Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 Really Isn't That Bad, Honestly

My mom ran a daycare out of our home growing up, which meant we became a retirement home for the childhood toys of just about everyone in the neighborhood. Our closet held a gigantic bin of well-loved Barbies, Happy Meal toys, Hot Wheels, Beanie Babies, and an assortment of random superhero figures half the kids never knew the names of. Sometime in the late '90s, we wound up with a figure wearing a green striped shirt and donning a gigantic beige hammer for a hand. He came without a box, and for years, I tried my pre-teen hardest to figure out what the hell this toy was from. I never figured it out, so in the way most childhood fixations end, I moved on and got distracted by something else. The years went by and I never thought about that toy, until sometime in 2006 when a trailer dropped for Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 3."

I'll never forget it. I saw Thomas Haden Church appear on screen. "THAT'S IT! THAT'S THE GUY!" I ran to the closet where she kept the toy bin. I dumped it all in the middle of the floor, much to my mother's chagrin but to the absolute joy of the kids she was watching. I threw toys like a maniac looking for my needle in a plastic haystack until I found him. Flint Marko. Sandman. I had a passing interest in the previous "Spider-Man" movies, but I now had a personal investment in "Spider-Man 3." 

Fortunately for me, Sam Raimi's cinematic middle-finger to studio requests was exactly my brand of nonsense, and despite how much everyone seems to hate "Spider-Man 3," I am not one of those people.

No, I am not saying it's the 'best movie ever.' Calm down.

Is "Spider-Man 3" the best superhero movie of all time? No. Is "Spider-Man 3" the best "Spider-Man" movie of all time? Also no. Is "Spider-Man 3" the best Sam Raimi "Spider-Man?" Again, no, but this doesn't mean that "Spider-Man 3" is the irredeemable mess that so many people like to remember it as being. "Spider-Man 3" may be the oddest Spidey-flick in the canon, but it's still a genuinely fun movie filled with adventurous moments and hilarious line deliveries. It feels like someone made a superhero movie for the Midnight Movie crowd with a massive budget. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand why people hate this movie, I just don't subscribe to the same thought process. You don't need me to tell you what this movie gets wrong, because there are already plenty of others who can do it for me. But movies like "Spider-Man 3" are my lifeblood, because I'll take an absurd movie that takes ridiculous swings over a "safe" movie any day.

Director Sam Raimi has been pretty candid about his dislike of "Spider-Man 3," and I don't blame him. Raimi wanted nothing to do with Venom, but Sony insisted the character make an appearance. Raimi then had to scrap his original plans in order to shove in a character he didn't care for into a story where he didn't make sense, and completely stripped him of his vision. I'd be bitter too! What we ended up with is a CGI nightmare of tonal chaos and enough subplots to resemble the bin of toys I spilled on the floor trying to identify Sandman all those years ago. It doesn't matter though, because to quote Marie Kondo, "I love mess."

I love jerkface Peter Parker

Peter Parker is loved for his boyish struggles to make sense of an unfair world while grappling with his superpowers, and that's why his pivot to absolute narcissistic douchebaggery is so fun to watch. Spider-Man typically serves as the cool, confident persona that Parker is too insecure to express in real life, not unlike the exaggerated alter-ego of a drag queen. But third-movie-Peter Parker with an ego stroked to high heaven acts exactly the way you'd expect him to act — like a total jerk. Spider-Man is a hero! Everyone loves him! If you were 21 and the entire world was bending over backward to kiss your tuchus, you'd be an insufferable jerk too! The manboy even goes as far as to recreate the iconic upside-down kiss from "Spider-Man" with Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) for a cheering crowd, including his not-so-thrilled girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Why? Because Peter Parker has been smelling his own farts for too long and has forgotten his way.

It would have been a lot more interesting if Peter's behavior was simply a result of his own hubris, but with Raimi forced to include Venom, his behavior takes a turn for the symbiote, complete with a haircut that resembles every high-school concert band bass player who really, really liked My Chemical Romance. Peter Parker is such an a-hole and the fact that he's played by the perennially adorable Tobey Maguire only adds to the charm. Watching the blissfully awkward Peter Parker showcase his version of confidence makes him look like an even bigger dweeb, and it rules. Mock the street-dance all you want, it's camp gold, and it only works because Tobey Maguire is putting his entire soul into it. Improvisational jazz piano? GOLD. The "I'm gonna put dirt in your eye" line delivery? GOLD. Dramatic hair swoop? G-G-G-G-GOOOOLD.

The supporting roles are giving it their all

Let's address the elephant in the room – James Franco has a gnarly personal history and it feels weird to give him any semblance of praise without acknowledging it. His portrayal of Harry Osborn is strongest in the first film, but Franco brings so much personality in "Spider-Man 3" to an admittedly silly character arc. He embraces both the villain hiding beneath the surface, and the goofy "convenient amnesia plot device" version of Harry that has no idea Peter Parker killed his dad. It pains me to say it, but "Spider-Man 3" Harry Osborn is the best example of showing off Franco's range in the trilogy.

