May 4, 2007

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3

Posted in Movies at 8:39 pm by Calico Jack

Perhaps no movie is more anticipated this summer than Spider-Man 3, the latest installment of the most successful comic book franchise in recent history. Buzz surrounding the film has been astronomical in the weeks leading up to its release, and everyone from kindergarteners to grandparents have been eagerly awaiting the return of the titular web-slinging superhero. Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 fails to live up to its predecessors, shunting aside tight pacing in favor of a “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” approach. Without a cohesive storyline, yet containing almost a dozen sub-plots, Spider-Man 3 simply cannot maintain its momentum for the two-plus hours needed to tie all loose threads neatly together. As a result, the film is wildly uneven, and will likely disappoint many who had such high hopes after the more constrained storytelling of Spider-Man 2.

Tobey Maguire dons the Spider-Man outfit for a third time as Peter Parker, a college student moonlighting as New York City’s much-beloved superhero. Having settled rather comfortably into a relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), Peter divides his time among attending classes, saving citizens from sundry tragedies, and trying to figure out the correct way to propose to his girlfriend. Peter’s pastoral life is shattered after former best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) picks up his deceased father’s Green Goblin mask and attempts to wreak vengeance on Spider-Man. One artificial-looking skyline battle later, Harry lies amnesic in the hospital, and all seems to be well once more.

There are many problems looming ahead for Peter Parker, however. Escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) has had an accident with a nuclear testing chamber, transforming his molecules into grains of sand which he can alter at will — giving him the tools necessary to heist enough money that he might cure his unwell daughter. Meanwhile, sentient black ooze has fallen from the sky and hidden itself in Peter’s apartment, waiting for the opportune moment to take over the Spidey-suit and unleash its dark potential. Young upstart Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is on the hunt for the best Spider-Man pictures yet, threatening Parker’s part-time job as the Daily Bugle‘s Spider-Man photographer. Mary Jane is having troubles with her singing career, but Peter is too busy to notice — with part of his distraction coming in the form of shapely Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), Peter’s lab partner and Eddie Brock’s current girlfriend. And will Harry regain his memories about the past several months?

Director Sam Raimi has his hands full with so many characters and plots; and although several threads coalesce and intertwine, there is far too much going on to build any sort of tension between Spider-Man and his villains. Peter Parker swings from one scene to the next, acting in oddly different ways each time — from an ill-timed kiss to his persona after being infected by the oozified Venom. We are told by Peter’s helpful professor that the ooze amplifies natural aggression in those it comes in contact with, yet post-infected Peter merely doffs an emo haircut and struts through the streets, winking at ladies passing by and dancing to his own inner disco tune. These scenes are some of the worst in the entire film: the Venom Spidey-suit is supposed to be a danger to Peter, but much of his time is spent dancing with Gwen and fiddling with his hair.

It remains unclear why Sandman is such a menace to the city of New York, or why he needs so much money to save his daughter (all we see is her breathing through an oxygen pump). Indeed, his entire character could have been written out of the script with no detrimental effects whatsoever. But the writers decided to do a bit of retconning, and gave Sandman a credulity-straining plot twist. Getting rid of Sandman would have left Peter to face both Harry and second-act villain Eddie Brock, infected far more seriously than Peter after spying on Spider-Man’s removal of his Venom suit. These two nemeses have carry more emotional baggage than the Sandman does (even with his bonus revelation), and Spider-Man 3 would have had a greater impact if it had allowed more time for Peter and Eddie to become arch-rivals instead of shoving them together ninety minutes into the story.

Spider-Man 3 is not a complete loss: James Franco steals every scene he’s in, and both Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have the chemistry needed to fill the roles of a couple whose lives conspire to keep them apart. Bruce Campbell makes another welcome cameo as a French waiter, giving Spider-Man 3 some needed levity in the midst of so much crying. And Peter Parker and his Aunt May never pass up an opportunity to remind everyone about the power of forgiveness, a theme which has run through all three Spider-Man films. Unfortunately, there is just too much spectacle and not enough cohesive story to make Spider-Man 3 a worthy addition to the franchise. It isn’t nearly as bad as the third X-Men movie — not by a long shot — but it runs out of gas before the third act even begins. Uneven character development, a lack of momentum, and extraneous villains are too many flaws for even our beloved Spidey to overcome.

B-.

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