All things considered, “Spider-Man 3” isn’t such a bad way to kick off the 2007 Summer, which is sure to be a major treat for movie fans, with “Transformers”, “Live Free or Die Hard”, and the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie all scheduled at about the same release dates. If nothing else, “Spider-Man 3” is a nice two and a half hour diversion from the summer heat, because frankly, it could have been better. Lots better. But then again, if you are one of those people who reads reviews before going to the movies, you would have already heard this refrain: “Spider-Man 3” has one villain too many, resulting in too many things going on at once.
The third in the highly successful arachnid franchise picks up where “Spider-Man 2” left off. (By the way, let me just say that I love the fact that the “Spider-Man” franchise doesn’t feel the need to subtitle their sequels. Love it.) Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is having a ball being Spider-Man, and all of New York loves him. Except, of course, for cranky Daily Bugle head honcho J.J. Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who stills want his hide and sics ambitious photographer (and Peter’s rival) Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) to “get the goods” on our boy. Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), whose performance in a play is panned by the critics, and she’s left to earn wages waitressing at a club. And yes, Harry Osborn (James Franco) still remembers his promise to kill Spider-Man, and he puts his plans into motion post-haste.
Now you would think all those plots would be more than enough for a two hour-plus movie, but you would be wrong. Two new villains also emerge. The first is small-time hood Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church, “Sideways”), who stumbles into the middle of an ongoing scientific experiment while trying to evade capture and accidentally gets his molecules scrambled, resulting in his resurrection as the Sandman. Meanwhile, an alien symbiote crashes to Earth, and just so happens to grab onto Peter Parker as its first contact with humankind. In a major twist from the first movie, it is revealed that Peter’s Uncle Ben wasn’t in fact murdered by Flint Marko. This drives Spider-Man into a rage, making him the perfect host for the alien symbiote, which is drawn to aggression and violence. And then there’s Topher Grace (“That ’70s Show”) as Eddie Brock…
By just reading the two above paragraphs, you should get the idea that there are too many concurrent plots in “Spider-Man 3”, forcing Sam Raimi (who co-wrote the script with his brother Ivan and Alvin Sargent) to juggle one storyline after another. There is never really any break in “Spider-Man 3”, the kind of free time where Peter Parker is allowed to run back to his cubbyhole in the wall of an apartment to ponder what has happened, and what he is to do next. Oh sure, we get some of that (Raimi is too good of a director to let those moments slip by completely), but it’s all over much too quickly. There is never the gravitas of “Spider-Man 2”, which I still consider to be one of the best, if not the best, superhero story ever committed to celluloid.
Which isn’t to say that “Spider-Man 3” doesn’t work, because on a purely entertainment level, it delivers on its purported $258 million dollar budget. After the success of the first two films, Sam Raimi was clearly given carte blanche by the studio, and he took full advantage of it. “Spider-Man 3” is full of the same high-octane and complex action sequences, elaborate stunts, and extensive use of CGI that we’ve come to love about the franchise. Make no mistake about it: Raimi and company didn’t skimp on the action, and as a pure comic book movie, “Spider-Man 3” is top-notch stuff. The Sandman is rendered beautifully, including a fantastic “from the ashes” scene where Marko, having been reduced to a pile of sand, literally pulls himself together again on pure will.
“Spider-Man 3” has its moments in-between the many action scenes, although at this point it is not entirely unreasonable to wonder if Maguire and Dunst (but especially Dunst) are still into their roles enough to care about the characters. Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship, the hallmark of “Spider-Man 2”, seems like a rehash of what we’ve already seen before. As well, the introduction of Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Lady in the Water”) as a potential romantic foil for Mary Jane is poorly handled. In the comics, Gwen Stacy was Spider-Man’s first true love; it was only after she died (accidentally killed by Spider-Man, in fact), that Spider-Man hooked up with Mary Jane.
The shame of it is that Howard is so good as Gwen Stacy, and her interplay with Peter Parker is a breath of fresh air. It’s hard not to compare Howard’s Stacy with Dunst’s Watson and realize that “Spider-Man 3” might have been better if, well, Mary Jane wasn’t still around. Ironically, it seems like the writers are (rather knowingly or not) rehashing sequences from the first movie, vis-Ã -vis Spider-Man and Mary Jane, only now it’s Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy. The fact that Raimi even throws in another upside-down kiss between Stacy and Spider-Man certainly seems to indicate that he was “in the know”. But why? Are they setting Mary Jane up to be killed? For Stacy to take her place? Is Raimi and company planning to switch around what happened in the comics in regards to Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy? Curiouser…
Without question, the decision to involve three supervillains (by introducing two brand new ones) in “Spider-Man 3” was the film’s biggest miscalculation. There is simply not enough time for both the origins of the Sandman and Venom (the name given to the alien symbiote) and Harry Osborn’s elaborate revenge schemes. In fact, Venom doesn’t even get an origin. It just shows up, lies in wait for what seems like forever, then takes over Spider-Man. Later, it takes over Eddie Brock, becoming the Spider-Man hating Venom that is familiar to fans of the comic book. And what about Dr. Connors? I’m still waiting for my killer Lizard in a labcoat…
The worst part about cramming three villains into the film is that the Sandman is a fantastic character, and Thomas Haden Church is so good in the role. Raimi does manage to give some semblance of personality to Flint Marko, made credible because of Church’s inherent sob looking face, which fits the character perfectly. Unfortunately once the criminal turns into the Sandman, there’s little time left for character development. As a result, every time we see the Sandman, he’s trading punches with Spider-Man. I would have liked to know more about Flint Marko. What is the history of his relationship with his wife, his daughter Penny, and how did, from all appearances, a good-hearted man fall so low that he had to turn to crime to dig his way out?
But perhaps I’m dwelling too much on the negative. “Spider-Man 3” is every bit the Hollywood Summer Blockbuster film that you would expect, want, and will get. It’s got enough slam-bang action (in fact, almost too much, if such a thing is possible) to more than justify its 2-hour-plus running time, and as a continuation of the “Spider-Man” franchise, it’s nearly as good as the first movie. Is it anywhere as good as the second movie? Not even close. Should there have been less villains? Without question. Is it worth paying full price to see in theaters? Yes, most definitely.
Sam Raimi (director) / Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent (screenplay)
CAST: Tobey Maguire … Spider-Man/Peter Parker
Kirsten Dunst … Mary Jane Watson
James Franco … New Goblin/Harry Osborn
Thomas Haden Church … Sandman/Flint Marko
Topher Grace … Venom/Eddie Brock
Bryce Dallas Howard … Gwen Stacy
Rosemary Harris … May Parker
J.K. Simmons … J. Jonah Jameson
James Cromwell … Captain Stacy