The first true blockbuster of the summer, Spider-Man 3, is now in theaters, and those anticipating the release beware: Spider-Man 3 is by far the weakest of the so-called trilogy. While still a step above a lot of action movies, the combination of poor writing, cheesy directing and bad acting makes Spider-Man 3 a disappointing entry into what is considered the best superhero franchise ever.
Spider-Man 3 is full of villains and subplots, which makes it all the more amazing that it is so boring at times. The movie is at once about the hunt for the Sandman, a hesitant villain who is the real killer of Ben Parker, the emergence of Harry Osborne as the new Green Goblin who is seeking to kill Peter Parker/Spider-Man and the introduction of the black symbiote suit for Spider-Man that nearly causes him to destroy everything he loves, and that will eventually turn rival photographer Eddie Brock into the super villain Venom, a fan favorite. Furthermore, Peter plans to propose to his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, but there are problems in their relationship.
The movie, which is directed by Sam Raimi and marks the return of actors Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Kirsten Dunst and adds Topher Grace as Venom, Thomas Haden Church as Sandman and Bryce Dallas Howard as rival love interest Gwen Stacey, falls victim to what most sequels fall victim to, which is something that Spider-Man 2 so gloriously avoided: it tries to do things bigger and better. Raimi has stuffed this third movie with tons of villains and stretched it out over nearly two and a half hours, but the movie just feels bloated. One of the great things about the Spider-Man movies has been the character development, of both the heroes and villains. That character development is all but gone in this film. Venom, one of the most popular villains of all time and a villain who probably should have been given a movie all to himself, is given just a few minutes of screen time. Sandman, who has the most developed story of the bunch (but also the cheesiest), also feels underdeveloped. In other words: what the hell happened to this movie?
I'm going to complain about this movie a lot because it is easy to point out its weaknesses and compare it to its great predecessors, but Spider-Man 3 does have its moments. The storyline between Peter and Mary Jane is effective enough, and I liked some of the things that happen with Harry Osborne. There are some okay action scenes, and it is cool to see Venom at work. Raimi also brings quite a bit of closure to this trilogy, though he could have done a better job at it. Now, back to the complaints...
I acknowledge that Spider-Man 3 is based on a comic book and thus a lot of its plot points are victims of circumstantial coincidences, but this movie is so full of cheesy coincidences it gets a bit ridiculous. A meteorite carrying the Venom symbiote crashes just feet from Peter and Mary Jane (and suspiciously neither of them notice an object from outer space crashing to Earth), and then latches on to Peter. Harry tries to kill Peter, but then bangs his head and suffers amnesia, which leads to a whole storyline where he's an overly happy friend like the good old days. Flint Marko, running from police, happens to fall into an outdoor molecular project that turns him into Sandman (why would something as expensive as a molecular modifier be outside where anyone can just fall in?). It seems like the writers didn't want to bother with coming up with anything believable or plausible to create their villains, and instead just wanted to get that kind of thing out of the way as soon as possible.
Action fans may be disappointed to find that Spider-Man 3 takes a really long time getting started, and even when the action starts, it is sporadic and not overly exciting. Compared to some of the action sequences in the first two movies (the train sequence from Spider-Man 2 comes to mind), Spider-Man 3 has absolutely nothing new to offer. The first fight sequence between Harry and Spider-Man is pretty good, but everything beyond that is pretty standard. The final battle scene, which includes a four-way fight between Sandman, Venom, Green Goblin and Spider-Man, could have been cool, but it is just a bunch of special effects. In fact, the final battle scene reminded me of Ghostbusters, where the four heroes take on Stay Puft the Marshmallow Man.
On top of everything else, the visuals aren't very good, either. The movie supposedly cost $250-300 million to make, but I honestly do not see where that money went. The special effects are standard, to say the most, and a lot of the sequences look choppy and unrealistic.
The biggest problem with Spider-Man 3 is that it is just plain cheesy at times. Raimi has always balanced seriousness with comic book goofiness. I've always preferred to see a more serious approach, but Raimi has pulled it off in previous efforts. This time around, the movie just seems off kilter. In sequences where things should be serious, especially later in the movie, Raimi chooses to go the comedic route. As Peter gets more obsessed with the black suit, you'd think the movie would get darker in mood; instead, Raimi makes things a running joke, which is entertaining but only in the short run. More importantly, the writing is choppy and sounds lame some of the time, and this bad writing leads to bad acting. Surprisingly, Dunst, who has been the least captivating actor in previous films, is the best here, while Maguire is not very effective at all. Franco, whose character finally gets stuff to do this movie, is also wasted, as he acts like he's high for most of the movie. Grace is quite good, but he only gets a few minutes to show his range as the "evil" Eddie Brock.
Of course, the cheesiest moment of the movie is when Spider-Man swoops in to take on the villains and lands in front of a large American flag that's fluttering in the background. The whole theater burst into laughter, as this was just incredibly horrific and embarassing. Raimi really killed the flow with this split second shot. I have no clue what he was thinking.
With so many villains running around, Spider-Man 3 doesn't know what to do with itself. It lacks attention to detail, and offers some poor acting, poor writing and relatively boring action sequences. The movie should have focused on one or if at most two villains and fleshed things out in a more realistic way; as is, Spider-Man 3 is just another summer movie, and a huge disappointment for those who loved the previous films. Despite all this, it isn't a disaster in the scheme of things, but the franchise has set such high expectations and this one comes nowhere near them.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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