If you’re a fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002 – 2007), then you’ll know that across the course of three films, Spider-Man faced down a collection of villains which included the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, Venom, and the New Goblin. Each foe presented Spidey with a headache or two, but each was dealt with in turn, with some of the villains paying a high price for their villainy.
But was there another villain in the trilogy, hiding in the shadows and manipulating events? And did that villain get away with his treachery?
I recently re-watched Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and one thing struck me is that Bernard the butler is clearly not someone who can be trusted. The character appears in two Spidey films – Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) – and behind his frail façade lives the mind of a genius, and a master manipulator.
Why do I think this? Because, he largely keeps out of the action of the trilogy until towards the end of Spider-Man 3; and then he strikes!
In Spider-Man 2, Bernard gets a brief moment of screen time as Harry Osborn’s butler. He’s barely noticeable, and can easily be forgotten.
He then pops up again in a scene in Spider-Man 3, where once again he seems like a regular butler – and certainly not someone to be concerned about. He works for Harry and takes care of household duties.
But then, as the movie moves into the big finale, Bernard appears once more, to deliver a significant piece of dialogue. And this piece of dialogue exposes him as a criminal mastermind!
Let me explain…
In Spider-Man (2002), Norman Osborn becomes the Green Goblin. He fights Spidey, but dies after being impaled by his own Goblin Glider.
The fight takes place in a secluded area, with only Spider-Man and the Green Goblin present. There is no one around, and therefore no witnesses to the incident.
At the end of the movie, when Spider-Man returns Norman Osborn’s body to the Osborn family home, Harry sees Spider-Man and wrongly assumes that the wall-crawler is responsible for his father’s death. He maintains this train of thought during Spider-Man 2 and the majority of Spider-Man 3.
That is until the end of Spider-Man 3, when Bernard the butler delivers these words to Harry:
“That night your father died; I cleaned his wound. The blade that pierced his body came from his glider. I know you’re trying to defend your father’s honour, but there’s no question that he died by his own hands.”
Hmm… Bernard seems very confident, that Norman died by his “own hands”, doesn’t he? And yet, how could Bernard have possibly known this, unless he was present during the fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin?!
And what if he was?
What if, Bernard was keeping tabs on Norman Osborn on the night of his death? Using some of Norman’s Goblin tech, which was lying around the house, what if he traced Norman’s every move?
He then watched in the shadows, as Spider-Man and the Green Goblin fought. He saw how everything happened, including the way Norman died.
Bernard then kept this information to himself, as he watched Harry sink further and further into despair and depression over the death of his father. He could have stopped all this, but he wanted Harry to become unhinged – it was all part of his game plan.
Bernard wanted Harry to take Norman’s place as the New Goblin. He envisioned a fight between Harry and Spider-Man, with Harry following in his father’s footsteps and dying in combat.
And with Harry gone, and no next of kin, that is when Bernard would have seized all of the Osborn assets. He had spent years acting like a friend and a father to Harry, worming his way into Harry’s finances.
But then things went a little bit off-plan, when Harry got struck down with amnesia during the early scenes of Spider-Man 3. Harry forgot about his hatred for Spider-Man, and Bernard became worried that all his years of scheming would come to nothing.
He waited it out, then he devised a new plan. When Spider-Man needed help fighting Venom and the Sandman, Bernard decided to reveal details of Norman’s death.
He was tired of waiting for everything to fall into place and figured that if Harry wasn’t going to fight Spider-Man any time soon, he might as well encourage Harry to get involved in another fight… which could easily end in tragedy.
And it did.
Harry died, Bernard got what he wanted, and is now living the high life in the Osborn homestead. He is surrounded by all the money he could ever want, with no Osborns to get in his way, and he’s laughing about it.
So, yeah, Bernard is a villain, he’s been plotting in the background for years, and no one noticed.
…he’s just a badly written character, shoehorned into the final act of Spider-Man 3 to provide some much-needed (yet nonsensical) plot exposition.
I’ll let you come to your own conclusions on this one.
So, what do you think? Is Bernard just a throw-away character or a criminal genius? While you’re pondering that question, let me tell you that if you would like to read more Spider-Man-related content (which is a lot less tongue-in-cheek), be sure to check out the recommended reads below.