Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Spider-Man 3


In 2002, the original Spider-Man film pleased its core fan base, but left me somewhat disappointed. Performances were right-on, though the visuals were slightly cartoonish, and I found the overall feel to be pretty campy. Then, in 2005, Spider-Man 2 absolutely blew me away with its great story, mature themes, unusually good character development, and flawless visuals. One of the genre’s finest, Spider-Man 2 raised the superhero bar very high. So, where does Spider-Man 3 fit in? To be honest, it’s pretty goofy. This latest installment doesn’t even approach the league of Spider-Man 2, but that doesn’t make it bad by default. Spider-Man 3 is campy and drawn-out, but still fun in its own way.

At the film’s opening, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) finally has everything going for him. Having earned New York City’s respect, he’s openly regarded as a hero, he’s doing well in school, and he plans to propose marriage to his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Almost immediately, everything goes wrong. A small meteor crashes in Central Park, bringing with it an evil extraterrestrial organism which takes-up residence in Peter Parker’s apartment and eventually bonds with his Spidey suit. The new black-suited Spider-Man takes-on overly aggressive traits and becomes a threat to himself and others. Peter struggles to rid himself of the alien symbiote and reclaim his true identity. There’s way too much additional plot to really delve into, but it involves a rival love interest named Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Sandman (whose body is actually made of sand), Harry Osburn’s transformation into the new Green Goblin, and the antics of an infamous monster named Venom.

If you think that plot sounds too complicated and jumbled for a single movie, you’re correct. Spider-Man 3 has three main villains, and that’s just too many. Both the new Goblin and Venom are interesting enough to be centerpieces of their own Spidey films, but neither of them really receive adequate attention. The Sandman actually gets more screen-time than either of them, and that’s a mistake. He makes for a delightful visual effect, but little else, and there’s a connection made between the Sandman and Peter’s Uncle Ben that feels very forced and unnecessary.

The film gets some things right, mostly in the first hour. Early scenes setting up a love triangle between Peter, Mary Jane, and Gwen work well, but it all starts collapsing once Peter becomes overtaken by his evil alter-ego. There’s an incredibly bizarre montage of Peter becoming a sleazy jerk, walking down the street and checking-out all the ladies, who seem sufficiently unimpressed and creeped out. I found Dark-Peter’s behavior to be laughably out of place, but this section of the film doesn’t last for too long.

The film’s visual effects lean more towards the cheesy end of the first Spider-Man film, but they are still impressive. The Sandman features some especially impressive rendering, as parts of his body blow away in the wind and reassemble elsewhere. The Sandman is just too goofy to be really threatening, and his presence in the film removes any sense of reality. In Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock wasn’t entirely believable, but he at least made sense and had meaningful character motivations. The Sandman, while an awesome visual effect, makes for a lame character. After the Sandman first appears, Spider-Man actually asks the tongue-in-cheek question, “Where do all these guys come from?” With three iconic villains appearing in one film, I’d say that’s a fair question.

Spider-Man 3 works as a fun Summer flick, but it could have been more. As far as superhero films go, it’s pretty good, but Spider-Man 2 spoiled me. Director Sam Raimi and crew have proven that they can do better than just an enjoyable action movie, and while I don’t think it’s fair to expect the same Spider-Man 2 magic, at least the script and its characters could have been better developed. Still, I doubt that anyone will claim it to be lacking in entertainment value. Spider-Man 3, while flawed, makes for a good time at the movies.

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