People love to hate Topher Grace's performance as Eddie Brock, considering he's far more Tobey Maguire than the square-jawed beefcake of the '90s "Spider-Man: The Animated Series" or what would later become Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock. Grace's brand of arrogance is less about brawn, which is what is usually seen, and more about conniving emotional manipulation. He serves as a perfect opposite of Peter Parker, the anti-Spider-Man. Watching Eddie Brock's journey is like seeing a multiverse version of Peter Parker who made the decision to embrace the symbiote. I get it, you hate it, you wanted a big, muscled meathead because you like your cocky boys thick. I don't judge you for it! Raimi didn't want Venom, so he made the character his own. Bold strategy, Cotton ...but it worked for me.

Kirsten Dunst is a national treasure

Love interests in superhero movies are usually relegated to raising the stakes for our hero, helping our protagonist learn something about life that they wouldn't have been able to figure out on their own for some reason, and having someone to be able to talk to about their super life. In the comics, MJ has a successful acting career, in Raimi's universe, her climb is a lot more common. The show that should be her big break bombs and she ends up taking a job at a jazz cafe, all the while Peter is being an unsympathetic butthead. The two have a messy breakup due to New Goblin and symbiote interference, but when Peter uses Gwen Stacy as a prop* to try and make her jealous, it feels like the two have reached the point of no return.

In a typical superhero movie, the duo would have found a way back to each other, Peter would have proposed to her like he planned, and the film would have ended in a wedding montage. But that's not what Raimi did. He validated MJ's feelings. He let her be complicated and angry. Kirsten Dunst absolutely lays into Peter for his actions and attitude at least a half-dozen times. During the film's final battle, it is not Peter she tends to, it's a dying Harry Osborn. "Spider-Man" movies are supposed to be about Peter Parker, but Raimi's trilogy is just as much about Mary Jane Watson. Their ending isn't neatly tied up with a bow, it's ambiguous but with a tinge of hope. It feels a lot like real life, and Kirsten Dunst effortlessly carries us all through it. I know a lot of people dislike her arc, but again, that's not me.

*Kudos to Gwen for apologizing to MJ upon learning the truth. Love the solidarity in sisterhood, ladies.

It's endlessly memeable

This is obviously not a sign of quality, but it says something about "Spider-Man 3" that when people use reaction gifs or memes from the Raimi Spider-series, "Spider-Man 3" absolutely dominates the conversation. Someone out there is using PeterParkerHairSwoop.gif, PeterCrying.gif, BettyBrantEnvelopeLick.gif, or OsbornWink.gif at this very moment, and this isn't even considering the prevalence of that dance scene. As much as people love to hate this film, they sure love using it as a way to add flavor to their online conversations.

The third film also marks the third cameo from Raimi's right-hand-man, Bruce Campbell. They say comedy works in threes, and Bruce really brought it for his final spot. Don't get it twisted, his previous cameos are also lovely, but his performance as the deadpan, snooty maître d' is just perfection. He's the perfect addition to an already memorable scene, calling Peter "Pecker" instead of "Parker" due to his fake french accent, and the amazing line "I love romance. I am French."

J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is a camp performance in all three films, and while nothing will top that famous shot of his head thrown back in laughter, he still steals every scene he's in. Watching him lose his s*** after finding out Brock submitted a poorly photoshopped version of Spider-Man? This is why Simmons has an Oscar, baby.

Stop worrying and love Spider-Man 3

I'm not trying to convince anyone to change their feelings on "Spider-Man 3," I'm merely explaining that by shifting perspective and embracing the film for what it is rather than what it's not, there's a lot of fun to be had. Disappointment thrives when expectations do not meet reality, so it's understandable to see why so many people were disappointed following the incredible film that was "Spider-Man 2." But "Spider-Man 3" is not "Spider-Man," nor is it "Spider-Man 2." It's a film that took an entirely different approach to wrapping up the story, and forced the director to abandon his plan in favor of appeasing studio demands. Despite everything stacked against him, Raimi managed to make a fun comic book movie that feels like something with the ridiculous energy of an actual comic book. It's always been odd to me that people can understand, embrace, and love the camp nature of the Adam West "Batman" series, but cannot comprehend the Raimi-esque camp hilarity of "Spider-Man 3."

"Spider-Man 3" gave me the chance to find closure regarding a Sandman toy that haunted me for years, but it also gave me a great time at the movies. When looking at Sam Raimi's filmography across horror, comic book, comedy, and even heartfelt sports dramas, the connective tissue through it all is a sense of fun. At the end of the day, Raimi movies are about having an absolute blast, and it is in my sincerely honest opinion that "Spider-Man 3" achieves that in abundance.