May 8, 2007 > SPIDER-MAN 3
By Jeremy Inman
I really wanted to love this film. As an avid fan of comic books and of Mr. Raimi's first two films, I couldn't imagine a sequel to the outstanding SPIDER-MAN 2 that wouldn't fulfill all of my expectations.
While Sam and company put a great deal of effort toward this goal, the film falls short of greatness. This is by no means a bad comic book movie or even a bad movie; it simply could not reach the same lofty level that the second Spider-Man film so expertly achieved. With so much going on in SPIDER-MAN 3, it's no wonder that this film couldn't find a rhythm and hit the same effective narrative stride as previous Spider-man movies.
In SPIDER-MAN 3, Peter Parker is basking in public appreciation. His web-headed alter ego is finally getting the recognition he deserves and the city is almost completely free of crime, especially of the super villainous nature. This leaves Peter plenty of time to spend with his lovely girlfriend - high school crush Mary Jane (played by Kirsten Dunst, who finally seems comfortable and natural in the role). However, things aren't going as smoothly as Peter would hope. His friend Harry, who recently discovered Pete's dual identity, still resents him for the death of his father, Norman Osborne - the original Green Goblin. Harry subjects himself to the same physiology-altering gas treatment that turned his dad into the first Goblin, sending him off on a rage to destroy Peter and avenge his father.
This plotline alone would have been enough to carry the entire film, but scriptwriters didn't stop there. Flint Marko, a prison escapee, stumbles across a late night particle physics test and as a result, his molecules are spliced with sand particles, turning him into the fittingly-inconsistent Sandman. On top of that, a strange meteorite lands in the park just feet away from where Pete and MJ are gazing up at the night sky. The meteorite delivers strange living goo (an alien "symbiote") to earth which binds itself to Spidey, turning his costume black and amplifying his powers and his aggression.
All of this is tied together in a rushed and haphazard fashion. Basically, Harry tries to kill Peter but then conveniently loses his memory for the second act of the film - where the black suit's aggression-heightening qualities spur Peter to seek revenge on Sandman, who apparently is the actual killer of Peter's Uncle Ben in the first film. In addition to these troubles (which are many!) Pete must also deal with relationship issues with MJ and another villain: Venom! Did you get all that???
There are quite a few problems with the plot of this movie. Obviously there's too much going on, and the film is forced to take a number of glaring narrative shortcuts. SPIDER-MAN 3 could have lost one or two storylines and still done fine. For instance, Sandman could have been completely removed without problem; he didn't fit the mold of previous Spider-Man villains. Sandman claims only to steal for his ailing daughter, his motto being "I'm not a bad man," but then he goes on sprees of wanton violence, pummeling Spider-Man in front of an audience of gawking onlookers. He grows to gargantuan proportions and wreaks havoc a la THE MUMMY and teams up with the obviously sinister Venom to take Spider-Man out once and for all. I won't ruin the ending for you, but Sandman's presence in the film has no effect on Spider-Man one way or the other by the end of the film.
The alien suit which plays into the focus of the film is never adequately justified. It shows up rather uneventfully on a tiny meteorite, travels around with a mind of its own, is rejected by Spidey and transforms rival photographer Eddie Brock into Venom, arguably one of Spider-Man's greatest villains of all time. The actor playing Venom is Topher Grace, best known as Forman on THAT 70's SHOW, and is subsequently impossible to take seriously, especially when his whiny voice comes out of Venom's sneering face.
Perhaps SPIDER-MAN 2 just set the bar too high. SPIDEY 3 is by no means a terrible film; it's still one of the better super hero movies. The character's spirit is still very much intact and Raimi's love for the source material is apparent. SPIDEY 3 retains the franchise trademark sense of humor and still presents a phenomenal spectacle. But great CGI and thrilling action just aren't enough to sustain a franchise that has previously been identified by deep character development and masterful plot work.
Toby Maguire is still the perfect pick for old Web Head. Interactions between him and rival Harry are the best parts of this film. SPIDEY 3 would have benefited by dropping the Sandman subplot, focusing on Harry and Peter and his transformation at the hands of the black suit; maybe throwing Venom in at the very end.
The last thing the series needed was a film so full of villains that the narrative is unable to sustain them. Didn't we learn anything from BATMAN AND ROBIN? Kudos to Mr. Raimi for trying to extend his winning Spider-man streak, but he may have shot himself in the foot by setting such a high benchmark with SPIDEY 2.
With all its flaws, don't skip SPIDER-MAN 3. It is highly entertaining, funny, and probably the most action-packed of the three films, but not nearly as satisfying as the first two movies of the franchise.