Review by Mark Walters


  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 threat yet.

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) trilogy.

  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 film.

  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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