfall through egoism. Peter has always been the young superhero who has powers that outstrip his maturity. In growing into his powers he falls in the classic trap for the talented and accomplished: egoism. This has a direct negative effect on his relationship with Mary Jane, as it prevents him caring for her in anything approaching an adequate manner. The solution to this problem isn’t achieved overnight – Aunt May doesn’t offer a quick solution when she councils Peter, she says it will take time (and Peter and Mary Jane aren’t together by the end of the movie, contrary to what we expect).
If Ben Parker’s one-liner in Spider-Man 3 was “With great power, comes great responsibility,” Aunt May’s one-liner in Spider-Man 3 is “A husband must be willing to put his wife before himself.” The line is repeated again, including once by Parker. Of course, that’s good advice for marriage, especially since it emphasizes that this state of affairs is the result of a conscientious and mature choice (not just a feeling which could fade). Peter’s battle with his own will, and conquering it, is only the first step towards offering his will up entirely. And before he’s ready to take the next step with his love, he has to order himself. Again, I’m sure there is more here than I found the first time.
I’d heartily encourage older teenagers and young adults to see this movie. If anthing else, the beginning of your summer deserves an action flick which earns high marks in terms of appeal, thoughtfulness and even beauty.
AmP Score: 4.5/5.