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Despite Flaws, Spider-Man 3 Works Hard to Amaze

  • Stephen McGarvey Executive Editor
  • 2007 4 May
Despite Flaws, <i>Spider-Man 3</i> Works Hard to Amaze

DVD Release Date:  October 30, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  May 4, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for sequences of intense of action violence)
Genre:  Action/Adventure
Run Time:  140 min.
Director:  Sam Raimi
Actors:  Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, James Cromwell

Swinging into theaters on taut webs of anticipation comes Spider-Man 3, the leadoff hitter in an ‘07 summer movie lineup of sequels and “three-quels” guaranteed to astound and amaze. Those who enter the theater with their $9 bucket of popcorn looking to be wowed by heretofore unseen action sequences won’t go home disappointed. Those who are looking for more of the poignant storytelling of the first two films, which blended character growth and deeper philosophical themes with Peter Parker’s adventures, may be dissatisfied.

Unlike in the first two films, Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), is at the top of the world. Gone is the awkward kid pining away in unrequited love. The citizens of New York love him and his heroics. His high school sweetheart Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), knows his secret identity and still loves him. And after a dizzying aerial battle through the city, his hate-filled former best friend Harry (James Franco) is left with amnesia. Not remembering the animosity between them, Harry is once again best buddies with Peter.

Unfortunately, Peter’s fame and good fortune begins to go to his head a little bit, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend. Fired from her job in a Broadway musical, Mary Jane must both endure Spider-Man’s new found fame, and Peter’s growing ego. Jealousy brews when Peter rescues the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of the city’s chief of police, from a crumbling skyscraper and in a ceremony to honor Spider-Man is overly affectionate with him. Little does Mary Jane know that things will soon go from bad to worse.

As ever, Peter wrestles with his own demons. In a scene that looks like the opening of the movie The Blob, or any 1950s “B” science fiction film, meteorite falls from the sky and lands in the park where Peter and Mary Jane are on a date. Unbeknownst to the pair, a mysterious black goop leaks out of it, crawls over to Peter’s motor-scooter and takes a ride home.  The ominous mass soon binds itself to Peter’s Spidey suit, enhancing his “spider-powers,” but also bringing out his dark side. Peter’s ego grows, fed by the new “black-goop-infused” outfit, changing him into a mean and arrogant version of his former happy-go-lucky self. Spider-Man now has a vicious side as he battles his villains. Peter begins to strut around town like John Travolta in Staying Alive.

At the same time Peter and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) are told by the police that some new evidence has come to light in the case of his Uncle Ben’s murder (see the first Spider-Man movie). Now implicated in the murder is a small-time crook named Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church). Of course Peter soon discovers that Marko, due to an industrial accident, has become “Sandman” with the power to become and manipulate large amounts of … well, sand.

“Where do these guys come from?” Peter humorously asks himself cleaning sand out of his shoe after a battle with Sandman. We might ask ourselves the same question, getting at one of the film’s biggest problems: there is just too much to keep track of. In addition, one of the most interesting aspects of the first two Spider-Man films was the believability of the villains. A quality that film three lacks. Marko’s accident turning him into Sandman, while an amazing feat of special effects wizardry, is rather more fanciful than Green Goblin’s body-enhancing chemicals or Dr. Ock’s mechanical arms. And the black goop from outer space has really no explanation or back story; it just happened to fall out of the sky and land next to Peter Parker.  You have to read Spider-Man comics (or the film’s marketing copy) to even know it is called the “Symbiote.”

When our hero finally realizes the trouble his black Symbiote suit is causing him and rids himself of it, it latches on to Peter’s day job competitor/nemesis Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Of course with newfound Symbiote powers, and a grudge against Peter for getting him fired, Brock proves a formidable villain. Cue dazzling battle with Spider-Man doppelganger and giant sand monster.

Of course, special effects are no doubt the main reason people will see the film. Peter’s stomach-churning battle with Harry on his flying snowboard is quite harrowing and realistic. Sandman’s ability to form into almost any shape makes for some incredible visuals in the fight scenes. And with reportedly more than 250 million dollars spent on the film (making it the most expensive in American cinema history), the action sequences are bigger and more eye-popping than ever. What is lacking, however, is a good bit of the emotional resonance of the first two films—the way in which character growth and moral message flow seamlessly out of the plot and action sequences. Here it feels like our lead actors, Maguire and Dunst, are just growing tired of the roles. They lack the emotional spark we saw in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. Aunt May is there with sage advice for her struggling superhero nephew, but it all seems a bit forced. With so many subplots tacked on to the story, the screenplay just feels a bit clunky.

This doesn’t mean that Spider-Man 3 doesn’t give us some poignant moral messages about revenge and forgiveness. Sandman’s motivation is understandable even though his methods are not.  Peter must once again choose to do the right thing even when it’s painful. Taken as a whole, this contemporary trio of Spider-Man films is a resounding success, both commercially and artistically. This episode of the saga is certainly entertaining, even though it lacks much of the emotional depth of the first two. We want the film to be excellent, the best yet. Instead, we’ll have to settle for it being “pretty good.”

AUDIENCE:  12 and up

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Alcohol consumed in club and at Harry’s house. Harry uses the “super-drug” his father invented. It has a steroids-like effect on him.
  • Language/Profanity: Almost none. Lord’s name taken in vain once or twice.
  • Sex/Nudity: None.
  • Violence: Quite a lot of brutal (mostly bloodless) violence as heroes and villains club, bash, thrash, choke, blow up, bludgeon and pound away on one another. Characters thrown through buildings, into brick walls, at moving trains and oncoming traffic more times than can be counted. Several startling scenes and one vicious looking bad guy might make this one too much for the younger set.