The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.
Superhero movies are exhausting. Or at least the fandoms are. Look, I see almost every Marvel and DC movie that comes out. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is literally my favorite movie of all time. But talking about these things on the internet is a precarious thing. I couldn’t even suggest that maybe empowering a toxic fan movement was a bad idea without those same fans proving my point and accusing me of shilling for Disney.
Oh, if only it were that easy for a critic to make a quick buck in the pandemic economy…
Oh yeah, where were we? Right, superhero movies. There’s only one widely-derided superhero movie that I’ll defend with half the fervor of a #ReleaseTheSnyderCut bro, and that’s 2007’s Spider-Man 3.
I’m not saying the final installment of director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is a great movie. It’s mostly held back by the presence of Venom, shoehorned in at the behest of producer Avi Arad. Topher Grace was fine as Eddie Brock, but in a film that already had two villains in Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko/Sandman and Harry Osborn’s (James Franco) evolution into the new Green Goblin, there was no good narrative reason for Brock to turn into Venom for the climactic battle. They could’ve saved him for a fourth Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie, which would’ve existed if Raimi hadn’t withdrawn from the project. Despite mixed reviews compared to the beloved previous two Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man 3 made almost $900 million at the box office, but that’s against a $350 million budget—at the time the most expensive movie ever made.
So yeah, Spider-Man 3 is an overstuffed mess, but that’s not its biggest source of complaints.
I’m referring, of course, to Peter Parker’s dancing.
Spider-Man 3 has not one, but two dancing scenes following Peter’s bonding with the symbiote, a mysterious, gooey organism from another planet. Not only does it give Peter enhanced powers and a snazzy black Spider-Man costume, but it alters Peter’s brain. Once a mild-mannered dork, Peter now uses obscure slang, does flirty finger-guns at visibly-weirded-out women on the street, and dons a new fashion style that apparently combines inspiration from mid-’00s pop-punk with the vampires of the Blade films. And of course, he suddenly decides that he’s a great dancer.
It’s hard to watch. But that’s the point.
The problem is that many people interpret these scenes as if the film is telling the audience “Peter is cool now. Look how cool and sexy he is! Look at him dancing! Look at the way he flips his hair! Pretty cool, right?”
If you go by such a surface-level reading, of course these cringe-inducing scenes seem extraordinarily ill-advised. But Raimi and company knew exactly what they were doing. That’s not me positing outlandish fan theories or revealing obscure subtext. It’s literally text, and even the most casual Spider-fan should be able to understand it.
Peter Parker, as a character within the fictional universe he occupies, has never been cool. That’s been the case since the very beginning, way back in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15 when co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced him as a comically-pathetic teenage dweeb.
That’s not to say Peter’s always been a complete loser; besides being a world-saving superhero with awesome powers, he’s had cool day jobs, dated hot superhero chicks, and was even married to supermodel Mary Jane Watson for a few decades before he had to sell his marriage to the devil (long story). But he’s never been cool. He’s no Mick Jagger or Zendaya or Tony Stark. If you asked Peter Parker who his favorite rapper is, he’d say Lin-Manuel Miranda.
When Peter dances in Spider-Man 3, we’re watching someone who’s never known how to be cool suddenly get the confidence to think he’s cool. And while that’s enough to fool some people, namely Betty Brant (Elizabeth Banks) during a funny montage moment, and more significantly, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), it doesn’t take spider-sense to notice how uncomfortable Peter makes most other people around him.
You don’t need to be a film buff to see what I’m talking about. But it’s not just an issue of media literacy. For some people, silly dancing in a Spider-Man movie is disqualifying for its ridiculousness.
Look, we all like those Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movies. The fact that Spider-Man 3 and it’s infamous dancing was released just two years after from the groundbreaking Batman Begins, and a year before its even more deadly “serious” sequel The Dark Knight, did no favors for poor Spidey’s reputation amidst the rise of grim ‘n’ gritty superhero movies. But these are superhero movies. Silliness is a fine tone for a genre indebted to cheaply-printed serials for eight-year-olds in 1940.
I love superheroes with all my heart. Superhero tales have the power to inspire, to make us think, and sometimes, even to save lives. I do take them seriously from time to time. But I promise, you can enjoy superheroes without also insisting on stoic explorations of the human condition.