Spider-Man 3 contains elements that every fan-boy has been hoping for, and several they haven’t. It takes the best and worst elements from the first two outings, combining them into one over-long movie that relies too heavily on CGI magic and not enough on pacing and story.
The new film picks up where the last one wrapped up. All is right in the world of Peter Parker. His heroic exploits as Spider-Man are being trumpeted in the press and his soon-to-be-fiancé MJ (Kirsten Dunst) has landed a starring role in a Broadway play. Soon, though, things turn sour. MJ has trouble dealing with Spider-Man’s newfound fame; his old friend (and son of the Green Goblin) Harry (James Franco) tries to kill him; he must battle a new foe, a molecularly challenged escaped convict known as the Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) while, on a more mortal plane, fighting to keep his job. On top of this a black, gooey creature from outer space has attached itself to his DNA, changing him from super hero to super heel.
Director Sam Raimi has created a tangled web; a slick but sluggish movie that brings the wow factor with several impressive action sequences, but fails when it focuses on the characters. Raimi pads the 2 ½ hour movie with long shots of MJ and Peter staring soulfully at one another with dewy eyes. He loves those shots like Pete Doherty loves cocaine, but they slow the movie’s momentum to a crawl.
The section of the movie that deals with Peter Parker’s dark side almost feels like it was dropped in from another, rather silly, film. Spurned by MJ, unemployed and profoundly bitter, Parker—like Superman and Batman before him—explores the flip side of his do-gooder personality. This amounts to flicking his hair across his forehead in a way that makes him look more like Garth Brooks’ faux rock singer Chris Gaines than a badass and ogling at women, a la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Playing his transformation into a cad for laughs diminishes the importance of Parker’s examination of his dark side.
Fans can look forward to state-of-the-art action sequences—one in which an office building is destroyed by an out-of-control crane is spectacular—but may find some other aspects of the story—MJ’s two musical numbers, Parker’s ridiculous bad boy nightclub behavior and Aunt May’ (Rosemary Harris) matronly presence—harder to swallow.
To decipher what’s wrong with Spider-Man 3 all we have to do is look back at movie history. Sequels with the number 3 in the title rarely hold up, particularly when their predecessors are highly regarded.
Godfather 1 and 2. Yes please. Number 3? Not so much.
Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Forever? Yes, yes and no thanks.
X-Men 3? I hope it is their last stand.
In movie terms the third time often isn’t a charm. By the third time around expectations are often impossibly high, so filmmakers feel the need to kick it up a notch. In most cases it doesn’t work—less really is more—and you end up with something like Spider-Man 3, a movie that feels bloated by too many subplots, too many villains and too many characters.