If you haven’t seen Spider-Man 3 then you’ve probably already been inundated with various thoughts and opinions about the film’s quality, and chances are you’ve heard that compared to the first two films, this Spidey doesn’t stack up. It’s my sad duty to now add my voice to that chorus. Sadly, Spider-Man 3 is overloaded, overwrought and at times just a bit silly. The thing of it is that the movie still has a pretty serviceable story and features some truly spectacular action sequences and special effects.
With part 3 we see that Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) has reached some sort of equilibrium in his dual life; he’s top of his class, he has his dream girl Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and the city is in love with his web-slinging alter ego. But like all good Spider-man stories, things start falling apart for our hero. First it’s revealed that the man who really killed Peter’s Uncle Ben, a man named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), has escaped from prison. Then, Peter’s best friend Harry (James Franco) comes after him seeking revenge for the death of Harry’s father the Green Goblin. Meanwhile at work, Peter gets a rival in the form of Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a hot shot photographer looking to cover the Spider-Man beat. Marko falls into a particle experiment that turns him into a living sandbox, an alien symbiote turns itself into Spider-Man’s black costume and then, when rejected, binds itself to Brock to become Venom.
And frankly, that doesn’t even begin to summarize this movie completely because I didn’t mention Marko’s sick daughter or Mary Jane’s career troubles or her and Peter’s romantic troubles or Peter’s flirtations with classmate Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) or Eddie’s flirtations with same. The movie suffers from what I call Dead Man’s Chest syndrome, the state in which a movie sequel will throw in plot-wise everything but the kitchen sink. All of the above mentioned are worthy plot points that could be explored for hours. But with everything else going on, certain bits are lost or forgotten from time to time. Marko’s daughter is never heard from again after the first scene and Peter’s time of temptation with the evil black costume only amounts to ordering the neighbour girl to make him some cookies and mouthing off to boss J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).
I don’t think that this was sloppy storytelling, even though for the first time in the series director Sam Raimi gets a full screenplay credit. I just think that the story Raimi was trying to tell was really, really ambitious. Remember that in the comics it took years for Venom to come to fruition and in the Spider-Man animated series from the 90s, the “Venom Saga” was a solid five-part serial. In a way, you don’t get a real sense of menace from either Sandman or Venom because we don’t really get to spend any time with them, not like past villains Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus. The team-up scene between both bad guys comes off as really clumsily pasted together, only a flimsy few lines of dialogue and the stage for the final battle is set and all it feels like is an excuse to get the bad guys to team-up, kidnap Mary Jane and fight Spider-Man.
There are a lot of bright spots in the movie though, especially the actors who all fit their parts really well, and that goes for both veterans and newcomers alike. (Again Bruce Campbell deserves mention for his cameo, this time as a French maitre d’.) Enough can’t be said about the special effects, especially the way the effects crew renders such difficult to execute characters; even Venom doesn’t look as fake as he could have. One of the film’s great scenes is the “birth of Sandman” where almost in silence Marko tries to piece himself back together as if his sand granules that now make up his body are trying to remember what a human is built like. I don’t think it was as great as the Doc Ock operating room sequence from part 2, but both scenes recall those classic moments from old horror movies where the monster is revealed for the first time. Composer Christopher Young is a worthy successor to Danny Elfman, as his new musical additions were good enough for me not to notice that Elfman was gone.
With the near perfection of Spider-Man 2, it may have been almost irresponsible to automatically assume that the sequel would meet or surpass that level. I think that remains part of the problem in evaluating this movie, the still fresh memory of what may be the finest comic book film since Richard Donner’s Superman. Unlike with part 2, I don’t feel at all compelled to run out and see this right away, and I don’t feel compelled to geek out over it on Facebook to my friends. Mechanically, Spider-Man 3 is excellent, but the franchise has lost some of its magic.