Comic book fans have had quite a few reasons
to be happy in recent years. Aside from big epic storylines in their
favorite titles, the lack of original ideas in Hollywood has forced movie
studios to look toward funnybooks for source material. One of the
more popular comic-to-movie incarnations has come by way of the SPIDER-MAN
films. The first film did a great job of introducing Peter Parker and
Spider-Man to moviegoers in a way that made both the hero's creator and fans
extremely proud. The second installment of the series improved upon
certain aspects, and remains in many fans' minds one of the best comic book
movies ever made. Now director Sam Raimi (who helmed the previous two) and the entire cast from 1 and 2 are back for a really big and really
packed third film. But as the story and supporting characters get more
complicated, can this new movie live up to the quality of its predecessors
without falling victim to the "weak third film" syndrome?
It appears that
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has finally found the balance he's longed for between his love
for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and his responsibilities as Spider-Man. The city of New
York and it's citizens are at last coming around and appreciating everything
he has done as his crime-fighting alter ego, and Peter is in the running for a
staff job at the Daily Bugle. However, everything Peter has worked for is
about to unravel. Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), while fleeing prison, is caught in an accident
that displaces molecules and is transformed into the Sandman, a new super
villain who is able to change his body into any shape of sand he sees fit.
When Peter learns of a connection between The Sandman and the murder of his
Uncle Ben, he will stop at nothing as Spider-Man to capture him. But before
Peter can do so he discovers a mysterious black substance has turned his suit
black, and has brought forth a darker side of Parker and Spidey nobody has
seen before. Peter begins to give into this new dark personality, starts to
abandon the ones he loves the most and in turn his best friend Harry Osborn
(James Franco) takes up his late father's mantle as The New Goblin. Quickly Parker begins a
new romance with his lab partner, the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas
Howard) but in doing so
Peter sets off a rival Bugle photographer, a troubled young man by the name of
Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who is infatuated with Stacy. Little does Peter know the black
substance has its sights set on Eddie else as well. Turning Brock into Venom,
a foe that mirrors everything Spider-Man can do. Peter must then become the
strong-willed hero he has forgotten about if he hopes to defeat his greatest
There are a handful of directors who I often refer to by saying their name
followed by the words "hasn't let me down so far." Sam Raimi is one of
those directors. I've liked his work since the early days of films like
EVIL DEAD 1 and 2, and even his later big studio films like A SIMPLE
PLAN, and of course ARMY OF DARKNESS will always be a classic.
I enjoyed both of the previous SPIDER-MAN films quite a bit actually.
It was terrific seeing Sam get a huge budget to work with, and still be able
to put his distinctive style on the overall product. But as I began to
see things for SPIDER-MAN 3, whether it be trailers or just publicity
photos, I kept thinking how incredibly busy it looked. If you've seen
any of the trailers, you'll probably agree, it appears that there's a LOT
going on in this story. And I was right, and therein lies the problem.
This movie is so packed with story and characters, it literally overwhelms
itself. Before I get into the meat of this review, I want to be clear,
this is not a bad film. In fact it's actually quite entertaining.
But in the end the film is not even close to being on par with the first two,
and in my mind stood out as a less-than satisfying finish to the (so far)
The performances are about as good as you could hope for in a film like this.
Tobey Maguire gets a chance to show some range, especially once he becomes
"dark" Peter, though most of that range is played with comedic effect.
Kirsten Dunst plays Mary Jane pretty much the way she did in the two previous
outings, though the growing fame she had in the second film is gone here, and
her life has taken a turn more towards modesty. And of course, she finds
herself in peril, so that Spider-Man must save her yet again. James
Franco gets the meatiest material of any of the Spidey outings this time
around. His character of Harry goes through major changes, in multiple
ways, allowing him to show his acting ability quite well. As far as
performances go, I was most impressed with Franco in this installment.
Regular players Rosemary Harris (Aunt May), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson),
and Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brandt) do a fine job in their supporting roles,
though I don't recall any standout performances there. Thomas Haden
Church as Flint Marko (or Sandman) is terrific in the first half of the movie,
playing an almost accidental thug with good intentions, who falls into bad
luck time and time again. His power-acquiring scene, where he gets his
sand-shifting DNA, is tragically beautiful and easily one of the most
memorable scenes in the movie. Sadly though his character becomes fairly
forgettable in the film's second half. Topher Grace as Eddie Brock is
close to being great as Peter's opposite in every way. His character has
potential for greatness, but like Sandman it never really goes the distance.
Considering the individual villain possibilities, any one of these guys
could've supported the film by themselves, and made for a more cohesive story.
Oh, and before I forget (because I easily could have), there's Bryce Dallas
Howard as Gwen Stacy. This could've been anyone. I'm not sure why
they even used the character name of Gwen Stacy here, as the only purpose for
her character is to provide romantic conflict with Mary Jane. They
could've called her Anygirl Sweetypie, and had the same overall effect.
She does however get an incredible rescue scene early on in the film. I
will note that both Spidey creator Stan Lee and Raimi regular Bruce Campbell
both get cameos again in this outing, and these may be the best ones yet.
Stan's scene is without a doubt the BEST Stan Lee cameo to date in a Marvel
SPIDER-MAN 3 has several cool moments, and many memorable scenes, but
they're peppered throughout a rather messy script. There's just way too
much going on here. Little things such as Peter walking around like a
70's hipster after going through his "change", or a kitchen cooking and
dancing scene between Harry and Mary Jane, all end up feeling like unnecessary
exposition that slows down an already confusing story. The key for this
entire film should've been that less is more, but instead we get much more
than is needed. There's a lot of good moments, such as the action
sequences, which are more like the comics than we ever thought possible.
The effects are of course amazing, though I would expect no less considering
this is (for the moment) the most expensive movie ever made. Composer
Danny Elfman is absent from this outing, leaving music chores up to
Christopher Young, who does a pretty admirable job of matching the musical
tone from the previous outings, even occasionally using Elfman's earlier
themes. I was let down by the Venom storyline, which is significantly
truncated in this script, for obvious reasons of course. The comic
origin of Venom is so spread out and complicated, there's no way they could've
translated it for just a supporting character. But the Eddie Brock/Venom
story would've been so much better had it dominated the screenplay.
You'll see what I mean. I didn't hate this film... seriously, I didn't.
But I left the theater rather under-whelmed, and that didn't happen with the
two previous outings. The final fight feels so thrown together and
disjointed, you'll wonder if it was an afterthought. Even the ending of
the film is quite somber, and completely unlike the exciting web-slinging
through the city endings from part 1 and 2. And to top all of this off,
SPIDER-MAN 3 is way too long (the longest of the three), clocking in at
about 2 hours and 20 minutes, at least. In hindsight, I think
SPIDER-MAN 3 and SPIDER-MAN 2 were done out of order. Usually
in franchises, the second film explores the dark side of the hero, and has
generally dark overtones, and the third outing brings it all together with a
nice and neat package. I keep thinking about the elements in part 2,
such as Peter losing focus and quitting as Spidey, realizing how much he's
needed and coming back, the people of the city seeing his face but swearing to
secrecy, and Mary Jane learning definitively that he is Spider-Man. THAT
should've been the third film, and this should've been the second. The
more I think about it, that would've been the best way to seal up the trilogy.
But what am I saying??? We all know that this isn't the last
SPIDER-MAN movie, not by a long shot. I guess if folks don't like
this third outing, there's always plenty of opportunities to make up for it
down the line.
BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of
1 to 10, 10 being best, I give SPIDER-MAN 3 a 7.
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