a critiQal film review Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Plot: Peter Parker (Maguire) is having problems with his relationships, both with his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) and with his best friend Harry Osborn (Franco). On top of that, he's got to worry about his job, thanks to hotshot new Daily Bugle photographer Eddie Brock (Grace). If that's not enough, he - as superhero Spider-Man - has to face off with a new super-villain called The Sandman (Church). Plus, a mysterious alien symbiote is lurking around...and that's bound to cause trouble.

1305 words (Est. Reading Time 6m 31s)

So, I swore up and down I wouldn’t go see Spider-Man 3. With the first two films souring my taste for Spidey on the big screen, I didn’t think the third film would be any different, so, I figured I’d do my stomach a favor and stay away.

With the previews, 2 things caught my eye that I thought might be worthwhile – the appearance of the symbiote that heralds the introduction of the black suit, and Thomas Hayden Church as The Sandman, But, with that pent up anger from the first two films still fresh in my mind, I figured I was going to wait until the DVD anyway. And then a friend offered to pay our way into the film, and I threw all doubts aside and jumped into the Spider-Man 3 pool anyway.

But, would that decision come back to haunt me, or did it just take 3 films for the filmmakers to get Spidey right?

Toby Maguire is back as the costumed webslinger in Spider-Man 3, and – for the first time in the series – actually wants to portray him to the best of his ability. Unfortunately, that ability isn’t up to par (at least he gets a lip quiver this time when he cries – although the solitary tear from the first film does put in a reappearance). He still fails, but this time he actually seems to be trying. But, at least this time, the filmmakers have to shoulder at least part of the blame.

For example, when the symbiote causes Peter Parker to go bad, Toby goes out and struts his stuff on the street, supposedly looking all bad and macho. Instead, he comes off as a nerdy imitation of Saturday Night Fever‘s John Travolta. Not a good look, and something that will cause most of the audience to give forth a collective shudder before turning their heads in disgust. Why put that scene in there at all? We get he’s bad (and he proves it much better later on during another lame scene involving Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane AND in a decent action sequence involving Harry), so what is the point of making us suffer through this ridiculous drivel?

Joining Toby is the ill-used Kristen Dunst, as Peter’s on-again/off-again girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. No one can really blame her saying she’s done with this series, as she’s never been able to portray more than a damsel in distress in any of the 3 films. In Spider-Man 3 that gets even worse, as the filmmakers bounce her between Harry and Peter like a tennis ball. It’s supposed to create tension, but all it really does it make her seem like a rather emotional plaything. Oh yeah, and she sings…jazz. Um, no that’s not working.

Even the Mary Jane Watson of the comics has more substance to her than the filmmakers give Kirsten to work with, and the fact that she’s watchable at all goes a long way towards re-affirming her ability as a talented actress – if not a talented jazz singer.

On a bright note, however, Thomas Hayden Church is perfectly cast as The Sandman in Spider-Man 3. With his gruff exterior matching The Sandman of the comics almost exactly, and his deeper soul-searching quest for meaning expressed through his eyes every time his actual face appears on screen, he’s definitely a high point of this murky film.

But, then along comes goofy Topher Grace trying to play the seriously twisted – unfortunately, heavy on the serious – Venom…and Spider-Man 3 disappears back into the murk. Topher doesn’t seem to have an ounce of venom in him (pardon the pun), so most of his “bad guy” scenes only work if he’s covered in the Venom face. Otherwise, he just looks goofy – and he’s definitely not at his best when trying to be serious. Oh, by the way, his pivotal scene where he asks God to “kill Peter Parker”? Nope, that doesn’t work either…after all, nobody likes a whiner, and that’s all the audience will get out of that scene.

But, wait a minute – with more villains this time around, Spider-Man 3 has to be that much better, right? Wrong. With subplots involving Peter Parker and Mary Jane falling apart (again)…Harry and Peter’s on-again (Harry Bumps His Head!) / off-again (Harry Remembers!) friendship…introductions to both Topher’s Eddie and Church’s Sandman (and probably a couple of others I’ve already forgotten), this story is so all over the place the audience gets lost in the maze.

We do manage to stick our heads up long enough in Spider-Man 3 to witness the climactic battle at the end, but then sink back again when we hear Dunst back at the jazz club again. With all of this rushing about, most would expect the film to be fast-paced and entertaining, but the skipping-between-subplots thing gets old real quick, and makes the movie drag. So does the almost 2 1/2 hour running time.

And, of course, what’s a Spider-Man movie without a changing of the comic books? In Spider-Man 3, one of the biggest changes is with the alien symbiote. In the comics, the symbiote bonds with Parker, not his suit (in fact, the symbiote is able to become his suit just as easily as it becomes his everyday clothes – no more worrying about losing his clothes), so the epic confrontation in the bell tower is needed to separate Parker and the symbiote.

In Spider-Man 3, they waffle. They first show that Parker can lock away the symbiote (which is only on one of his suits) and not have to deal with it. But then they toss in the confrontation in the church’s bell tower (which, by the way, he chooses purely by happenstance). Why? Why not just lock it up and be done with it? Oh wait…because then it wouldn’t be able to drip on any bystanders and create a super-villain. Silly me.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the simple change they make in Spider-Man 3 to who killed Ben Parker – Peter’s uncle that spawned the whole “With great power, comes great responsibility” motto that has been Spidey’s motto ever since. Excuse me? He didn’t almost stop the man who killed his uncle, so his decision to use his super powers for good is based on a LIE? And all just to plug a bad guy? Are you freakin’ serious?

Oh yeah, and Gwen Stacy shows up (played decently by Bryce Dallas Howard) – but is quickly shooed out of the way to make room for even more murky sub-plottings.

But, just like the other films, Spider-Man 3 is more about special effects than things like plot continuation – or coherent thought. And there are plenty of special effects to impress this time around. The Sandman’s ability to change completely into sand is brought to amazing life, and is really impressive to watch, especially the sandy man’s first tentative steps. Venom (when he is Venom and not Venom-with-Topher’s face) is also impressive – although glimpses of his strange visage are sparse.

Again, there’s a fault – the characters all look a bit too weightless in the air – glaringly brought to light when Spidey has to jump out of his apartment window to go fight some crime. This has been going on since the first film, and you would think by the third film they would have been able to fix this problem. They haven’t – boo to them.

For fans of the first films, Spider-Man 3 is really just more of the same, and, since special effects seem to be the most important aspect to you, you should be fine with this third adventure. For those of us who aren’t only about special effects, however, this one will probably be another big disappointment.

But hey – at least the first two films helped prepare you for it.

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