A number of people think that 2007’s Spider-Man 3 was an awful film. I certainly am one of them. You may be as well. The film’s director, Sam Raimi, certainly thinks so too.
Speaking with Chris Hardwick for the Nerdist podcast, Raimi stated that he was not happy with his superhero threequel and admits that he knows he let down many people, himself included.
Working in that big-budget arena, with so much at stake, with much-beloved characters that Stan Lee created, people really hold them so dear to them that you don’t want to mess up, and I messed up with that third Spider-Man. People hated me for years. They still hate me for it. […] It’s a movie that just didn’t work very well. I tried to make it work, but I didn’t really believe in all the characters, and so that can’t be hidden from people who loved ‘Spider-Man.’ If the director doesn’t love something, it’s wrong of them to make it when so many other people love it.
“But I didn’t really believe in all the characters.”
And there’s the smoking gun right there.
Raimi is, of course, talking about the villain Venom, whose inclusion sticks out like a sore thumb in Spider-Man 3. Raimi comes to the franchise having been a reader of the character growing up in the 1960s and early 70s, and his choice of classic, iconic Spider-Man villains – Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman – for his three films reflects an understanding and affinity for those characters. But Venom is a villain that came along nearly a decade later and was one that Raimi was not as familiar with. And, as I pointed out in my review of the film at the time, the inclusion of Venom throws the film very visibly out of balance.
So why use Venom if he didn’t have a real connection with the character? Because Venom’s use was forced on him by one of the film’s producers. And it was a decision that Raimi notes in hindsight was a bad one.
I think [raising the stakes] was the thinking going into it, and I think that’s what doomed us. I should’ve just stuck with the characters and the relationships and progressed them to the next step and not tried to top the bar. I think that was my mistake.
I admire Raimi for stepping up and taking the blame for the film’s problems, and I can see why he did so. As director, it’s his name on the film and ultimately the buck stops with him. Even when that buck is a counterfeit bill forced on him by a hard-nosed studio exec. But at the same time, while it is his name on the film, he is not the one signing the checks and it is often the power of the purse that prevails when it comes to creative decisions in a film. If the unnamed exec had never insisted that Venom be in the film, Spider-Man 3 would have been a much better film, and I dare say that we would have seen more Spider-Man films from Raimi and stars Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst.
What’s really interesting to me, though, is while Raimi knows what went wrong with the film, Sony Pictures didn’t appear to learn from the mistakes of Spider-Man 3. Take a look at this past summer’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, if you can. In addition to Spidey’s tussles with Electro and Green Goblin, director Marc Webb jammed in a couple appearances from The Rhino as well as nods to Doctor Octopus, the Vulture and the Black Cat. These appearances were pretty extraneous, adding nothing to the plot itself and only serve to set up the studio’s hoped for spin-off films. You could make the argument that Marvel similarly plants elements into their films that are setups for future movies. But Marvel does it in a much more organic and natural way. Sony’s attempt at it felt hamfisted and cynical.
We know that Sony has been floundering of late, throwing around numerous ideas amongst their executives, hoping for one that feels like a good direction in which to move their franchise. Later this month will see many studio executives and creative types coming together for what has been termed a “Spidey Summit” to determine a course of action. Here’s hoping that they make better decisions than in the past.