As a fan of the first two Spider-Man films I can only speculate as to why director Sam Raimi and his screen writing partners felt it necessary to try and go “bigger and better” with this third entry. Parts one and two had everything a Spidey junkie could possibly want, including memorable villains, breathtaking action, and well-paced, well-written plots that held all the mayhem together. Spider-Man 3, with extraneous subplots, completely unmemorable villains, and surprisingly dry acting, contains very few of the traits that made the previous movies such rousing successes.
The plot this time around picks up with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Maguire) planning his proposal to Mary Jane Watson (Dunst). Mary Jane is now a singer on Broadway, and Peter could not be more proud – even when the bad critiques begin circulating in the paper. The serenity is quickly broken as three new villains take form. Harry Osborn (Franco) transforms into the New Goblin in a bout to get revenge for his late father. Flint Marko (Haden Church), the real killer of Peter’s Uncle Ben, finds himself the unwilling victim of a nasty science experiment, rendering him the Sandman. Finally, Venom surfaces in the form of newspaper photographer Eddie Brock (Grace). The galactic goo for which he is named after has arrived on Earth, and Spider-Man himself is about to fall victim to the dark side.
On paper this all sounds fool-proof. The special effects are most definitely there (as they should be with a $258 million budget), but what has been lost is the tight focus we are all accustomed to from this franchise. There are subplots galore, only a few of which are really worth caring about. Rather than focusing on the villains, their purpose, and their origins, the screenwriters opt to dish out scene after scene of hollow emotion. While this may gel on the written page, it does not translate well to the screen. It is simply astounding that three intimidating foes don’t even hold a candle to one Doc Ock.
Much of the second act is laughable, as Peter temporarily (and I mean temporarily) enters the dark side. Donning a black version of his trademark suit, Spider-Man becomes a virtual recluse and purveyor of hate. In the form Peter, he basically looks like a member of Fall Out Boy. A semi-climactic scene of Peter crashing Mary Jane’s gig at a jazz club is so out-of-place and poorly executed that one can really only scratch their head. It felt like some sort of sideways homage to 1994’s The Mask.
The pedestrian acting really caught me off guard. Maguire fares just fine and gets some well-timed laughs, but Kirsten Dunst seems completely lost, for whatever reason, as MJ. Perhaps she was spending more time trying to nail down her singing, but her emotion seems so cloying and artificial. Franco, Haden Church, and Grace are passable as the villains, but these are good enough actors (well, Haden Church and Grace at least) that, had they been given more depth, could have become instantly memorable. Leave it to J.K. Simmons, as newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson, and Bruce Campbell, in a bit part as a French maître d’, to steal the show. Simmons is criminally underused in comparison to the previous installments.
As disappointing as this all sounds, the film does still get a few things right. The action set pieces, of which there are just enough, are astounding. The highlight is the extended transformation of Marko into Sandman, and his materialization after being “demolecularized” will be regarded as demo quality work for years to come. It is the sort of awe-inspiring sequence we expect out of this series. The final showdown between Spidey and the whole spread of villains is appropriately intense, but, for the first time, feels uncomfortably empty.
If anything, Spider-Man 3 is another rude awakening as to just how important character development, especially in regards to its villains, and pacing is. The film seems sluggish from the outset, and Raimi must stomach the blame for it. He has crafted what is still a premiere series in many respects, but this is a misstep.
Studio: Sony Pictures
Length: 140 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence.
Theatrical Release: May 4, 2007
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi & Alvin Sargent. Based upon the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko.
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard