Spider-Man 3

Columbia Pictures
Sam Raimi/United States 2007

Rumor has it that Sam Raimi, director of the wildly successful Spider-Man franchise, has been approached to direct J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, since The Lord of the Rings trilogy helmer Peter Jackson ran afoul of his bosses at New Line Cinema. If Raimi were to embrace the offer, it would undoubtedly mean he’d abandon future Spider-Man projects to concentrate all his energies on Middle-Earth.

That would explain a lot, actually. Like why he and his cohorts turned Spider-Man 3 into an exercise in gratuitous overindulgence, a film so burdened by the need to outshine its predecessors that it sinks beneath the weight of its own extravagant excesses. It’s almost as if Raimi suspected that this might be his final installment (Sony has ordered up three more, with or without him) and, rather than let certain ideas die in his head, he’s dumped every last one of them into this one film. One love interest not enough for you? How about two? Two villains too few? Have three.

Spider-Man 3 picks up where Spider-Man 2 left off. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is excelling at college by day and crime fighting by night, his beloved Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is debuting on Broadway, and estranged best-friend Harry (James Franco) continues to plot sweet revenge for the death of his father in the first film. But when Peter becomes too caught up in his own cult of personality to notice that M.J.’s career has gone awry, she turns to Harry for solace, derailing Peter’s plans to ask her to marry him.

The Spider-Man films have always been good as cotton-candy morality plays complete with their own handy sound bites. If the first film told us “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the second film affirmed that “there’s a hero in all of us,” the third installment adds, “It’s our choices that make us who we are.”

In Spider-Man 3, Peter spends much of the film choosing poorly. In his defense, he’s under the influence of extraterrestrial black goo that hitches a ride on an asteroid and lands in Central Park mere feet from where Peter is standing. Isn’t that convenient? The goo feeds on negative emotions like anger and aggression, amplifying Spider-Man’s powers but subsuming Peter’s goodness in the process. When Peter discovers that his uncle’s real killer is still at large, he has plenty of anger and aggression to vent.

Spider-Man 3 is up to its gills in villains. Raimi and Co. obviously didn’t learn anything from the travesty that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman contributions. At one point in the film, after getting himself clobbered, Spidey muses out loud, “Where do all these guys come from?” We’re trying to figure that one out too, buddy.

Remarkably chiseled and angular, Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) is cast as the unwilling villain, Flint Marko, AKA The Sandman, a monster pushed into a corner because of his love for a sick daughter. We are meant to take pity on Marko, and indeed we do. He’s so compelling, in fact, that he could easily have sustained the film by himself or been left for future installments. But instead, he’s merely one of three. It’s always a joy to see the delightful Topher Grace (That ’70s Show), who makes his appearance as a deceitful sycophant who gets transformed into the razor-jawed Venom. And then there’s Green Goblin Jr. who picks up where Green Goblin Sr. left off. (It’s a credit to Franco that a character who has long overstayed his welcome can be so rejuvenated this go ’round). In their own ways, each of the villains act as doppelgangers to Peter/Spider-Man, who, of course, is already dealing with a dark double in the form of the alien symbiote who makes Peter do really dark and nasty things like tousle his hair and disrespect his elders.

There may be too many villains to keep track of, but they sure are fun to watch while duking it out. The special effects in Spider-Man 3 are fantastic. (What do you expect for $250 million dollars?!) This time, instead of sweeping wide shots capturing Spidey as a speck careening through the steel and glass canyons of Manhattan, we stick remarkably close to our hero as he performs his astonishing acrobatics, the cinematic equivalent of going tandem skydiving. Marko’s transformation and subsequent incarnations as The Sandman are breathtaking. A high-rise rescue (evoking more than a little homage to the original Superman) is enough to induce vertigo.

The film gushes with love for New York City, incorporating almost every landmark in your Let’s Go guidebook and never wasting an opportunity to present the web-slinger as a personal hero and protector of the Big Apple.

As the exceptional talents of the exquisite Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) and James Cromwell (The Queen) go to waste, eagle-eyed viewers should watch for the prerequisite (and hilarious) Bruce Campbell cameo as well as a walk-on by Spider-Man creator, Stan Lee.

In spite of the film’s far darker tone, there’s actually a lot more humor in this one than in past offerings. On the whole, the comedy is inoffensive, if implausibly diverting. That said, at one point the movie goes so over the top, so completely out of character, so inappropriately and absurdly across the line that it looses all emotional resonance and never ever gets it back. As a result, the penultimate scene presumably meant to evoke tears instead invites laughter. On my way out of the theater, I overheard one costume-clad audience member remark that he wasn’t sure if he’d just seen a Spider-Man movie or a remake of Jim Carrey’s The Mask. Ouch.

© 2007 Brandon Fibbs. All rights reserved.

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